Fostering a growth mindset

I feel this is a topic I’ll be returning to again and again. This time its in relation to a session at the Teach First Summer Institute on gifted and talented students.

Techniques to foster a growth mindset:

  • Don’t talk about ability; talk about persistence.
  • Create a climate where failure is good
    • No-one takes the mickey.
  • Pick out what it is that students are doing well e.g. arguing eloquently about uniform – and build on this.
  • See them outside the classroom and praise their efforts there.

Boaler: What is maths? And why do we all need it?

Another recommended reading from Teach First. Selected quotes below:

Mathematics is a performance, a living act, a way of interpreting the world. Imagine music
lessons in which students worked through hundreds of hours of sheet music, adjusting the notes
on the page, receiving ticks and crosses from the teachers, but never playing the music. Students
would not continue with the subject because they would never experience what music was. Yet
this is the situation that continues in mathematics classes, seemingly unabated.
Those who use mathematics engage in mathematical performances, they use language in all its
forms, in the subtle and precise ways that have been described, in order to do something with
mathematics. Students should not just be memorizing past methods; they need to engage, do, act,
perform, problem solve, for if they don’t use mathematics as they learn it they will find it very
difficult to do so in other situations, including examinations.

We cannot keep pursuing an educational model that leaves the best and the only real taste
of the subject to the end, for the rare few who make it through the grueling eleven years that
precede it. If students were able to work in the ways mathematicians do, for at least some of the
time – posing problems, making guesses and conjectures, exploring with and refining ideas, and
discussing ideas with others, then they would not only be given a sense of true mathematical
work, which is an important goal in its own right, they would also be given the opportunities to
enjoy mathematics and learn it in the most productive way.

Boaler’s vision is an inspiring but ambitious one. Like Swan, Boaler discusses the end goal of a maths classroom without always making explicit the precursors necessary to allow students to work like mathematicians. Working like a mathematician is hard and, amongst other things, requires grit, persistence and a willingness to be wrong before being right. None of these things will come naturally to a mathematics student.

On the other hand, each of these things can be encouraged. The challenge is that it will take time, persistence and agility on my (the teacher’s) part to encourage students to work like mathematicians. It isn’t easy, but if Boaler is to be believed it’s worth the effort.

Boaler: What is Maths? And why do we all need it?

Positive framing

Teach Like a Champion Technique 43: Positive framing

Make corrections consistently and positively. Narrate the world you want your students to see even while you are relentlessly improving it.

  • Six rules:
    • Focus on what should happen in the present
    • Assume the best until you know different (for example by thanking them as you issue an instruction)
    • Allow plausible anonymity: don’t name names unless necessary
    • Build momentum, and narrate the positive
      • It helps to use command that multitask.
    • Challenge students to get better
    • Talk expectations and aspirations.
  • Avoid: rhetorical questions and contingencies


Teach Like a Champion Technique 35: Props

Public praise (e.g. two claps) for students who take risks or do something good in the class.

  • The key is investing time at the outset to teach students to give public praise the right way. It should be:
    • Quick
    • Visceral (no words)
    • Universal – everyone does it
    • Enthusiastic (perhaps let students decide which one it is?)
    • Evolving – let students develop the props
  • e.g. Hot Pepper (imaginary pepper in mouth, then a sizzle sound)