Hate maths? Focus on having a better Growth Mindset, says International College Hong Kong, not your grades

By Sebastien Raybaud

International College Hong Kong maths teacher Jamie Holden on why he urges his students to develop a Growth Mindset, and to focus on effort rather than results

By Sebastien Raybaud |

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ICHK maths teacher Jamie Holden and student Caelan Hermans.

Ever felt like grades were at the centre of your existence? International College Hong Kong (ICHK) has introduced the Growth Mindset teaching tool, which encourages students to worry less about grades and focus on their attitudes towards learning.

ICHK’s Year 11 student Caelan Hermans was introduced to Growth Mindset only two years ago, but went from hating to loving maths. “It was the first time I had ever been told that my grade didn’t matter, but rather the process and all of my attempts that mattered most. Our effort was praised, even if it was not ‘right’,” says Caelan.

“In fact, maths became my favourite lesson of the week and I’d look forward to every session. I still do. Tests were not used to look at our grades but at what we did right and how we could improve,” adds Caelan.

Unlike classic grading schemes, students are assessed based on a whole range of skills including their levels of engagement and participation, rather than simply their academic ability.

Caelan says this new mentality was important to her development as a person in and out of school. “I became more positive, motivated, willing to try new things and to accept failure as a first attempt in learning,” explains Caelan.

Based on research by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, a person with a Growth Mindset believes that innate talent and intelligence are just the starting point, and that excellence can be developed through hard work and effort.

A Fixed Mindset, on the other hand, means you believe your basic abilities are static and you are stuck with what you’re born with. A person with this mindset won’t try to improve through hard work, but instead usually focuses on trying to look good and limiting opportunities for failure.

Jamie Holden, a ICHK mathematics teacher, suggests there should never be a fixed mindset about any task. Students shouldn’t feel like they cannot do something, but instead be encouraged to keep growing. “I always start my new classes with the phrase ‘not knowing and not knowing yet’. I always emphasise the word ‘yet’ because this is a positive mentality to learn and keep learning more,” says an energetic Holden.

“Every student learns differently, so they are positively advised on how to improve their learning and participatory abilities inside and outside the classroom, no matter whether their grades fall,” Holden says.

Apart from maths, the school hopes to instil a Growth Mindset in other subjects as part of the IB curriculum for Grade 7 to 13 students, aged 11 to 18 years old. Each class is small – ranging from five to 20 students – so that there is more interaction during lessons and more individual attention from the teacher.

Growth Mindset, Holden explains, is for all students across the grade spectrum. “Grade A star students may do exceptionally well, but with such high grades, how do they improve? Equally, how does a grade C student improve? Do they suddenly give up because of bad grades?” says Holden.

Implementing the Growth Mindset at ICHK has definitely improved all aspects of the school community. Teachers are better able to connect with their students, who in turn are more positive and engaged in their lessons. They actually look forward to going to school every day.

In the end, though, students have to face the harsh reality of being assessed by grades to enter university. Holden is certain the grades will come. “As teachers, we have to reassure parents their children will not only enjoy their classes, but also get the necessary grades”.

Edited by Jamie Lam