Mindsets and Maths Pathway

  • 3 minute read
  • 7 February 2021

Education is awash with buzzwords. We want the best for our students so we jump onto the next best thing as quickly as possible, but in that rush to add new strategies to our pedagogy it can be easy to miss the mark. A growth mindset is up there with the best of them. Coined by Carol Dweck, it is only one half of a continuum. This continuum describes a person’s implicit views on where their ability comes from. A growth mindset is the idea that intelligence or skills can be learned through practice and hard work, while on the other end of the spectrum, a fixed mindset is the belief that these characteristics are inbuilt and unchangeable. In Mathematics, statements like ‘I’m not a maths person’ or avoidance of difficult work and a fear of being incorrect can be signs of a fixed mindset while grit, determination, and an understanding that mistakes are a part of the process can all be signs of a growth mindset. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a school without at least one poster referencing growth mindset, but how can we ensure that a growth culture is embedded in our classes rather than just paying lip service to the ideas? 

Over a short series of articles, we’ll be exploring growth mindset within the Maths Pathway learning and teaching model. We’ll be drilling down into how you can move beyond posters and really bring growth culture to the forefront of your classroom. It is worth calling out that this won’t be an overnight change. Your students will have already experienced years of the traditional teaching model. In that model, our students are often asked to complete work that they are just not ready for yet. This mismatch between ability and content can slowly wear students down and more often than not, results in students believing that they are not ‘maths people’, further entrenching fixed mindsets. 

But it wouldn’t be very growth mindset of us to suggest this is irreversible, so let’s talk strategies.

Moving from fixed to growth mindset is about finding value in progress rather than attainment.  Rich learning is the perfect environment to cultivate a class full of growth mindsets due to its accessibility and open endedness. We’ll spend more time on rich learning and mindsets in a later article but for now, we’re going to focus on how rich learning can help ease students into the Maths Pathway Model. 

The first few classes of any year are a great time to get a feel for the new class dynamics and while a diagnostic gives you an excellent understanding of student’s content knowledge it doesn’t provide a lot of information on their mindsets. In comparison, starting off with the Week of Inspirational Maths (youcubed.org) gives you and your students plenty of space to get to know each other. Even if you’ve already started your diagnostics, these lessons will help inject some fresh energy into your classes!

When preparing to run the Week of Inspirational Maths it’s worth keeping in mind that students may not hit the ground running on these tasks. If you can, take some time to try out the tasks yourself so you understand where students might get stuck or what might need extra explaining. It’s also valuable to plan ahead and schedule times to set your expectations, pre-teach concepts like group work, how to document your progress, share findings, and ask questions. Students may also need to see you modeling praise that is in line with the growth mindset culture you are trying to establish. Look for moments when you can praise effort, process, and even unsuccessful attempts. Many teachers aim to build a mistake safe class and this week of rich learning really kickstarts the idea that maths is no longer about getting the right answer the fastest. 

You can find some of our favourite Week of Inspirational Maths lessons here or head over to youcubed.org if you’d like to choose your own tasks. Starting your year off with a week of rich learning is a great way to signal to your students that there’s been a gear change in the maths class. You’ll be explicitly showing them that maths class will now be accessible and challenging for everyone, that all people can be ‘maths people’, and that their success will be defined by their effort and progress rather than their speed.

Author: Maths Pathway
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