An investigation into the associations between maths anxiety in secondary school pupils and teachers’ and parents’ implicit theories of intelligence and failure

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Anna Doedens-Plant
Submitted: June 2018


This research examined the role that teachers’ mindsets, or implicit beliefs about intelligence and failure, play in the development of their pupils’ mindsets and subsequent maths anxiety. A systematic review of fourteen studies investigated the association between teachers’ implicit beliefs about intelligence and their pedagogical practices in the classroom. It showed that teachers tended to report having a growth mindset, but this was not necessarily evidenced by concordant classroom practice, such as the adoption of mastery goals. Fixed mindset beliefs, on the other hand, seemed to lead to more consistent practice, with potentially damaging effects.

The empirical study built on this review to explore mindset (i.e., implicit beliefs about intelligence and failure) in secondary school pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 (0.859), their parents (N=84) and teachers (0=9). Pupils were also asked about their perceptions of their parents’ and teachers’ goals, as either oriented towards performance or learning. The results pointed to several factors associated with pupils’ maths anxiety (i.e. gender, maths set). Also, pupils’ implicit beliefs that failure is debilitating were associated with pupils’ maths anxiety. Teachers’ implicit failure beliefs were associated with pupils’ beliefs about failure and were indirectly linked via pupils’ perceptions of their teachers’ goals as fixed. Further analysis highlighted that pupils’ intelligence beliefs, their perception of their parents’ goals and their maths set also impacted on whether or not pupils’ viewed failure as debilitating or beneficial for learning. These results suggest that teachers can make a useful contribution to reducing pupils’ maths anxiety, by reflecting on how to translate helpful beliefs into visible practice, to help pupils experience failure as an opportunity for learning.

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