Growing Minds in the Classroom

Posted by Rhys on Nov 2, 2015


Having watched Carol Dwecks’ presentation on Growth mindsets and how this can affect the learning of students in school. As well as reading the Relational Understanding article by Richard Skemp. I have had two views on the way that students learn and what could help enhance their learning capabilities in mathematics.

Carol talked about the idea that there are two different types of mindsets in students. The first is called a Fixed mindset, this type of mindset should come naturally to children and it means that they feel like they don’t need to work hard at something. This is because they feel that if they are good at something it has come naturally and if they are not so good at a certain subject that they will never be good at it if it does not come naturally to them. The second mindset is called the Growth mindset. This mindset is where a student must work hard on improving their knowledge in subjects in order to improve.

Whereas Richard talked about a very different way to help learning in the classroom. He looked at how the teaching may affect the way students learn. He talked about Instrumental learning which involves learning by the book. This is contrast to Relational learning which is about students compiling together and solving problems as a group and also the teacher teaching how to solve equations for example in maths by showing how the equations relate to actual situations or scenarios in the real world.

Instrumental learning is seen as a very effective and traditional way of teaching. This is because it allows for quicker learning of subjects in order for results to be achieved. Quoting Richard he said “If what is wanted is a page of right answers, instrumental mathematics can provide this more quickly and easily”. However relational teaching has advantages as well. For example it is much easier to remember what to do with the question and how it looks, than trying to memorise hundreds of different equations.

In my opinion teachers shouldn’t be choosing between instrumental or relational teaching, they should be using a combination of both. This is because students need to be able to show how equations work and also how formulas relate to certain situations. And also it would take far longer to teach students the maths without instrumental learning. As they need to know the formulas but also need to understand how they work and what they are trying to achieve with those formulas.

Linking back to Carols’ talk she said that praising students will mean that students who are doing consistently well switch off to the learning that is going on around them. So they need to be praised for the processes they used in order for them to work even harder. However, at the other end of the spectrum, Carol found that if you gave failing students of a grade saying “not yet” they were more inclined to work harder to achieve the pass grade, compared to those who were given a fail.

Overall in my opinion Carol and Richard came up with good advice for teachers on how to improve their teaching and in turn their students learning. I think you need to use Carols idea of growth mindsets and along with a combination of Richards’ instrumental and relational learning in order for students to achieve the best they possibly can in the classroom.


  1. rajchopra
    8 November 2015

    You make very interesting points, Rhys, i.e. not choosing between relational and instrumental teaching and using a combination.
    Also, linking Carol’s point about the need to praise is interesting too.
    The essay flowed nicely.

  2. pepsmccrea
    9 November 2015

    Good to see you stepping above the dichotomy and suggesting that teachers might need to teach both ways. In fact, more of this please. I want to hear what you think about what they think (rather than just what they think).

  3. Kkay
    9 November 2015

    The way you’ve explained and with ur analysis I can safely say I don’t need to go and watch the ‘mind set’ video. Well done. Good and valid points through out. I already see myself banning the word ‘No’ in my classroom for a simple ‘not yet sir!’

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