An Action Research Project by Victoria Ryan (MFL)
Resilience in learning, as in life, is about being able to persevere through setbacks, take on challenges and risk making mistakes to reach a goal.
Resilience is often referred to as a quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and to come back stronger. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, these people find a way to rise up from a troubled time.
Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary and that it is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Rather, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone.
The vision…How do we want our pupils to show resilience?
Having researched the meaning of resilience it was important to consider which behaviours were necessary to develop in our pupils in order for them to become more independent learners.
Behaviours key to pupils being able to demonstrate resilience:
- To be able to concentrate for long/longer periods of time (and not give up).
- To be able to control their thoughts and emotions.
- To enjoy challenge and problem solving.
- To see failures/mistakes as part of the learning process and be prepared to have a go.
- To show initiative when ‘stuck’
Research highlighted that life for our pupils isn’t exactly stress-free. What helps children in navigating the challenges they face is resilience. It has shown that resilient children are problem solvers who can face unfamiliar or tough situations and strive to find positive solutions.
“When they step into a situation, [resilient kids] have a sense they can figure out what they need to do and can handle what is thrown at them with a sense of confidence.” (Lynn Lyons, Psychotherapist)
This doesn’t mean that children have to do everything on their own. Rather, they need to know how to ask for help and are able to problem-solve their next steps.
As a Modern Foreign Language Teacher I often found pupils would say they couldn’t complete a task because they couldn’t speak the language. They would ask me for a translation rather than looking back through their work or looking in a dictionary or textbook for a solution, despite this being an obvious solution to me.
It became clear that my pupils needed to know how to be resilient and that I would have to teach them the behaviours and skills needed in order to do this.
I decided to focus my resilience research on a lower achieving Year 9 Spanish class who were particularly demotivated, needy and really just didn’t see the point in languages, despite my enthusiasm and passion for the subject. I had taught them as a group since Year 8 and they would not use the resources available to them to answer questions, rather they would ask me for answers. For a teacher with thirty pupils in the class constantly asking these questions, I was beginning to find the lessons draining. Something had to be done.
Whilst being a lower achieving set, it was a very mixed-ability group with pupils ranging from a Level 2 – 5 and a number of pupils having special educational needs and others having emotional and behavioural needs.
My initial thoughts on the group and how resilient they were that 12/30 showed no resilience at all, 14/30 occasionally showed initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than me for help and 4/30 did show an ability to problem solve themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance.
This was my subjective view based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons in Year 8. There is no specific test to demonstrate how resilient a person is; rather I based this judgment on how I as the class teacher had seen the pupils handle work and situations that I had placed them in. Not a very resilient class then with only four pupils able to demonstrate resilience at the start of the year. Something had to be done!
The first step was making “resilience” the language of the classroom. This was achieved by displaying the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ poster, explaining this to pupils by using examples of my own failures and then referring to this during lessons.
The Iceberg Illusion by Sylvia Duckworth original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
It was also necessary to remember techniques as a teacher to instil resilience in pupils, so after research, I made a poster into a desk mat which I had in front of me each lesson.
The poster was based on: ‘10 best phrases to teach resilience to your kids’ by Michael Grose at http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/
This allowed me to change the language I used and to remind me of how I should act in order to promote resilience.
I then came up with a Resilience Plan of ten points that I would aim to do each lesson.
- Don’t accommodate every need.
- Avoid eliminating all risk.
- Teach them to problem-solve.
- Teach your pupils concrete skills.
- Avoid “why” questions.
- Don’t provide all the answers.
- Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.
- Let your pupils make mistakes.
- Help them to manage their emotions.
- Model resiliency.
Using these actions I noticed that barriers to learning/relationships were improved by the following means:
- Awareness of the language used in the classroom – Both myself and the pupils began to talk the language of resilience often using humour to see ourselves through difficult tasks.
- Different approaches to the four skills/exercises – Pupils took on board the advice and techniques that were taught for each language skill (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and were therefore better equipped to problem solve questions/tasks.
- More confidence – Pupils were much more confident in their own abilities and were much less reliant on me.
- A more positive classroom environment – Pupils would ‘have a go’ at the work rather than saying that they could not do it and just giving up. They recognised that I valued their effort more than getting the correct answer each time.
By the end of the year, in my opinion, 24/30 showed an a readiness to problem solve for themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance and 6/30 showed some capacity to show initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than asking me for help.
Whilst subjective, this data was again based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons but in my opinion, all the pupils vastly improved and became much more resilient within lessons.
It is worth noting that the majority of pupils in my target class were not going on to study languages at GCSE level and that for the first time in three years, the inevitable question of “Why do I still have to study this?” or “What is the point in languages?” was not posed. This in itself was a major breakthrough and a sign that pupils not only had come to enjoy the lessons, being much more motivated as they knew the skills to problem solve, but they had also started to take pride in the work they completed feeling a sense of accomplishment when they could complete a task. Even if they got an answer wrong, they had come to realise that this was a stepping stone and part of the inevitable learning process.
Therefore in conclusion, the evidence shows that the work completed on resilience had a big impact, not just on my targeted group but also on other classes that I taught due to my language within lessons changing to a more resilience based approach.
My group and I believe that our strategies have made a difference, as this approach supports stretch and challenge allowing you to have higher expectations and avoid ‘helicopter’ teaching. It supports pupil independence and there is much less teacher dependence, however, it would be far more powerful if the language of resilience was consistent across the school. Something has to be done!
In order to promote resilience further this needs to become a whole school approach. Strategies that I intend to use in the next academic year include:
- Remembering it works! Being patient with new classes whilst teaching the language of resilience.
- Making resilience language part of school life – Success Iceberg posters in classrooms and assemblies on resilience with colleagues who have also worked on developing resilience.
- Effort and reiteration – Spending time at the start of each lesson reinforcing the language of resilience and making expectations clear to students.
- List of key ideas to focus on – I will choose three to four key ideas from my ten point plan to focus on with individual classes, thus better tailoring them to each classes’ needs to make them more resilient.
- Resilience list for pupils – I will give each student the following table for their book:
|INSTEAD OF…||TRY THINKING …|
|I’m not good at this||What am I missing?|
|I give up||I’ll use a different strategy|
|It’s not good enough||Is this really my best work?|
|I can’t make this any better||I can always improve|
|This is too hard||This may take some time|
|I made a mistake||Mistakes help me learn|
|I’ll never be that smart||I will learn how to do this|
- Resilience level/mark at the end of each term – Rewarding attitude and effort is crucial in sending the right messages about what we value.
“When will we also teach them what they are?”
We should say to each of them:
Do you know what you are?
You are a marvel. You are unique.
In all the years that have passed,
there has never been another child like you.
Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers,
the way you move.
You may become a Shakespeare,
a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.
You have the capacity for anything.
Yes, you are a marvel.
And when you grow up, can you then harm
another who is, like you, a marvel?
You must work; we must all work,
to make the world worthy of its children.
By Pablo Casals
- ‘The Iceberg illusion’ by Sylvia Duckworth
- http://angriesout.com/resilience.pdf (Lesson Plans for Resilience by Lynne Namka – Talk, Trust and Feel Therapeutics Tucson, Arizona)
- ‘When will we teach them what they are?’ extract from a poem by Pablo Casals
Featured image: ‘Success’ by animatedheaven on Pixabay. Original image licensed under CC0 Public Domain