Embracing the Challenge: Your Child’s Mathematical Journey Starts With A Growth Mindset

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What is a growth mindset?

A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence and abilities can be developed through hard work rather than intelligence is fixed from birth and cannot be changed. 

A lot of scientific evidence suggests that the difference between those who succeed and those who don't is not the brains they were born with, but their approach to life, the messages they receive about their potential, and the opportunities they have to learn.

Research by Carol Dweck, Jo Boaler and other prominent mathematicians has shown that students with a growth mindset are more likely to do well in maths as they are more likely to persevere when challenged. They are also more likely to ask for feedback and help when they need it. These students believe that they can learn and improve their maths skills.

The Magic Behind a Growth Mindset in Maths

The majority of the students that I work with have maths anxiety and/or dyscalculia or another maths learning difficulty. Almost all of my students, when I first meet them, do not like maths and certainly don’t want to have tuition.

My students initially believe that Maths is hard and they will never be any good at maths. They look at their peers and are constantly comparing themselves and feel like they are just not ‘maths’ people. They are often amazed to learn that maths, just like everything else, can be learnt and that learning and hard work can be fun.

From their very first session, I show each of my students that they can ‘do’ maths and very quickly, their nervousness and anxiety is replaced with optimism and a huge smile on their face. By providing my students with carefully selected challenges, I create opportunities for them to develop resilience and persistence. By talking about what they have learnt during the task, how they felt before and afterwards, my students make important connections to understanding how they learn and that learning is supposed to be hard work.

Conquering Maths Anxiety Through A Growth Mindset - a case study

I first met Olivia* (not her real name) when she was in Year 5. She had just taken an end of year assessment and scored around 28% despite appearing to do well in class work throughout the year. Olivia was always extremely anxious in her sessions but very reluctant to push herself and try questions that appeared ‘hard’. In her tests, when we looked back at them, she couldn’t understand why she had made the mistakes that she had – the answers were ‘obvious’ and she knew exactly what to do but something was going very wrong in the actual assessments. Olivia would be very upset by this as she just didn’t understand what was happening.

However, during our sessions, we talked about what was happening inside her brain, how all her working memory was being used up to answer the questions, meaning that towards the end of questions, she was making ‘silly mistakes’. We worked on learning and memorising facts and formulae so that her working memory wasn’t so full and she could focus on the rest of the questions. 

In our sessions, we also focused on giving explanations about what we noticed, making connections with other areas of maths and not being afraid of making mistakes as this helped us to know which areas we needed to focus on.

Alongside this, we also looked at exam technique and how to overcome anxiety in assessments. After each assessment, where Olivia’s scores progressively increased, we discussed what she had done and how this had helped. By identifying techniques that worked for Olivia, she was able to build up a toolkit to help her in assessments. She was also able to look at her mistakes with understanding and knowledge rather than being so hard on herself. 

Over time, Olivia took it upon herself to find more questions on maths topics that she found difficult, as she knew that if she did more practise, she could do better. She was happy to ask for help when she was confused or couldn’t work out what to do and also started to help her peers in class.

When Olivia finally took her Maths GCSE last year, she scored a Grade 8 (Grade 9 is the top grade that can be obtained in these exams).

Nurturing a Growth Mindset in Mathematics - What You As A Parent Can Do

Identify a fixed mindset and change their maths perspectives

If you notice that your child appears to have a fixed mindset, you can help them to change their perspective. The diagram below shows some of the thoughts of a student with a fixed mindset and words and phrases that you can use to help them.

Welcoming Challenges and Building Maths Resilience

Encourage your child to embrace challenges. Talk with them about situations and tasks that, initially, seemed impossible to them. Talk about how they didn’t give up and now, they are able to do that task (tasks such as learning how to tie up shoe laces, how to walk). More specific maths examples could be how to add or subtract, learning times tables, etc, depending on the age of your child.

Celebrating Effort and Consistent Practice

By focusing on the effort your child puts in, it shows that you are prioritising effort over achievement. This encourages your child to continue to work hard. By encouraging your child to regularly practise maths, and helping them to reflect on how this regular practice helps them to learn, encourages them to develop a growth mindset and focus more on their own learning journey.

Emphasising the Learning Process and Celebrating Their Maths Progress

With all my students, I focus on their effort, perseverance and resilience. When they have a great test score, rather than praising them for the high score, I tell them how proud I am of the amount of effort they put in and that they kept trying when they were finding it difficult. We talk about what they specifically did to help themselves get the score and how they can do something similar next time. We also reflect on what they didn’t know before and what they now know and what they did to learn it. 

This is just the beginning of your child's maths journey

Most parents I speak to are unsure of how they can help their child with their maths work, particularly as the maths is taught differently to before. However, helping your child to develop a growth mindset will enable your child to make great progress in their maths. Not only that, it will equip them with skills to be successful in all areas of their learning and life.

If you would like further information about how Confidence 121 provides maths tuition for students, please do get in touch either through the contact form or via email at catherinerooke@confidence121.com

Catherine Rooke

Catherine is a specialist, international maths tutor helping children with maths difficulties, anxiety and dyscalculia have positive maths experiences. Through gaining confidence, enjoyment and re-establishing a love for learning, your child will find a new enthusiasm for learning maths.