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Growth mindset and teaching maths

Tuesday, 30 August 2016
How do you feel about maths? Some teachers (like me when I first started teaching) feel they have a limited ability in maths and are anxious when teaching maths. This fixed mindset can influence your teaching but you don’t have to feel like this. A can-do attitude and a feeling that everyone can achieve in maths is part of having a growth mindset. So how can you instil this growth mindset in your class? There are a number of ways forward and I have outlined 15 ideas to start you off. 
I have certainly managed to move from having a fixed mindset to a growth mindset in regards to my own learning of mathematics.

As a child I had a negative view of maths and of my own skills at maths – I wasn’t any good at the subject, I stumbled over quick recall of facts and I struggled to follow the explanations of my teachers.
It was only when I started teaching it to my first class of 10 year olds that I grew to love maths. I had to unpick the concepts to help make sense of it to the children (and to me) and I also wanted to find fun, creative and interesting ways to teach and learn mathematics. 


In my teaching it was soon obvious that having a positive view of maths myself had a huge impact on the class, along with an understanding of the hard work needed for the children to become ‘little mathematicians’. An enjoyment of maths and willingness to have a go at solving problems was part of the deal in my classes – and it worked.

15 ideas to help instil a growth mindset in your class

  • Focus on depth of understanding rather than speed

  • Emphasise the creativity of maths – spot patterns

  • Encourage children to explain their thinking

  • Enjoy the learning of maths yourself, alongside the children

  • Solve puzzles and problems together and talk about the methods

  • Give problems and inquiry-based, low threshold, high-ceiling tasks, so all can have a go

  • Encourage the use of models and images to solve problems and represent the maths

  • Ask lots of good questions and encourage your class to do the same

  • Value methods, not always the correct answer so the focus is on the mathematical process

  • Be positive about getting stuck – ‘an honourable state’ (thank-you John Mason)

  • Reinforce the importance of working hard to get a good understanding of the maths

  • Value mistakes and use them to learn about the mathematics

  • Connect areas of maths and ask children to spot connections

  • Encourage the children to believe in themselves and that they can achieve

  • Make good use of AfL, self-assessment and peer assessment

Carol Dweck and, more recently, Jo Boaler are two strong advocates of the importance of having a growth mindset in maths:

People with a growth mindset are those that believe that smartness increases with hard work, whereas those with a fixed mindset believe that you can learn things but you can’t change your basic level of intelligence. (Mathematical Mindsets, Boaler 2016).

If you want to find out all about developing mathematical mindsets I would highly recommend a look at Youcubed, the website at Stanford University, California. It is obviously US based but the ideas are excellent. Take a look at ‘Week of iMath’ which is a set of carefully planned activities for a week of inspirational maths.

Jo Boaler’s new book, ‘Mathematical Mindsets’ (Jossey-Bass 2016), is also well worth reading, with many great ideas to develop children's potential through creative maths.

Related articles:

Problem solving, mathematical processes and natural powers
Being stuck is an honourable state to be in, according to John Mason

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