Subject Specific Growth Mindset


Subject Specific Growth Mindset

How important are subject specific growth mindset interventions? Psychologists have a strong understanding of the latest theoretical research and can convey key points to the education community. However, teachers have the experience and expertise that comes from years of teaching their students and managing their classroom. Both are needed if growth mindset interventions are to be weaved into the fabric of school life.

A recent survey on teacher’s perceptions  of growth mindset found that most say it is important (88%), few felt confident in how to help their students develops it (33%) with many saying they wanted more training (85%).

We have just returned from running one of our Teacher Growth Mindset CPD workshops at a school just south of London. In the session, we discussed recent research papers and what general strategies can be deduced from them. The school then organised time and space for teachers from the same departments to discuss, reflect and decide how these type of strategies could be specifically applied to their subject.

Some of the areas that were discussed included:

From the Maths Department – Maths seems to be a subject that polarises students, and as such, leads to some having a very fixed view of their own maths ability. Recent research found that teachers who highlight multiple strategies to solve a problem have a positive effect on helping their maths students develop a growth mindset. Knowing when, where and which strategies to show  students is something that only comes from years of experience teaching maths.

They also discussed how students in their year 13 further maths cohort all put in lots of effort. Having some of these students talk to their younger students about how hard they work at maths (as opposed to it coming easy to them) would help dispel the false belief that natural intelligence is all that is needed to do well at maths. This approach is supported by some of the leading researchers on growth mindset (which you can read here).

From the Science Department - The teachers discussed how they deal with students who did work very hard during their revision but still did not do well in their physics exams. For these students, telling them to ‘work harder’ would do little to foster a growth mindset. Instead, they discussed how they could help these students improve their metacognition by a) identifying which revision skills were likely to work for them and b) which ones weren’t.

This is something we have blogged about previously (which you can read here, here and here). Believing you have the ability to get better is one thing. Knowing strategies on how to learn more effectively is another. The science teachers also discussed how this process can be started early on in the student’s school life, and not just don’t prior to their exams in GCSE or A-levels.

From the English Department – The teachers discussed the type of feedback they gave to students on their draft essays and how to help students focus on the comments as well as the grade. There was good discussion about how to develop persistence. Instead of talking about how important persistence is, it was decided that it starts from having high expectations that each student is capable of doing high quality work. This is known as The Pygmalion Effect and is something we wrote about in detail here.

Final Thought

It is unfair to expect teachers to stay on top of each and every psychological research paper. Likewise, psychology can only offer a general idea of which type of strategies are likely to help. The above strategies are not confined to just those subjects. It is just that those teachers felt that for their students, these approaches would work best. It is only when both teachers and psychologists combine their expertise that psychological strategies aimed at developing growth mindset are likely to succeed.

For even more info take a look at our page How to Develop a Growth Mindset, where you'll find links to blogs and research

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