Mindset and Mixed Ability Mathematics

Having spent time at Central South Consortium on a work placement, learning about how the consortium influences schooling practices; I have been asked to do a research project and present my findings on mathematical mindsets and how ability grouping impacts teachers and learners. Whilst searching for inspiration, I found this Brighouse (2003) quote, which I believe bridges my research with the values of CSC.

“All children, however diverse, learn best when they learn together, sharing each other’s insight and experience, absorbing knowledge and recreating knowledge as they collaborate, in the company of their teachers in a common pursuit.”

Main Research Findings

Schooling practices, particularly in the UK, are based upon notions of fixed ability thinking which limits students’ attainment and increases inequality.

Mathematics is the subject area that communicates the strongest fixed ability messages and thinking.

Ability grouping can have a negative impact on children’s social and personal outcomes; e.g. self-image, socialization patterns, behaviour, social mobility, and academic competition.

A fixed ability mindset can have an adverse effect on high achievers; students who consider themselves to be ‘smart’ suffer from the idea that they need to maintain the image of smartness, leading to fear of challenge and inability to cope with failure. This is most prevalent in high-achieving girls; contributing to the low numbers of females continuing with STEM subjects in FE, HE and employment.

When students are set for mathematics, there is often a ‘hidden agenda’ whereby students from lower ability groups have access to less of the curriculum, thus affecting their chance to ‘catch up’ cognitively in school.

Schools teaching mixed ability groups achieve more equitable outcomes; excellent social relations, higher levels of attainment, good behaviour, and greater respect between students.

Mixed ability grouping requires teachers to teach communication skills, problem solving and decision making skills in order to complete tasks which are designed to facilitate effective group working.

Furthermore, more inclusive grouping practices contribute to a more vibrant learning environment where learners are collaborating with one another, listening to each other, and developing collective responses to tasks.

Looking Forward

When students believe that everybody’s ability can grow, their achievement improves significantly.

When teachers believe that everybody’s ability can grow, they give all students opportunities to achieve at high levels.

When parents believe that everybody’s ability can grow, their children are more likely to have a positive attitude towards learning.

End Note

Having collected this research, I aim to use some of the ideas and philosophies when conducting primary research for my 3rd year dissertation project at Cardiff University. I have also presented and discussed these findings with a team at CSC, who can use and share it to potentially inform schooling practices in the region.

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