How to develop a growth mindset in your students

We brought together maths education experts from around the world for a series of online expert panels and webinars to consider how we can equip maths learners for the future – whatever that future looks like. This series of blog posts aim to highlight the key takeaways to help you empower today’s learners to embark on a lifelong adventure with maths through resilience, connection, curiosity, and creativity.

In this blog we summarise Dr Jennifer Chang Wathall’s webinar on developing a growth mindset in your students. She shared practical ways you can implement it in your school to help develop a maths curriculum for deeper conceptual understanding that really engages and motivates children.

Dr Jennifer Chang Wathall is an author, educational consultant and part time instructor for The University of Hong Kong in mathematics education. With over 25 years’ experience in education, Jennifer has worked in several international schools and has designed online courses that have reached thousands of educators internationally. 

What is a growth mindset?

“Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset.” (Dweck, 2016)1

A growth mindset is… A growth mindset is not…
When one believes talents can be developed
 
Putting more energy into learning
 
 
A mixture of fixed and growth mindset
 
 
Achieved through hard work and good strategies
 
 
Can be impacted by the input of others
Simply a positive outlook
 
Being open-minded and flexible – these are qualities that we already have
 
Either/or – we’re a mix, and evolve with experience
 
Only praising effort – reward processes should lead to productivity and we should not praise futile effort

A magic bullet – it involves multiple facets of learning and different perspectives

The impact you have as a teacher is astronomical

The message teachers give is extremely powerful and communication has a huge impact on students. Drawing on cognitive behaviour theory, we know that our thoughts and feelings drive our behaviour (Zhang, Zhao, and Kong 20192). If we think negatively about maths, this is exhibited in our behaviour and students and children pick up on it. If we love maths, it will come out in our behaviour and help us to nurture a love for mathematics and maths learning in the classroom.

Growth mindset self-belief messages to share with students (and reinforce with ourselves):

  • I have high expectations of myself
  • I need to be aware of my triggers (the things that elicit a fixed mindset)
  • With hard work and dedication, I can develop my talents.

Practical strategies to develop a growth mindset

Ways to foster a growth mindset

Embrace challenges
Allow students to understand that not knowing the answer is part of the learning process and that it is natural to go through a dip when you are learning and challenged. 

Develop resilience and persistence
Productive struggle is part of the learning process. Praising effort, rather than praise for intelligence, makes students more likely to persist with problem solving.

Effort is a path to mastery
The ultimate goal of learning is mastery of maths concepts and deep understanding of the interconnectedness of mathematical relationships. A level of mastery is pre-requisite understanding before moving forward in the learning journey.

Learn from feedback
Encourage students to learn from feedback, framed to tell them you have high expectations, and that, with effort, they can meet them.

See mistakes as part of the learning process
View FAIL as a First Attempt In Learning. Mistakes are how our brains develop and challenge results in growth (Boaler, 20203).

Give open-ended explorations
Use high-ceiling, low-threshold activities, where there might be multiple pathways or answers, or ask students to generate their own inquiry questions to cultivate curiosity and motivation.

Praise effort
Don’t use ‘clever’ or ‘smart’, which implies being born with innate fixed ability. Instead praise effort to indicate high expectations (Blackwell, Trzesniewski & Dweck, 20074).

Be mindful  
Cultivate awareness of the power of your thoughts, feelings and behaviour on your own children and children in the classroom. Work to overcome self-limiting beliefs.

You can watch the full webinar ‘How to develop a growth mindset in your students’ here. (Note: you will be taken to a sign-up page and asked to enter your details in order to access the recording). 


MathsBeat logo

Developing a growth mindset with MathsBeat

MathsBeat, Oxford’s digitally-led maths mastery programme can help you develop a growth mindset within your school. Here’s how:

  • MathsBeat is a maths mastery programme, providing a coherent teaching and assessment spine with problem-solving and reasoning built-in, pre-emptive teaching ideas to address gaps, and activities for support and going deeper.
  • MathsBeat was created to provide teachers with a well thought out and structured maths progression and resources for Y1-Y6, providing everything you need in one easily accessible place – freeing up your time so you can concentrate on teaching.
  • MathsBeat is also a flexible resource, offering support to all teachers and their own teaching styles, allowing you to teach without the constraints of a rigorous maths programme.
  • MathsBeat’s tasks are practical in nature and hands-on, so that they encourage discussion-based learning and develop mathematical vocabulary.
  • MathsBeat recognises that mistakes are part of the learning process, with prompts to help spot and address common misconceptions and guidance for teachers or TAs to respond ‘in the moment’. 
  • MathsBeat’s sequence of accessible and engaging tasks ensure that all children can participate in, make progress in, and enjoy maths!

1 Dweck, C., 2016. What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means>

2 Zhang, Jing & Zhao, Nan & Kong, Qi. (2019). The Relationship Between Math Anxiety and Math Performance: A Meta-Analytic Investigation. Frontiers in Psychology.

3Boaler, J quoted in Kamenetz, A. and Turner, C., 2020. Math Anxiety Is Real. Here’s How To Help Your Child Avoid It – MindShift. [online] KQED. Available at: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/56637/math-anxiety-is-real-heres-how-to-help-your-child-avoid-it#:~:text=By%20some%20estimates%2C%20as%20high,some%20degree%20of%20math%20anxiety.&text=%22Neuroscientists%20have%20shown%20recently%20that,shuts%20down%2C%22%20Boaler%20says.

4 Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246-263.

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