An Action Research Project by Jackie Garrett (Science)
As a teacher of science, Leader and CPD facilitator in the secondary education sector it would be impossible not to have been aware of the prevalence of materials around growth mindset, or not to have used the term with pupils or colleagues.
Adi Bloom, in her blog ‘Is growth mindset the new learning styles?’ summarises the basic premise behind the concept of mindset:
“Growth mindset was first introduced to the world in 2006 by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. According to Dweck, some people believe that intelligence is set at birth, and that success or failure is determined by one’s intrinsic ability. This is a fixed mindset.
Others argue that the brain is plastic: like any muscle, it responds to regular exercise. Through study and hard work, therefore, intelligence can be strengthened. This is a growth mindset: the belief that effort improves intelligence. And, obviously, with improved intelligence comes improved outcomes.”
Having spent the previous academic year focusing my action research on the area of resilience, it felt like a natural progression to shift my focus from the language of persistence and the ability to bounce back, and learn from failure, towards considering how a pupil’s belief that they were capable of improving their intelligence could impact on their outcomes.
In addition, I was aware of an increasing number of commentators who were questioning the way in which schools/teachers were using the term growth mindset with pupils.
Tom Bennett, founder of ResearchED says:
“Almost everyone who talks about growth mindset hasn’t read Carol Dweck’s research. It’s the most unread book in educational dialogue, and the most widely discussed.
“But growth mindset appeals emotionally and altruistically. And, because of that, it’s very seductive. It feels right that you don’t criticise the person, but invite them to believe that, through hard work and persistence, you can achieve.”
Together with a group of like-minded colleagues we set out to explore whether the approaches and strategies recommended in educational literature on the subject, applied practically in our classrooms, had a positive impact on our pupils’ perceptions of their intelligence, ability to persevere and ultimately – on their outcomes.
My starting point was to select one of my classes to trial a range of strategies which I identified through my research. My Year 11 physics group seemed ideal. They were a hardworking and enthusiastic class, but struggled with more abstract concepts and had a tendency to give up easily.
We read Growth Mindset Pocketbook by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon. In their book, they recommend 6 strategies for developing a growth mindset culture in your classroom.
- Trial and error – the power of failure and the value of challenge.
- Targeted effort – the importance of effort in learning.
- Feedback – giving feedback that promotes further learning.
- Metacognition – understanding how you learn most effectively.
- The power of language – use language which promotes learning.
- Developing a group mindset – creating a learning culture amongst pupils.
I had already been working on adapting the feedback pupils in my classes received to ensure that hard work, persistence and resilience were rewarded and valued as highly as the outcomes generated. It seemed sensible to focus on three of the areas identified above and I decided to concentrate my efforts on:
- Further developing the quality and nature of the feedback my pupils received.
- Careful focus on the language used when delivering feedback or discussing learning.
- Linking language and feedback in fostering a group mindset and culture.
Alongside the objectives set out for this action research, I had become increasingly interested in the over-emphasis on written feedback to pupils often at the expense of other forms of feedback which, if given in a timely fashion could have a greater impact. My aim was to focus on providing carefully planned and structured verbal feedback to my pupils.
In engendering a ‘group’ mindset and culture, it seemed important that this structured verbal feedback should be delivered to the whole class and be received as close as possible to the learning to have the greatest impact.
I was interested in the ideas of Ben Newmark in his blog from September 2016, ‘Verbal feedback: Telling them what to do.’
I adapted his ideas, along with a range of ideas and expertise from within my own school, to construct a whole class verbal feedback form which could be used as an alternative to written feedback and a small group of us trialled its use during terms 5 and 6.
Careful planning of the feedback, a focus on using language that valued effort and persistence and promoted learning as well as the whole class nature of its delivery allowed me to consider the impact of three of the strategies identified in the literature.
There is no question that the trial of a structured verbal feedback approach improved the quality of the dialogue in my classroom. The feedback that my pupils were getting was more carefully planned and considered and I was able to think more deeply about the language I used and the messages I wanted to convey. My feedback could be more regular and as a consequence students were clearer about what they needed to do to improve. My feedback was more detailed and delivered closer to the point in the learning where it was needed. In addition, I was able to pick up on misconceptions more quickly and respond immediately.
The other staff involved in the trial and the pupils were positive about the impact too:
“From a planning point of view, the form has enabled me to better plan for learning and progression in that it has enabled me to spot common misconceptions and areas requiring consolidation much more quickly.” (Teacher involved in trial)
“This type of feedback is much better. You know straight away if you need to work on something and can get help.” (Pupil involved in trial)
Have I had an impact on the mindset of my pupils? Do they now believe that they can grow their intelligence? This is an incredibly difficult question to answer with any certainty. My evidence is mainly anecdotal and based on my observations of them in lessons. The structured and planned feedback model definitely allowed a stronger emphasis on learning traits and language around how to be a successful learner. All this was framed within a ‘group’ culture which was supportive and based on the premise that ALL pupils could improve their outcomes if they were prepared to work hard. My students did grow the ability to persist when the learning was difficult and developed a belief that they could take on challenging tasks. They stopped giving up so easily.
As a group, we shared our findings and experiences with our colleagues at an INSET day. A range of materials and ideas are now available to all staff who wish to consider this area of their practice. The structured verbal feedback form has been rolled out to the whole staff – initial feedback from staff and pupils has continued to be very positive.
In many ways, I do not feel that I have reached any firm conclusions.
A shift in language and culture is so difficult to measure! I am still left wondering….will growth mindset be the next learning styles?
Growth Mindset Pocketbook by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon, published by Teachers’ Pocketbooks
Is growth mindset the new learning styles? by Adi Bloom tes.com 6th October 2017 – https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/weekend-read-growth-mindset-new-learning-styles
Verbal Feedback: Telling them what to do by Ben Newmark -http://bennewmark.edublogs.org/2016/09/26/227/
Featured image: ‘Brain’ by GDJ on Pixabay. Licensed under Creative Commons CC0