‘Developing Pupil Resilience’

An Action Research Project by Jackie Garrett (Science)

Objective

To develop a range of practical strategies to enable learners in my classes to develop their resilience, learn from their mistakes, take risks and adopt an ‘I can’ approach to learning.

Background

Schools have a responsibility not just to prepare pupils for passing examinations but also to develop their ability to manage challenges by making them more resilient.

My interest in this area was centred on the question: ‘Can you teach resilience?’ Many pupils believe that if something feels difficult the first time you try it then you can’t/won’t be able to do it at all.  At these times it can be easy to give up and stop trying, but, is it possible to teach them to be more persistent?

We often tell pupils to try again or make improvements but how often do we consciously use strategies to help them understand that mistakes are an intrinsic part of new learning and that the only way to fail is to give up?

My aim, therefore, was to research and apply a range of strategies within the following areas:

  • Establishing a safe learning environment where pupils can take risks.
  • Developing feedback to pupils to ensure that hard work, persistence, taking on challenges and other positive learning behaviours are given high value.
  • Taking opportunities to talk to pupils about failure (both mine and theirs) so that they gain the competence and understanding to persevere and make progress through their mistakes.

Context

The focus for my action research project has been my Year 10 Physics GCSE group. (Ability range E+ – C+)

My initial impressions of them as a group were that they were very engaged and hardworking, but a large number of them lacked confidence, gave up easily and found failure difficult to manage.

Many were fairly passive learners who would listen intently to teacher led instruction but found independent learning or more active, challenging tasks difficult. A number would seek teacher intervention almost immediately on being given a task – without ‘having a go’ first or using other strategies to get unstuck.  Many students in the group were very ‘teacher reliant’

Background reading and research

As a new teacher at the school, my research began with conversations with colleagues about the learning characteristics of the pupils in my class. Many of their other teachers were experiencing similar behaviours in their subject areas too and a group of us were keen to work together to develop and share strategies and good practice.

Throughout the time of the Action Research my group shared experiences, successes, failures and ideas and this provided a significant source of research.

As a start point I simply googled ‘developing resilience’.

I focused in on an article published in the Guardian newspaper, teacher network, by Neurologist and Teacher Judy Willis.

(The science of resilience: how to teach students to persevere | Teacher Network | The Guardian) Tuesday 12 January 2016 07.00 GMT.

In her article Ms Willis identifies 3 main areas to focus on:

A child’s competence

“It is not uncommon for students to come to your class with past experiences that have left them feeling like they can’t move forward when a task is overwhelming.  You can help them overcome that mindset by building their confidence through experiences that develop their competence.  One activity involves showing students that some things, which seem impossible or too confusing at first, can be broken down into easy-to-understand parts.”

Their tolerance to mistakes

“When you incorporate opportunities for students to experience mistakes as an expected part of learning, you build their resilience to setbacks. Through class discussions, your own mistakes, and building pupils’ knowledge of their brain’s programming, your students will gain the competence, optimism and understanding to persevere – and even make progress – through failure.”

Their ability to set goals

“Students will engage more if they have to use the facts or procedures as tools for participating in personally relevant tasks. For example, invite students to select a recipe from a cookbook that uses standard and not metric measurements. They will want to know how to convert metric and standard measurements to make what they have chosen. The personally desirable goal of making delicious cookies or play dough will motivate them to do their sums.”

Focusing on these three areas seemed to be a sensible start point, the next phase in my research involved seeking out practical ideas and resources which might help me deliver successfully in each of my three goal areas.

The teacher toolkit website was a useful resource when it came to sourcing ideas and materials I could actually ‘use’ in my classroom:

http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2015/12/03/resilience/

In particular I was able to source 10 resilience phrases designed to teach children resilience courtesy of Michael Grose at kidspot:

http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/

10 phrases to teach resilience

  1. “Come on, laugh it off!”
  2. “Don’t let this spoil everything.”
  3. “Let’s take a break!”
  4. “Who have you spoken to about this?”
  5. “I know it looks bad now but you will get through this.”
  6. “What can you learn from this so it doesn’t happen next time?”
  7. “Don’t worry – relax and see what happens!”
  8. “This isn’t the end of the world.”
  9. “You could be right. But have you thought about … ”
  10. “What can we do about this?”

Another very useful resource was an image called ‘the iceberg illusion’ by @sylviaduckworth (twitter)

Iceberg illusion

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth/

This resource enabled pupils to visualise success as an iceberg with success being the 10% that people see, whilst persistence, sacrifice, hard work, good habits etc make up the 90% of success that is not seen. It seemed a useful start point to promote conversations with pupils about how to be successful learners.

Actions

  1. Referring to the iceberg (displayed on wall).
  2. Consciously using the language from the ten best resilience phrases.
  3. Describing and being open about my own mistakes.
  4. Using rewards for attitude and good learning traits not just outcomes.
  5. Chunking tasks.
  6. Fast words
  7. Assembly
  8. Report comments.
  9. Feedback.

1. Referring to the iceberg

I took any opportunity that presented itself to talk to the pupils about ‘The Iceberg Illusion’ in my classes and about the hidden traits that are behind all successful learners e.g. when a pupil had not reached their target grade on a test we would look at the iceberg and discuss how they could turn that disappointment into motivation to keep trying rather than becoming disheartened.

Additionally, I used the iceberg to promote the understanding that failure is in fact a part of the road to success and not to be feared.

2. Consciously using the language from the ten best resilience phrases.

When pupils in my classes became ‘stuck’ on a task or made mistakes, I would aim to discuss with them how to get ‘unstuck’ using the phrases outlined on the chart. I have an A3 laminated copy stuck to my desk to remind me to do this whenever the opportunity arose.

3. Describing and being open about my mistakes.

When opportunities presented themselves I would describe to pupils mistakes and disappointments that I had experienced as a learner and how I felt at the time.

Additionally I planned lessons which highlighted common errors made by previous pupils and used them to model that the strongest understandings we have do not come from what we’ve memorised but from what we’ve learnt through failure.

4. Using rewards for attitude and good learning traits.

I considered my use of the whole school reward systems as well as our faculty rewards to identify ways to ensure I was praising the process of learning and good learning traits as frequently as possible. I wanted to convey the understanding amongst the pupils that good habits, persistence and hard work were valued in my classroom just as highly as ‘A*’ outcomes.  I rewarded pupils for asking questions; sticking at a task they found difficult, taking risks and sharing their mistakes.

5. Chunking tasks.

In her article on ‘teaching resilience’ Judy Willis comments on the importance of teaching pupils how to break a large, challenging task into smaller more achievable steps in order to make better progress. At the start of the year I modelled this idea to pupils whenever the opportunity arose and took chances to plan lessons where the task could be chunked. As the year progressed I began to ask the pupils to ‘chunk’ tasks themselves when they got stuck. Phrases like “What could you do first?”, “How could you make this easier?” or “What did you do the last time this happened?” were particularly useful.

6. Fast words.

Fast Words is a technique where learners have to think quickly and put down their ideas/knowledge with very little time to think or overthink the question. It is particularly useful for teaching the meanings of key words and assessing pupil’s knowledge and understanding of subject specific language at the start of a topic.

Many pupils find it very challenging to begin with, but with practice it can get them into the habit of putting something down and having a go and can often let them see how much knowledge they have about a topic.

The rules are:

1 minute to write definition.

Use all the time

Write anything you know.

Move on when told to, even if you haven’t finished.

Key word Definition at start Definition at end Progress?

7. Assembly

I delivered an assembly on ‘Failure’ to all year groups to raise awareness of resilience in the wider school and reinforce the message that hard work persistence and picking yourself up after a failure are highly valued traits and lead to ultimate success. All of the Learning Focus Group felt that the language of resilience needs to be embedded across the entire school and continuously reinforced by all.

I found the materials I used in the assembly on Prezi, by Chris Hildrew on 2 May 2016. It was an assembly he had developed for use at Chew Valley School and exactly met my requirements.

 https://prezi.com/jc-xl1d7zvq3/failure-assembly/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

 8. Report Comments

To reinforce the value of resilience and persistence I wanted to provide targets based on developing resilience as part of our formal target setting structures in the pupils’ yearly reports to parents.

As well as a curriculum target for each pupil, I wrote a range of targets intended to provide feedback on how each pupil could develop their resilience. Despite much searching I was not able to find anything that exactly suited my aim on the internet so I set about writing my own selection of targets.

Once written, I shared these targets with my faculty team and we agreed that all science staff would include a resilience based target in the reports for their year 10 classes as a trial exercise.

The targets used were:

  • Be open and receptive to new learning and experiences. Think positively and have a go.
  • When you have a setback in a lesson, don’t give up. Think about what you could do to improve the next time you try.
  • Try to keep going when you find the learning difficult. Stick at hard tasks and keep your focus.
  • When you are unsure about whether you have understood make sure you speak up and ask for help.
  • Learning is sometimes hard and it is not always possible to get everything right the first time. Use the feedback you get from others, and the yellow stickers in your book, to help improve your work.

9. Feedback

Throughout the year, I made a conscious effort to ensure both verbal and written feedback to pupils reinforced the language of resilience and that pupils received feedback on their learning traits and characteristics as well as their knowledge and understanding of the topic being studied.

Impact

Since the impact of my actions is often reflected in a change to pupils confidence, ability to break tasks into achievable chunks, persistence and the development of good learning habits, the impact of my actions is based on my anecdotal perceptions of the class as learners and their progress in this area from the start of the year to the end of the year.

Year 10 Physics group Start of the year: Sept 2015 End of the Year: July 2016
Perception of group ·         Hard working.

·         Want to do well/please.

·         Listen brilliantly.

·         Respond well to praise.

·         Many give up easily.

·         Most find it difficult to get unstuck.

·         Sometimes struggle to get started.

·         Very teacher reliant.

·         More confident.

·         Less reliant on me.

·         Will have a go…..

·         Recognise what is ‘valued’

·         Higher tier entry for some.

% showing good resilience 11% 37%
% showing some resilience 42% 47%
% showing very little/no resilience 47% 16%

The resilience work created interest in the school as a whole. As a result of our research the iceberg is now referred to across the school and staff are regularly using this idea to embed the language of resilience.

As part of an INSET day during the academic year 2016-2017 the resilience Learning Focus Group will facilitate a workshop on resilience to be delivered to the entire teaching staff.

Conclusions

When embarking on this Action research, I wanted to answer the question ‘Can you teach resilience?’

 It is very difficult to find strong evidence that it is possible to teach character in schools but, my conclusion is that it is possible to teach students a range of strategies that will build their confidence as learners, develop their ability to step up to challenges, see failures as part of the learning process and find ways through difficult tasks.

When teachers find time to talk to their pupils about how they learn, and how to become a more successful learner, my experience has been that pupils respond very positively.

Our challenge, in a system that is heavily driven by outcomes and exam success is to find the time to talk to pupils about the process of learning and to define successful learning in terms of that process, not just a final outcome.

The language that we use with our classes needs to constantly reinforce that good habits, hard work, persistence and disappointment are all an integral part of new learning and that new learning is difficult.

Our role is to enable pupils to recognise that moving from your comfort zone into the stretch zone can feel uncomfortable, but that the classroom is a safe and supportive environment in which to take that risk and then benefit from the learning rewards that will follow.

Additionally, feedback to pupils, rewards and reports need to convey the message that resilience in learning is highly valued. Targets for improvement should include consideration of how pupils can improve their resilience as well as providing information on how to improve academically.

As a group, we were all of the opinion that to have real impact, the language of resilience needs to be embedded across a whole school with all staff reinforcing the message and using the strategies whenever possible.

Finally, I would like to end on a quote from the article that first got me started on this Action Research:

“By building students’ resilience……you can help them realise that when they engage confidently with a challenge, anything is possible and failure is not something to fear. This is vitally important. After all, it’s not what students know, but what they can do with what they know, that is the goal of education.”  Judy Willis

Next Steps

Continue to use the strategies and ideas considered in this research with all my classes.

Consider extending the research for the next academic year to include links between this research and Carol Dweck’s research on ‘mind-sets’ and the latest studies on teaching mindfulness.

Additionally, continue to share resources and expertise with the wider staff, including facilitating whole staff INSET.

Sources/ Links/ References

Research was undertaken online using Google to source educational articles, websites and individual blogs, which in turn led to further links. Twitter was a valuable means by which I identified further articles and resources.

The science of resilience: how to teach students to persevere by Judy Willis: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2016/jan/12/science-resilience-how-to-teach-students-persevere

http://www.teachertoolkit.me/2015/12/03/resilience/

http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth/

https://prezi.com/jc-xl1d7zvq3/failure-assembly/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Featured image: ‘Don’t Give up’ by Brett Jordan (original image) at Flickr.com licensed under CC by 4.0

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