What does “doing” Growth Mindset look like?

The first thing I need to make clear is that I am not the expert able to answer this question comprehensively – well not yet, anyway. (That’s a Growth Mindset, by the way…)

I would love you to read this and help me answer my question. I’ve read a bit myself from esteemed academics such as Carol Dweck and @JoBoaler, seen fabulous teachers like @Helenhindle1 talk about how they do it, but not really done it in my classroom yet. I’d like to think that I use a lot of the language of growth mindset routinely, but one of my targets for next year is to do more to instil a growth mindset in my students.

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What is a Growth Mindset?

My view: at its most basic it is simply students believing in themselves, having greater resilience and recognising that their abilities in Mathematics (or anything else for that matter) are not fixed and that by applying themselves consistently and working at it, they will “get better” at maths.  And it is not just about encouraging lower attaining students.  As Jo Boaler points out in in this article we need to avoid the label “smart” to prevent those kids baulking at challenging problems that they might get wrong first time round.

Getting the message across

What we are trying to do here is genuinely change students’ self-perception. Just telling students to “change their mindset” is likely to backfire. So we need to convince them why it is true. This is not easy and isn’t going to happen quickly.

Growth Mindset Maths is a great site which contains lots of resources to use.

This lesson plan that has been developed by Khan Academy and PERTS (Stanford Univ.) looks like a great way to introduce Growth Mindset for secondary students.  We all need to develop a good “Personal story” of when we overcame challenges and adopted a growth mindset. PERTS are developing a Mindset Kit which is worth keeping an eye on.

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I’m sure there are others out there who have developed resources too. If this is you, please get in touch!

So, here is my list of things I want to do next year.  What have I missed? Please let me know!

  • Specific lessons. At the beginning of the year, we can spend some lesson time doing activities such as these.  There is a need to introduce the ideas and talk about the language we will use in the classroom for the rest of the year.  Do we need to spend further lesson time on specific growth mindset tasks later in the year? I guess I will take a wait-and-see approach to that.
  • Posters. This really should be a whole school initiative.  Some of them remind me of my time in corporate life when companies went through a phase of putting up “inspirational” posters with words like “Success” and a picture of a man standing on top of a mountain looking very pleased with himself. There may be some cynical reaction to posters but I feel overall they are a useful part of the mix.
  • Celebrating success. And particularly highlighting “Success Stories” – individual students who have adopted a growth mindset, worked hard and have the results to show for it.
  • Everyday language.  Obviously using it yourself as a teacher, but also picking kids up on it every time.
  • Communication with parents.  Ultimately maybe actually trying to run sessions with parents? I don’t know successful that would be, but at the very least using parents’ evenings as an opportunity to use the right language – having a few of those posters prominently displayed will help.
  • Written feedback. Whether it is student reports / profiles or written feedback as part of marking, again being diligent to use the right language in that feedback.

Finally, I love the beginning of a new BBC programme called Kick Sum Maths.  The first 2 minutes or so of this ticks all the boxes in my view and would make a good introduction.

The question of Mixed Attainment teaching

A logical conclusion of the Growth Mindset philosophy may be that you do away with sets and this is certain something Jo Boaler strongly advocates. However, few UK schools have done this. I’ve struggled to find recent data, but an Ofsted survey from 2003-4 found that 17% of schools taught in mixed ability groups at KS3.  Tory and Labour Government policy since this time has tended to promote setting, so I can only imagine that number has gone down since. A more recent blog by Chris Husbands, Director of IoE concludes that the evidence of the effectiveness of setting is “nuanced”.  I can’t help feeling that behind all of this, there is pressure from parents to maintain sets, particularly the more vociferous middle-class parents who are less likely to have kids stuck in the bottom set.

Personally I don’t have a strong view on this. I would be interested to see mixed attainment teaching in practice before forming that view.  But I do feel that most schools and most teachers, would find it a big challenge to switch to teaching in mixed attainment groups.  Does it require a higher level of skill in teaching to differentiate more widely and use mixed-attainment group work effectively? Or is it a question of just getting used to it and adapting to a different way of doing things?


Place Value – what is 34 tens and 15 ones?

I’ve been doing a Lesson Study this week with 2 colleagues on Place Value with a lower attaining Year 7 group. I might write about that later, but in the meantime, here is one of the resources that we have developed. I think it’s hugely differentiated, fairly low threshold high ceiling task.

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In the lesson, I just wrote a few of these on the board.  It was something I hadn’t used before so I went away thinking about the range of difficulty in these types of questions and wrote a series of questions here.

Geometry Problems

Having now taught this lesson, I’ve edited a few things. My first idea was to do it on squared paper and count squares.  But there were too many squares and the totals we got were widely varying due to how students estimated partial squares.  Hopefully, it’ll work even better when I do it this way next time…

This problem was posted on Twitter last week by @solvemymaths. CHzJeeAWEAAISYR.png-large I must confess I was pretty slow to solve this! It’s a lovely problem – so easy when you know how.  I created this Geogebra file.  It didn’t help me solve it directly but it did answer the question of whether this is a fixed shape or not, which I was struggling to visualise from the diagram. It isn’t fixed and that gave me an idea for a lesson. Rather than just give my students the problem, we will draw it first to provide that hook, the hunger to answer the question, “Why does that happen?”. I also provides a bit of practice using a compass, a skill that is needed at GCSE and one which we don’t spend much time practising.

Here’s how I would now run the lesson (key maths words italicised):

1, On plain paper everyone draw a circle using a pair of compasses.  You chose the radius, anything between, say 1cm and 6cm. Make sure you write down your radius. Calculate the area of this circle.

2, Then, using a ruler, carefully draw a tangent, doesn’t matter where it is on the circle.  Make the line nice and long, using a 30 cm ruler if you have one.

3, Then, using compasses again, mark 5cm either side of where you tangent touches the circle. Label the points A and B.

4, Next draw a second concentric circle, going through A.  It should also cut B if you have drawn accurately. You should have a shape looking something like this:

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5, Now, calculate the area of the big circle.  You’ll obviously need to measure the radius of the big circle first.

6, Now find the area of the orange ring. Compare your area with that of others around you.

Where you go next will depend on the class. I’m not going to give you a full solution here, that would spoil the fun! But the answer is 25π…

Great Fractions Resources from Solve My Maths

This blog post from Solve My Maths is a treasure trove of deep thinking fractions questions.

This image inspired me to plan a group activity with a class.


Give each group a set of coloured stickers (8 different colours – getting ones that exactly match the picture could be a challenge! I might need to make my own and then take a photo.  Maybe a grid in the background would be helpful if I do this…)

Show the left-most and the right-most column of numbers on this image and hide the stickers in the middle.  Their challenge is to fill in the ones in the middle.  They can use calculators if they like – seeing a fraction as the equivalent of the operation of dividing numerator by denominator is useful.  Work together, only place the sticker if everyone else in your group agrees.  I think this will really get them talking.

Do try this at home!

I liked the look of this Nrich task thinking that my Year 7s, who have shown some appetite for investigative tasks, would enjoy it.

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It’s a great task, but like so many investigations, you really need to have a go at it first yourself.  I did it with my daughter (Yr7) and we took nearly an hour to find the 3×3. And I was trying pretty hard!  Interestingly the 4×4 was much easier.  Here are our combined efforts!

   It’s going to be critical how I introduce / explain the task, so I will create a notebook file to help with this.

I have also created a worksheet as I feel that my class will need a bit more scaffolding on this task.  I now know that I will encourage them to move onto the 4×4 if they get fed up with the 3×3.

I’ll update this post tomorrow once I have taught the lesson.

Ideas for better maths teaching