Growth mind-set through motivation

As part of our action enquiry for the NQT year, Adele and I focused on how to create student motivation in classes, through competition and through games.

Motivating through Competition


My action enquiry was  focused on a Year 8 lower set maths class with only 5 students. These students have been put together in this class because they all struggle with Maths and therefore suffer from low motivation and resilience problems. I knew that they could focus during certain lessons but I had rarely seen any determination to succeed and complete the work. I decided to research whether putting them in competition with each other would give them motivation to succeed as they are all quite good friends and usually like to argue about who is better than the other at a variety of things. The 3 forms of data to back up my research were:

  • Scores from half term assessment
  • Scores from Numeracy Ninja booklets
  • Frequency of giving up and comments indicating low motivation

Intended outcomes:

Through my research I was hoping to create motivation and resilience by creating a new incentive to do well. Rather than making them want to succeed at maths for the sake of their own learning, I was hoping that the desire to be better than their peers and win a prize for their efforts would make them succeed. My goals were for test scores to improve across the class and to hear fewer comments which showed that they had given up. I also hoped that they would be able to persist with work which they were finding difficult without any influence from me.


Test scores. I collected the results of the five previous half term assessments they had done throughout the year and found out the average score for each of them. I put all this information into a table and showed it to them during a lesson. They instantly started comparing scores and put themselves in order of best to worst.

I then told them that for the next assessment, the student with the highest mark will win a chocolate bar. This created an instant change in response from the students. Usually when I told them they had a test they would become sad and frustrated. This time they asked me what will be in the test, how they could revise and how to find the revision checklist; which they had never asked me before.

Numeracy Ninjas. I introduced the numeracy ninja booklets to the group. The first week I just told them to do the work without giving any further incentives. I then marked the books and recorded the average score to form a baseline. I also noted how many times they gave up or tried to cheat by using a calculator. The second and third weeks I told them that the student with the highest mark would win a chocolate. I again marked and recorded the average scores to see what impact the competition had. I also kept making notes of the things they said and did during the numeracy tests.


The outcomes from the test scores and numeracy booklets are shown in the tables below:

Half termly assessments:

The mean score was calculated from the four previous assessments they took throughout the year. The summer 1 score was the taken after the competition was introduced.

Student Mean Score Summer 1
A 4.25 0
B 6 6
C 5.75 5
D 3.5 2
E 9.75 9


As you can see, none of the students achieved a mark in the assessment which was higher than their mean score across the year. This shows that the competition did not have any effect on how they did in the assessment. However it was clear that there was more enthusiasm in class. The students gave seemed much keener to complete the test and did not lose focus as frequently as in a usual assessment lesson. Four out of five students put much more effort into the test and answered more questions than usual; they also became more frustrated when they had forgotten how to answer a question which they had previously learnt in class.

Numeracy Ninja booklets:

Four sessions of numeracy ninjas were done each week. I marked the booklets myself and calculated the average score over the week for 3 weeks. The first week was a bench mark with no competition introduced and week 2 and 3 were after I had introduced the competitions.


Student Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
A 7 8.25 8.75
B 11 14 11.25
C 9 12 10.75
D 8 9.25 7.25
E 18 21 20.75


You can see that in the first week where competition was introduced, all of the students’ scores increased. However in the second week when the competition was still in place, only one of the students managed to increase their score whilst all the others dropped marks. This makes it very difficult to make a conclusion about the effects of competition on performance in their tests.

Again it was clear that the competitions had had a positive effect on their motivation and resilience throughout the tasks. It became easier each week to get the students to sit down and start working quickly. I heard much fewer negative comments over the weeks where competition was introduced and noticed that students kept trying right till the end of the time allowed. They also asked to have more time to complete the work whereas in the first week they were more than happy to hand in their booklets as soon as the time was up. No students tried to cheat by using a calculator during week 2 and 3. Most of the students worked silently throughout the whole time allowed, which is extremely rare in that class.


To conclude I believe that competitions do have a positive effect on motivation and resilience of lower set students. It may not be apparent just from their results in tests, but this is affected by many more variables than just their mind-set during the test. There are a vast number of problems which each student faces when it comes to maths, so just introducing an extra incentive to do well will not be enough to improve their knowledge of maths and ability to recall that knowledge during a test.

However there is a clear positive effect on the motivation and effort of lower set students when competitions are introduced. The extra incentive of beating their peers and winning a prize give the students a good reason to try harder and not give up as easily. It was clear from my students that this was the case. I recommend that anyone who teaches a lower set small sized class in the future should use competitions throughout the year. I believe it will give students extra incentive to focus more in each lesson and to make greater effort with revision. However teachers need to back this up with a greater understanding of each student’s needs; and focus the work and activities on what will help them improve their basic understanding of maths and help them to revise if they want to see any improvement in their final test results. My experiment has shown that purely introducing competitions into lessons will not produce improvements in final test scores but will have a positive effect on effort and motivation in lessons.


Motivating through Games:



I noticed straight away at the beginning of the year that my year 10 class was very boy heavy. I started the year with a class of 24 and only 7 of them were girls. I had my initial concerns about this in terms of seating plans and the dynamic of group. However after a few weeks I began to realise something that I didn’t originally think of, motivation to do work amongst the boys was low. This became even more abundantly clear when the class had their first mock exam and most of the students got quite low levels; at this stage I wasn’t particularly worried: no one in the class had ever done a mock exam in Geography before; they didn’t have the exam techniques or practise yet. The students however did not see it like this, a lot of the boys were demotivated by this and even said things like ‘I got a U, how am I ever going to get my target’ or ‘my target is only a D anyway, what’s the point?’. This is when it really dawned on me some major work would need to be put in to boost the motivation within the class. Another issue I found was the timetabling of the lessons; our double lessons were always during periods 5&6 which I found to be a really challenging time to motivate the students.

Intended outcomes

Straight away I offered students to come back after school to practise exam questions and techniques but of course, it was the unmotivated, disengaged boys that never turned up. They weren’t motivated in lessons, why an earth did I think they would give up their free time to come back after school? I clearly needed to get them motivated in lessons before I could expect them to willingly come back after school for extra help. So this was my intended outcomes: to do something to engage and motivate the students during lesson, to the point that they might be more willing to come back after school to get extra help.


With the support of my NQT mentor I came up with a solution that would hopefully have an impact. The idea was to use games as a form of competition, which would also increase their confidence and knowledge of key words. I started building in the use of quick games in lesson, particularly in the middle of our double lesson, to keep students switched on and focused. The games involved 2 students taking part; one reading out the definitions and another trying to find the key word and ‘shot’ it off the board. The key words and definitions used were based on the 6 different topics we covered over the year. The games evolved in difficulty and had time limits and limited ammo for each round. Below are some screenshots of the game, demonstrating the difficulty of the different levels.

The competition element of the games varied. Sometimes it would be boys vs. girls or the right side of the room vs the left side or even just every man for themselves. By switching this up helped to keep it interesting and different for the students. This encouraged students to work with others they might not have normally and build on different relationships in the group.


I found that this worked quite well. Straight away there was the added element of excitement to the lessons. Students began to realise that this was becoming a regular occurrence and therefore it did boost motivation in lesson and even improved the behaviour; they knew if they were too chatty or not getting on with the work they would not be rewarded with the games to break up the lesson.  I found as the frequency of the games increased and the different topics were covered more than once, the students became more confident in the key words and were remembering them a lot easier. This could be seen as even the low starter students were much more confident and frequently wanting to come up and play after a few lessons whereas in the beginning it was only the higher starter students that would volunteer to come up and the low starters were very hesitant to give it a go.


In conclusion, I think using the games did boost motivation in the lesson and did increase the students’ knowledge in the key words. However I did notice that although during the games their knowledge of the key words and definitions were improving the students were not applying and using these words in practise exam questions. The strategy did work on improving motivation but there is still some fine tuning required to also build in more obvious links to using these words in exam questions. I haven’t been using this strategy recently as the Year 10s have been working on their controlled assessments independently. However they have just finished and we are starting revision lessons before their mock exams, I am keen to build in different games in this time to get them back to where they were before the controlled assessment and hopefully this time I’ll find a way to make it clearer that they need to start including and applying these words more regularly and correctly in exam questions.



Teaching without a clue

As part of my NQT induction year at my school I was asked to teach a lesson which was not in my subject area. I am a Maths teacher and also teach Economics to one A-level class; so when I found out I was going to teach a Textiles lesson to year 7s I knew it would be completely out of my comfort zone. The purpose of the task was to make me realise which key skills are necessary to teaching when you have no subject knowledge to help you get through the lesson.

I found that the most important part of this task was managing the behaviour throughout the lesson. I decided that even though I did not know most of the students, I would just act like I did know them and that because I am a teacher and they are students, I expect them to behave properly even if they don’t know me. When I wanted them to be quiet I used the count down from 3 to get silence. To my surprise, by 0 the entire class was silent and waiting for me to speak. I acted as if I was not surprised at all and was expecting it to happen.

Another skill that I have developed this year is to give praise for small achievements made by students. I found that this was incredibly useful during the textiles lesson as it was a practical lesson where students were designing and making bags. Because I had no idea what was good or bad I decided that if they had completed a certain stage and it looked reasonably like how it should look on the lesson plan, I would give them a good amount of praise and ask them what the next stage was. This seemed to give the students the confidence to get on with the work themselves.

Some problems occurred when some students didn’t know how to do the stage that they were on. To deal with this I used a differentiation technique which I use very often in Maths; getting other students to demonstrate and help others. I gave these helpers “expert badges” which were used by their actual teacher. By the middle of the lesson students were coming to me and asking “can I be an expert if I help him/her?” This was an example of how effective praise and rewards can be on the attitudes and progress of students.

As a Maths teacher I am not used to the chaotic nature of a practical lesson, where students are moving around the room and using lots of different equipment at the same time. However I felt that by using these three behaviour management techniques I was able to get through the lesson without any trouble, and in fact I actually enjoyed it a lot. The students seemed to enjoy themselves and by the end were pretty much getting on with it without asking me anything (which I guess is the best you can hope for!).

Later on my one of the students asked me whether I was teaching his technology lesson again. After I told him no he replied with “Ye it felt like we were teaching you anyway…”


Stand up Sit down, Do’s and Don’ts !

During an NQT session led by the lead teacher at my school we were introduced to a range of simple differentiation strategies which we could use in classes. One of these was called stand-up sit-down. Basically students have to stand up and discuss a question posed to them on the board, and then sit down when they have agreed on an answer. I wanted to try this in class as I found it both fun and interesting and thought that it was an excellent way of getting both differentiation and assessment into the lesson with a very little amount of effort.

I tried stand-up sit-down with both my year 7 classes over four lessons. Students had to look at five problems involving addition of decimals and in pairs decide on an answer. When a pair had both agreed on an answer they could sit down. I gave 10 seconds for each question. For the first two I put a timer on the board so that they knew how much time they had, but for the final three I took it off. This allowed me to clearly see which pairs were getting an answer quickly. However it didn’t tell me if they were getting the right answer. Therefore after each answer I took in a few suggestions, making sure one was correct, and told students to put up their hands if they agreed and then if they disagreed.

Problems: Most students did the working out on their own and did not discuss it with a partner. Students were ignoring the rules at the beginning and just sitting down when they knew the answer and not waiting to see if their partner had any other ideas. This went against the point of the task which was to include everyone in the learning. It also turned into a race between the students as they were just trying to beat each other and sit down quicker than the others. This in turn created noise and disruption as students laughed at each other and teased each other for not knowing the answer.

Good points: I could clearly see who had understood the question and who was having difficulty. The majority of students got the correct answer each time. Therefore this was an easy and effective method of AFL.

Overall: The task worked well for assessing their understanding; however I think the questions were too easy to make the task useful. Students found the questions easy and therefore did not have to discuss the answers with their partner; therefore some students who did not understand the question properly had no benefit from this task.

I did this same task again with both my year seven classes, but instead of decimal addition it was now decimal subtraction. This time it worked a lot better as the questions were a bit tougher and required some harder working out. I could clearly see that some students were calculating the answers very quickly, while others were taking longer and discussing it in detail. I also saw that students were helping each other to understand the process of subtracting decimals and were much more focused on getting the correct answer, rather than thinking that they were in a race to sit down. The task made it easy to assess the understanding of the students; and allowed all the students to be included in the discussion, as I had told them they can only sit down when they both agree on an answer. Therefore it was a good type of differentiation and assessment strategy.

Some advice for those who try Stand-up sit down in the future:

Make the work challenging, or have multiple choices to force the students into a discussion.

Reiterate that it is not a race, the purpose is to make sure every understands the work.

If a student sits down and his partner is still standing up, force him/her to get up again and agree on a final answer.

If you see that a student has been helped by his/her peer, ask that student for an answer and how/why they decided on that answer. (This will really show if they have understood it or not).