Changing classroom culture of 10MaBA1


  1. Why was the area of interest to you and to your school? (200 words)

I am teaching a mixed ability year 10 class (10MaBA1) whose attitude to learning and confidence are proving to be real obstacles to the learning process. In the past, students have hidden their lack of confidence by feeling the right of “being in charge of the classroom”. In addition, previous assessment data and FFT data show a wide range of abilities among students, with students aiming to achieve from D to A in their Mathematics GCSE (Evidence 1).

I want to change the classroom culture such that:

  • There is a positive learning environment and students feel comfortable in taking risks
  • Students see “failure/making mistakes” as part of the learning process
  • Students have high expectations of their own learning.
  1. What did you want to find out? (100 words)

My PGCE training has shaped my beliefs about learning and teaching: on one hand, learning is something that students must do for themselves, with some effort and mental activity (Pritchard, 2005); on the other, teachers facilitate learning through engaging with educational literature and their ability to adapt it to the specific needs of their pupils (Goulding, 2005). If I want to facilitate the learning of 10MaBA1 students then I need to reflect upon my approaches to classroom management; if I want year 10MaBA1 students to do the thinking by themselves then I need to create differentiation strategies.

  1. What information on this area were you able to discover (eg websites/ journal articles/books) (250/500 words)

Dweck (2006) explains that our mindset affects the way we approach our goals: for people with a fixed mindset intelligence and individual qualities cannot be changed; instead for people with a growth mindset abilities can be cultivated. Dweck clarifies that people with a fixed mindset have as much confidence as people with the growth mindset; however, people with a fixed mindset cope with failure differently from people with a growth mindset. In particular, people with a fixed mindset do not try to learn from their mistakes and instead tend to repair their self-esteem (e.g. by looking for people who are worsen off or by making excuses).

Goulding (2004: 178) underlines how uniquely maths, among all the curriculum subjects, has the power to generate ‘feelings of anxiety, fear, helplessness and guilt’ in some students. Buxton (1981, quoted in Goulding 2004) gives causes of panic alongside with extremely approachable strategies to overcome them: for example, if the student experiences frustration because unable to tackle a maths problem, the teacher should provide him or her with high levels of success and with levels of failure that the student can tolerate. Nonetheless, Goulding (2005: 58) specifies that awareness of those feelings must not lead students to rely on teachers who ‘do the thinking for them’. As valued by Mason, Burton and Stacey (1982), getting stuck is part of the mathematical thinking and young people should be driven to accept it as part of the challenges that maths offers.

An excellent teacher should be a facilitator of learning, encouraging students to have an active role in their own development through varying teaching strategies, such as Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development and scaffolding.

Vygotsky (1978) invents the expression zone of proximal development (ZPD) to describe the space between the actual level of understanding and the level which could be potentially achieved through guidance of an adult or a more experienced peer.

For Bruner (1971), the problem is to find a way to convert knowledge in a way that can be understood by a learner. The psychologist suggests the metaphor of scaffolding (Goulding, 2005; Pollard, 2008): as scaffolding is needed to support the process of construction of a house from its foundation, similarly children’s understanding should be supported just enough to move from one level to a higher one; nevertheless, when all parts are secured, the scaffolding can be removed.

Balancing the level of support and challenge is a way to work in the ZPD and to use scaffoldings in mathematics education, which, according to Goulding (2005), leads to a more intelligent rather than mechanical learning.

In conclusion, it is vital to consider students as ‘constructors’ of learning and teachers as ‘leaders’ (Busher, 2002: 286 & 275). In fact, on one hand, learning is something that students must do for themselves, with some effort and mental activity (Pritchard, 2005); on the other, teachers facilitate learning through engaging with educational literature and their ability to adapt it to the specific needs of their pupils (Goulding, 2005).

  1. What were your research questions? (100 words)

As Sue Brindley stated in one of our meetings, “changing classroom culture is a long term project but needs to be started somewhere”. Therefore, I have decided to break down my research questions as follow:

  1. What are the pupils’ perceptions of learning in general and learning of Mathematics?
  2. What are the effects of group-work and scaffolded resources on classroom management?
  1. How did you go about finding your data? (250 words)
  2. Analysing your data – how? (250 words)
  3. What did you find out? (Evidence could be a portfolio) Structure against your reeserach questions. (500 words)
  4. Discussion of any key areas, referring back to previous findings (500 words)

Table to respond to points 5, 6, 7 and 8.

  1. Research question Which data I need How I collect the data How I analyse the data Findings
    1. What are the pupils’ perceptions of learning in general and learning of Mathematics?


    pupils’ perceptions of learning in general and learning of Mathematics Students’ initial questionnaire on learning in general and learning of Mathematics: Questionnaire A(open questions) (Evidence 2) Tally chart of emerging themes/patterns (Evidence 3) Students are aware of the impact of their Mathematics grade for their future choicesTo the question “what it is important in this GCSE year is…” 54% of the students said that they want to do well and/or achieve a good grade. Some also specified why it is important to achieve a good grade in Maths (e.g. for their engineering course). This indicates that 10MaBA1 students are aware of the impact of their Mathematics grade for their future choices.

    Students associate their enjoyment of Maths to their ability to do it or not

    To the questions “In Maths, I enjoy…” and “In Maths I find it difficult when…” 38% of the students answered that they enjoy Maths when “they get it” or they find Maths difficult when “they don’t get it” (evidence 4). Students often associate their enjoyment of the subject to their ability to do it or not.

    Students enjoy working in groups

    To the questions “The lesson I enjoy…”, “I learn best in lessons where…” and “In Maths, I enjoy…” 67% of the students said when they work in groups and share ideas. Some students also added that they enjoy group-work if they like the people they are working with. This response has made me realise that group-work might be used to overcome on one side the feeling of anxiety that the subject might arise and on the other some students can be used as behavioural role models.

    How students see “failure/making mistakes”
    • Reading on fixed and growth mindsets.
    • Questionnaire on students’ perceptions of intelligence/ability: Questionnaire B (closed questions) (evidence 5)
    • Equation on intelligence (intelligence= __%effort + __%ability) (evidence 5)
    Pie charts (evidence 6) Students are not prepared to make the effort required in order to improve because of the effect of failure on their self-esteem.78% of the students mostly agreed with question 4, 5 and 6 showing a growth mindset. However, when asked to complete the equation, only 52% of the students with a growth mindset said that intelligence is made mostly by effort. Therefore, most students think that, if they want, they can change how intelligent they are; nevertheless, students are not prepared to make the effort required because of the effect of failure on their self-esteem (evidence 6 and 7).
    1. What are the effects of group-work and scaffolded resources on classroom management?


    students’ response to group-work
    • Attending INSET session and reading on classroom management.
    • Observation from another member of staff on my ways to communicate expectations to students (Brief lesson Observation).
    • Learning diary
    Tally chart from lesson observation (evidence 8).Read through my perceptions of the impact of group-work (evidence 9). Group-work help classroom managementGroups have been organised according to ability bands.

    • As soon as the class was organised in groups, the group felt much smaller. I felt that I could deal with low level disruption more promptly: as it emerged from my colleague’s observation, in 15 minutes I gave positive and corrective feedbacks to students 19 times.
    • Students’ conversations were mainly related to the work
    • Unexpectedly, a previously disruptive student became a role model for the others in her group, keeping the focus of everyone.
    • Unexpectedly, a non-cofident student became a leader of his group by helping others with the work.
    • Being fierce with time helped students to focus their conversations to the work.
    students’ response to scaffolded resources Students’ books. Focus group: Student 1 (evidence 10)and Student 2 (evidence 11). Both students have an FFT of C but previous assessment grade for student 1 is C and for student 2 is B (see evidence 1) Quality of the work produced with the scaffolded resources. Students’ progress is facilitated when the challenge is scaffolded.I have decided to focus on the impact of one resource used to teach how to plot straight lines. The differentiation strategies were aimed to allow students to work to their own pace:

    • Support through guided examples and clues/steps
    • Tasks of increasing difficulty (they start with positive integers and then they move to negative numbers)
    • As extension, students were asked to solve simultaneous linear equations by plotting straight lines.

    Both students show a good grasp of how to plot straight lines with student 1 (who seems to be weaker from previous assessment) making also the next step to solving simultaneous equations. Their level of progress is reflected also in their plenary self-evaluation.

    Practical applications and uses. (250-500 words) and

  2. Conclusion. (100 words)
  • Main conclusion: Changing classroom culture is a big task but classroom management is facilitated through group-work and scaffolding of the challenge.
  • Limitations: planning can take longer but team-planning can help.
  • Recommendations: when scaffolding the challenge, teachers need to ensure that, on one hand, students should not feel frustrated by a task and, on the other, students can feel good about having generated some knowledge by themselves. This requires careful thinking of the level of support students might need at any stage.
  • Impact on my own practice: I have used group work and scaffolded resource with other classes (Evidence 12).
  • Influencing others: I will be presenting my findings at the CAMStar conference, at the SWCHS Research Celebration Event and in an Area Meeting.
  • More questions: how do year 10MaBA1 students respond to tasks where they need to create some knowledge by themselves (e.g. making generalisations)?





Label Evidence for…
evidence 1 10MaBA1 previous data and FFT
evidence 2 Questionnaire A (open questions)
evidence 3 Emerging patterns from questionnaire A
evidence 4 sample student’s response to questionnaire A
evidence 5 Questionnaire B (close questions) and intelligence equation
evidence 6 pie charts to analyse proportion of students with growth mindsets
evidence 7 sample student’s response to questionnaire B and equation on intelligence)
evidence 8 tally chart from colleague’s lesson observation
evidence 9 sample of learning diary
evidence 10 Student 1 work
evidence 11 Student 2 work
evidence 12 Impact on my practice with other classes




Bruner, J. S. (1971) The relevance of education. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Busher, H. (2002) ‘Managing Change to Improve Learning’, in Bush, T. And Bell, L. (2002) The Principles and Practice of Educational Management. London: Paul Chapman.

Dweck, C. (2006) Mindset How you can fulfil your potential. New York: Robinson.

Goulding, M. (2004) Learning to teach mathematics in the secondary school. Oxon: Routledge.

Goulding, M. (2005) ‘Pupils Learning Mathematics’, in S. Johnston-Wilder, P. Johnston-Wilder, D. Pimm & J. Westwell (Eds) Learning to Teach Mathematics in the Secondary School. London: Routledge.

Mason, J., Burton, L. & Stacey, K. (1982) Thinking mathematically. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Pollard, A. (2008). Reflective Teaching: 3rd Edition. London: Continuum.

Pritchard, A. (2005) Ways of Learning: Learning Theories and Learning Styles in the Classroom. London: David Fulton.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind and Society. The Development of Higher Psycological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harward University Press.


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