Mathematical mindsets – encouraging Action Tutoring pupils to believe in their potential

Dec. 21, 2016, 9:18 a.m.

Illustration for Mathematical mindsets – encouraging Action Tutoring pupils to believe in their potential


One of the key parts of tutor training at Action Tutoring is the idea of growth mindset. Carol Dweck’s research suggests that if we encourage pupils to practice and put in effort, they can learn anything. 


By contrast, having a fixed mindset means we believe we can’t learn more or get better at a subject.


It is quite telling that one of the fixed mindset phrases we get tutors to consider at their training session is “I just can’t do maths.” It’s a phrase we hear a lot of, especially in the early weeks of programmes. Yesterday, a pupil in one of my sessions put her head in her hands and dramatically stated, “I’ll never get this, I can’t do maths.”


That girl is me 10 years ago. When I was 16, I was convinced I was just never going to be able to do maths. Even now, when I attempt maths questions I feel panic and frustration, and have to remind myself that if I try and practice, I will understand eventually.


However, unlike me, this girl has a brilliant volunteer tutor – who managed to talk her round and get her to pick up her calculator and give the question another go. By the end of the session she was nodding and laughing.


Earlier this year, education author Jo Boaler published a book called Mathematical Mindsets. It applies growth mindset directly to issue of maths anxiety. It is a very practical book, providing techniques and examples to encourage all children to know they have mathematics potential. My fixed mindset meant I was sceptical, but I made myself read it with a growth mindset, and I would encourage everyone to read it. With exercises and methods backed up by theory, it is a brilliant approach to tackling a very pervasive problem – particularly this year,                                                                                                                  as we take on the first new GCSEs.

Good numeracy is vital for us all – as National Numeracy point out, millions of adults struggle with their everyday maths skills. The role of a tutor is obviously to build up the subject knowledge and study skills of their pupils – but we also believe they can do so much to build up the confidence of their pupils. I see this confidence growing in sessions every week, and hopefully next week, I’ll hear less “I just can’t do maths” and more “ok, I’ll try this one again.” 


Written by Rachel Belward, London Programme Coordinator. 

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