A ‘growth mindset’ is the belief that abilities are developed over time, and any skill or area of knowledge can be developed with hard work and perseverance.
A term coined by educational psychologist Dr Carol Dweck, growth mindset contrasts to the much more common ‘fixed mindset’ where we believe that abilities, cleverness, or knowledge is innate, fixed or stuck. “I’m a maths person” or “I just can’t do art”, are examples of a fixed mindset; regardless of whether the belief seems to be positive or negative the defining feature of a fixed mindset is that you believe your abilities are fixed or unchangeable with effort.
You could think of a fixed mindset as a self-fulfilling prophesy. A child who doesn’t believe they can improve at maths has that hanging over their head in every maths class. Alternately thinking they can learn new things and ‘grow’ (growth mindset) will see them approach new information and classes with an open mind and positive attitude, setting them up for success with that new content, which in turn will reinforce the belief that they can do it.
There is strong research to back up this theory. You can read more about it here or for a longer more in depth look, access to a book by Dr Dweck herself can be found here.
The nutshell version;
Students were taught to hold a growth mindset for maths learning. Compared to the control group they showed a significant improvement in their actual maths ability over time. To read more about how to help students with maths in particular click here.
Growth mindset is also essential for high achievers, despite currently doing well in school these kids often show the strongest fixed mindsets of all. They have been taught to believe their smartness is inherent, rather than earnt through hard work. The tragedy is that eventually everyone faces challenges and without the belief that they can improve and the resilience a growth mindset gives, they crumble under pressure.
With a growth mindset, you believe that you can improve, not that you are ‘smart’ or ‘gifted’, and in fact regardless of what level you are at or what hurdles you face, you believe you can improve and overcome.
Students praised for hard work and effort (growth mindset) have been shown to persevere past failures, attempting more questions and showing more resilience than students praised on their intelligence levels alone (even if those students did better to begin with).
So, what can we do to help students adopt a growth mindset?
1. Change your language;
As teachers, parents, or tutors we need to consider the language we use. Are we building a growth mindset, or a fixed one?
Avoid any language that implies that skills, knowledge, and abilities are fixed.
“You’re so smart”
“You are so good at science”
“Wow, you worked so well this year, great job!”
Encourage children to change their own language and beliefs;
“I’m just not a maths person”
“I haven’t learnt that maths yet”
“I can’t do it”
“I can’t do it yet”
2. Encourage mistakes
Making mistakes is not only fine, but essential to the learning process. It is so common to see students (and sadly commonly girls) unable to bounce back from mistakes, being their own harshest critics and seeing every perceived ‘failure’ as evidence that they just can’t do it.
Mistakes are part of the process of learning. It is normal to make mistakes, what makes someone ‘smart’ or good at a certain skill is only that they persisted through mistakes until they had mastered the skill!
3. Challenge your own beliefs;
The simplest change we can make is in our language, and our own attitudes. Children pick up on our true beliefs and behaviours. If they see you challenge yourself, make mistakes, recover and learn, they might just do the same. The language we use to describe ourselves and our own beliefs about our abilities is so important too. Remember, it’s not that I can’t do that, I just can’t do it YET.
It can be difficult to make this radical change in thought, or help a child to change their mindset, especially after experiencing failures in the past. However, it’s this radical shift we need to adopt in society and in education to enable the next generation of learners to hold strong growth mindsets – set to learn and grow for the future. To accomplish anything!
Mindset works have a great tool to think about and assess your own mindset right now, try it out here.
3 Essential Things to Know When Teaching Your Child to Read
Reading is an essential early skill that underpins so much future learning. But what can you do if reading really isn’t as easy as ‘a b c’ for your child? How can you help get them back on track with reading, preparing them for the years of education to come?
We interviewed Kathy Nolan, a reading recovery and learning support teacher to find out exactly what you can do to support the little one in your life with learning to read.
Q: What’s the biggest barrier for children learning to read?
A: Their own belief in themselves. I find its not until they start realising ‘oh I can do that’ that they start getting anywhere. It’s a struggle until then! The hardest and most important part of teaching children to read is making them believe that they can do it.
Q: Ok, so how exactly do we make them believe they can do it?
A: Three things!
1. Start with a roadmap
If you are going on a long journey you must look at a map first. Reading is the same, tell them where the story will go, and what will happen. Take time to sound out tricky words and practise new or difficult phrases. After all that you can start trying to read the book.
Because the child knows what the story is about ahead of time they can comprehend what it is happening, and when reading they do some visual comprehension of the letters as well as guesswork to figure things out.
Q: So, guesswork is ok?
A: Yes, its encouraged! We want them to guess because this is building vital inferential skills. They can use the pictures or storyline to interpret what is going on. It makes them active, rather than passive learners because they are searching for the answer themselves.
‘It also helps link the visual information of the shape of the words to pictures and knowledge the child already has.’
Learning is all about making mental connections and linking new information to things you already know. As you learn your brain literally builds new pathways between pieces of knowledge so making those connections between ideas is so important! To read more click here.
2. Start with what they know
You must always start with what they already know, no matter what level they are at.
At the most basic level a child may only know their own name, but you can work with that!
Have fun creating a short book with them; photograph them skipping, jumping, running, playing, and print out some pages with the words “John is running, John is skipping” in large print.
It is very simple, but some kids need that first stepping stone to get the confidence to try slightly harder things. This is part of building that belief that they CAN read. Give them material that is accessible, which also brings me to…
3. Never let them struggle
If the child really can’t work out a word – help them straight away. If you let them struggle all the time that tells them that they can’t do it, which we want to avoid!
You also don’t want to just give them the answer, then they aren’t doing any mental work at all. Instead give hints and prompts – getting progressively easier – until they get it. The challenge is figuring out exactly why they are struggling, what they know already, and what hints will get them to the right answer while making them do a lot of the thinking work themselves.
Hints like; “rhymes with star” or “what was the blue thing we drew earlier? That’s right a car!” have the added benefit of creating those oh-so-important connections between bits of knowledge. The more connections, the more neural pathways are built, and the more likely the child will remember the idea and how to read that word later.
Eventually with patience children will start to realise “I can read!” Once they have that confidence their learning will accelerate and soon they will be keen reader.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Children are world class mimickers. Point at the words as you read them one by one when reading to very young children; eventually you want to encourage them to mimic this behaviour when they start trying to read.
Exposure is everything. Expose kids to many objects, words, shapes, images, ideas, and environments. Speak to them often and speak in front of them complexly. The more language and ideas they are exposed to, the more they will absorb and the more connections between ideas can be made.
Increasingly, tutors are fulfilling the role of ‘mentor’ for young people. As well as teaching the skills and knowledge students may need in a tailored one-on-one setting, tutors can provide mentoring support – helping students build study skills, test skills, organisational skills, as well as encouraging and supporting students who may be managing anxiety or other issues that present in the transition between childhood and adulthood.
So, what makes a good mentor? How do tutors fulfil this role?
A good mentor is invested in the success of the mentee;
The best teachers are the best learners. This is a motto I stand by. Tutors are almost always people who themselves LOVE learning and will often have a rich and varied educational background. Tutors are people who are passionate about education, who have transformed that passion into a desire to teach others, so that they can experience that same love of learning. For this reason, tutors are extremely invested in the success of their students, they want nothing more than for students to learn – and learn to love learning!
When a mentor (tutor) is invested in the success of their student, they give their absolute best knowledge, tips, advice, and encouragement, which is just what students need to succeed.
A good mentor shares their knowledge willingly;
And this goes double for tutors! As well as subject knowledge tutors can share their knowledge of the experience of school, exam taking, the HSC, and tertiary preparation.
This insight and guidance from someone who has experience as a learner, who themselves has overcome struggles and triumphs on the way to their own education is invaluable.
Tutors can develop a rapport with students and provide the encouragement and advice they need, which sometimes counts for so much more than academic knowledge alone.
A good mentor sees an individual’s needs for support, and provides for them;
Whether its medicine, fashion, finance or education – culturally all over we are adopting a more individualistic approach to life, and this goes equally for education.
Every student has different learning needs, passions, likes, dislikes, and drives and these factors will all effect a student’s ability to learn a given subject. Traditional learning environments in increasingly large classrooms can not cater for individual needs, and this is where a tutor comes in.
At Nepean Tutoring we have tutors that have specialist training in teaching students with dyslexia, autism, brain injury, and other learning needs. We have qualified school teachers and university students in a range of fields, who can fulfil a variety of learning or support needs. We have tutors qualified at masters and doctorate levels, who can assist students who are academic high achievers and want to pursue an academic trajectory. We pride ourselves on matching tutors for each students’ individual needs, because we know that a tutor’s role is more than just a teacher – they are a mentor to our students as they make the important journey through their education years.
Mathematics anxiety is the apprehension and crippling fear of doing maths, whether it be in a maths classroom or taking a test. Like many anxieties, the central problematic behaviour is avoidance. Anxiety itself is an adaptive trait to protect us from possible harms. Our past experiences teach us about dangers, and we do everything in our power to avoid them.
Anxiety helps us perceive future threats and avoid them, an adaptive trait often misapplied in our modern world.
We often feel anxious about things that can’t actually harm us, and the avoidance that occurs because of the anxiety can, ironically, often lead to the bad outcome we originally feared.
In the case of maths anxiety, the fear of failure, or public embarrassment due to getting a question wrong, is self-fulfilled by the avoidance of maths learning situations. Students avoid maths by ‘turning off’ in class, ignoring their teacher, avoiding homework, or even truanting. The natural outcome of avoiding learning maths is to weaken their ability and miss out on learning new content, furthering their original problem and reinforcing their own beliefs in their lack of mathematical ability. The anxiety associated with maths increases. Maths anxiety is a crippling, cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy
So, what can you we about it? If you, your child or your students are suffering from maths anxiety, how can we break that cycle of negative self-belief, which leads to poor performance, in turn reinforcing the negative self-beliefs and associated anxiety?
Stop it at the start
Of course, in an ideal world we would aim to prevent children from developing maths anxiety in the first place. For this to occur, maths education from an early age should be fun, applicable to real life, and full of encouragement of successes – avoiding negative criticism. Often the ‘absolute wrongness’ of a big red cross on a maths question feels so serious and permanent. Children should be encouraged that it’s ok to make mistakes and that they should focus on what they got right. Getting a question wrong in maths doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just that you haven’t mastered that specific skill YET.
This line of thinking stems from ‘growth mindset’ education. Read more.
Un-learn permanency beliefs
Central to maths anxiety is a permanency belief; that is, a belief that your ability to do mathematics is innate, it is part of who you are and a permanent quality you possess. And its no wonder some students can feel that way; as a society we often push this belief. How often have you heard; “I’m just not a maths person”, “It’s in my genes”, “My brain just doesn’t work in a maths way”? This is the very thinking that leads to beliefs in permanency of ability.
If you believe maths ability is genetic, innate, or a part of who you are, then of course you will believe that no amount of hard work will change your ability.
Change your language, and the way you think about maths. Encourage your children to do the same. Break free from the belief that your ability is innate, or a permanent part of you.
Instead of, “I’m just not a maths person”, how about, “I have struggled with maths in the past”. If you hear your child say “I just don’t have the brain for maths” encourage them to say, “I don’t know how to do certain maths problems yet”. If we allow for the possibility that mathematical skill can be acquired with hard work and good instruction, we allow for learning to occur. Which brings us to;
Provide access to success
Mathematical ability is a learnt skill that can be acquired. Often what is missing is a learning environment where children can experience success and feel self-efficacious. Self-efficacy is the belief in your own ability in a certain area, and building this belief through success is central to breaking down maths anxiety and building maths ability.
All maths skills are learnt through a series of progressive steps, students can progress through their mathematical education if those steps are presented in order, with enough time and revision to allow the student to master each skill.
This is an effect well researched in psychology. Children (and adults for that matter) can learn if they are given access to content that adequately challenges them without overwhelming them, allowing them to experience success. This experience builds self-efficacy and the belief that you can do maths. This is the great challenge of teaching maths, especially in a class of 30 where every student is learning at a different rate and in different styles. Teachers need to provide content carefully titrated to a student’s ability to allow them to experience success rather than constant failure.
This is where a tutor can be of great benefit. Working one on one with a student, a tutor can carefully assess their ability and provide content that is appropriate and achievable. Once the child starts to experience success, they will build self-efficacy, and this can launch them forward into future successes.
You can replace the negative self-belief cycle with a positive one.
- Adopt a growth mindset, it is possible to learn!
- Change your language around ability – maths ability is not innate.
- Provide opportunities for success.
Just hearing the word ‘NAPLAN’ is enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure; images of stressed out kids, parents and teachers spring to mind. Since 2008 the NAPLAN tests have been measuring the reading, writing, literacy and numeracy skills of Australian children, and for hardly a moment without controversy. The constant media attention and politicization of the yearly NAPLAN results can lead to confusion and some misunderstandings about what these results really mean, both for individual students and across the board for Australia.
We have talked about the issues with standardised educational practises before, NAPLAN epitomises this problem.
But for now, let us demystify and debunk 3 common myths about NAPLAN, as it stands in 2018.
MYTH 1. ‘My child did not meet the national minimum standards for year 9 NAPLAN in some areas, so they will not be able to graduate with a HSC.
Not anymore. The controversial move in 2016 to prevent students graduating with a HSC if they had not achieved the national minimum standards in their year 9 NAPLAN test has been revoked as of February this year. This move came after an outcry from parents and teachers who found that this had put unnecessary pressure on students at a young and vulnerable age and made the focus of education about passing tests rather than teaching skills and building up strong learners; an unfortunate downside of standardised testing.
Disentangling NAPLAN from the HSC removes that extra stress of potential long-term impacts of the NAPLAN results.
MYTH 2. ‘The national average NAPLAN results keep getting worse and worse, Australian kids are getting dumber.’
This year’s national average NAPLAN results did not significantly differ from 2017 in any field. Over the past decade of testing the results have shown some small improvements in numeracy, spelling, grammar and punctuation, and reading. The only area of concern is writing, where there was a decrease in ability across the board in most states and year groups between 2008-2017. The good news is that in 2018, the number of students meeting national minimal standard requirements for writing has not changed.
Examples of the number of students meeting national minimum requirements between 2008-2017, and 2017-2018 (Image from ACARA). The black dot shows no change, clear arrows represent a small increase or decrease in numbers. Data is per state. For more information check out http://reports.acara.edu.au/NAP/TimeSeries
However, results did not significantly improve in the past year either (pictured above, the black squares represent no change) The improvements across the previous decade of testing have been small, which begs the question; for all the added time, money and stress expended in the pursuit of better NAPLAN results, why haven’t we seen massive improvements in performance across the board?
NAPLAN tests are primarily diagnostic tools for teachers, schools and the education department to identify areas of weakness, and they should be viewed as just that. It would be negligent to never check in on the standards of education in Australia, but the huge focus placed on the NAPLAN tests is not making the difference in improving outcomes that would justify the pressure placed on students, and the time and money focused on this one aspect of their education.
MYTH 3. ‘NAPLAN results are the best demonstration of my child’s progress and the best predictor of their future success at school.’
There are so many factors that can affect a child’s outcome in an individual test. It could simply mean your child had a bad day on the day of testing! They may have been overcome by test anxiety, such that they performed significantly below their ability level; a common response to the mounting pressure placed on students by standardised testing.
Assessing your child’s progress should be done through a combination of test results, reports and in one-on-one consultation with teachers. Standardised tests alone cannot reveal the unique abilities of every child, they simply aren’t designed to do so.
NAPLAN results may help identify areas your child may need more support in. Our tutors are there to help fill those gaps that may have been identified. They can also help mentor your child in exam taking preparation and teach them how to reduce test anxiety. Most importantly however, we aim to encourage each child’s strengths and empower them as individual learners, teaching them thinking and problem-solving skills to be able to overcome many challenges. And that’s an outcome you simply can’t measure in a standardised test alone.
This article was written by Anne Gwilliam, one of our tutors.