What’s most important; Attitude, Ability or Opportunity?

Posted by Emma on Feb 29, 2016

Duckworth and Boaler are both concerned about the way in which students are unable to fulfil their potential in the current schooling system. They both advocate Carol Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’ as a step in the right direction towards higher achievement for all students regardless of their initial ability. Boaler explains how the current education system is detrimentally labelling students in terms of their ability and therefore sending negative messages to students. She supports the idea of mixed ability classes as a necessary alternative as this provides students with an equal opportunity to achieve.

The ideas presented in Boaler’s article interests me as I remember when I entered the GCSE years of my schooling and how baffled I was at the idea that some students would be entered for a foundation paper which would not allow them to achieve any higher than a C-grade. At the time this seemed completely absurd to me, I also wondered why teachers were underestimating some students and limiting their potential. I also find in my own experience that students in lower ability lessons resign themselves to low grades in a self-fulfilling prophecy. I particularly liked the way in which she suggested that the way in which mistakes are tackled within a classroom. Some of us had the opportunity to see this put into practice at Chailey with the Shanghai teachers. The class were reminded constantly that any mistakes they made were useful and progressive because it meant that the rest of the class could gain from them. I think this would be a positive thing to implement in, not only my own teaching but also, my own learning as I myself am often terrified of making mistakes.

Despite what Duckworth says regarding grit and determination, I can’t help thinking that there are always some students who will do next to no revision and still pull a fantastic grade out the bag. This would suggest that perhaps Syed is wrong and there is such a thing as natural talent and I wonder whether some students have an inherent affinity towards certain subjects. I think the problem has less to do with ability setting or growth mind sets and more to do with the fact that the mathematics we are paid to teach in schools is boring and dull. Is it really any wonder that students are turned off to the subject? I agree more with Boaler’s previous article and Lockhart that mathematics is being misrepresented in schools and personally I feel this is the first thing that needs to be tackled. Boaler touches on the fact that questions in maths lessons at the moment are short and closed and therefore if we follow Meyer’s advice and open the questions we are asking students, giving them more freedom and responsibility within their own learning, I think this would be a huge step in the right direction.


  1. Stephen
    7 March 2016

    Lots of great ideas brought together here. I do agree that there are people who can do little to no revision and still come out with a great mark throughout their lives. I think you are right though that the ideas encouraged by Boaler such as the mixed ability and learning from our mistakes will help students who are struggling. Mostly though as you say it is changing about how we teach maths that might give students more self interest in the topic, which is surely the greatest motivating factor of all.

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 March 2016

    Great to see you begin to boil things down to something that can be changed. You say that the maths we have to teach is boring, but it could instead be the way it is taught?

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