RESILIENCE

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.

Objective

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’

Background

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.

Context

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!

Actions

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.

Iceberg illusion

The Iceberg Illusion by Sylvia Duckworth original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

see also https://sylviaduckworth.com/sketchnotes/

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.

  1. Don’t accommodate every need.
  2. Avoid eliminating all risk.
  3. Teach them to problem-solve.
  4. Teach your pupils concrete skills.
  5. Avoid “why” questions.
  6. Don’t provide all the answers.
  7. Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.
  8. Let your pupils make mistakes.
  9. Help them to manage their emotions.
  10. Model resiliency.

Impact

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.

Conclusions

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!

Next Steps

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:

Be Resilient

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.

Afterthought:

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

Sources/References

Featured image: ‘Success’ by animatedheaven on Pixabay.  Original image licensed under CC0 Public Domain

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Mastery in Mathematics (5)

An Action Research Project by Elizabeth Drewitt (Mathematics)

Focus

In this report I aim to share how our departmental research into Mastery in Mathematics has impacted on the students I teach.

Context

There is no argument to the value of mastery as a life skill:

Director Dr Helen Drury says, “In mathematics, you know you’ve mastered something when you can apply it to a totally new problem in an unfamiliar situation”¹.

What better way to prepare our students for life after school than to give them the confidence to approach new situations and problems with confidence.

Mastery enables students to:

  • Develop mathematical language
  • Articulate their reasoning
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas

I decided to focus on the techniques we can use as teachers to get our students ready for the road to mastery.

All teachers have experienced that:

‘Students learn better when they are curious, thoughtful, determined and collaborative.’ (Nrich)

We spend vast amounts of energy nurturing these traits within our classes. But for some students, the experience of failure or fear of failure shuts down any chance of curiosity. Expecting failure often means students cannot even consider an alternative outcome and therefore determination, thought and collaboration are pointless and avoided. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I feel this is particularly the case in mathematics, often voiced by parents at Parents’ Evening, ‘I can’t do maths’. Here I propose that maths is not something that ‘can be done’ or ‘cannot be done’. I would like to challenge the parents as to whether they know their times tables or not. It is highly likely the case that it is not maths these parents struggled with but their times tables. They did not have the basic tools to face the rest of the subject with and so encountered difficulty at every turn. I believe that for many, it was not the PROCESS of expanding brackets that caused a problem but actually the MULTIPLYING.

DEVELOPING BASIC MATHEMATICAL SKILLS

The importance of times tables within the mathematics curriculum cannot be underestimated, yet the importance of learning times tables is still under debate amongst professionals:

Jo Boaler argued that the UK Government position, that every child must memorise their times tables up to 12 x 12 by age nine, is ‘absolutely disastrous’. In contrast, Charlie Stripp stated knowing the times tables supports mathematical learning and understanding.

“Here at Mathematics Mastery, we believe children who have a strong grasp of their times tables are more confident when learning new mathematical concepts and, importantly, enjoy the subject more.” But note here I’ve said ‘strong grasp’ and not simply ‘memorised’.

Here I put forward the view that the road to mastery must start with each student being equipped with a tool box and in that tool box must be curiosity, resilience and……times tables!

Some students cannot/have not/will not memorise the times tables. Some think that if they do not know the answer then that’s the end of that. Full stop! If we do not give these students tools and tricks to work out the answer then we are closing the door on Mastery, opportunity and the growth of a learning identity.

SOLUTION

Never accept I don’t know my times tables. WORK it out. ‘Not knowing’ does not equate to ‘can’t find out’.

TRICKS

Explicitly TEACH how to work them out.

  • count up in two’s on your fingers,
  • count sticks/dots,
  • write out the times tables each time,
  • use your fingers for the 9 times table.
  • Do 10 x {?) then add 2x [?] for the 12 times tables.

ACTIONS

  • Time must be dedicated to times tables each week if we are to provide each student with a fully operational toolbox.
  • Bell work: fill in 5 x 5 times tables grids with random numbers. Students self-differentiate by choosing different coloured grids that represent basic times tables, reverse times tables, lots of mystery headings, larger numbers, decimal numbers.
  • For KS3 or lower ability classes, 10 minute multiplication and division challenges, results recorded and tracked.

RESULTS

  • Practice makes perfect, whether they are memorised or worked out.
  • Students get familiar with the method they choose to work it out.
  • Students see an increase in speed, ease at completing grids and see their own scores improve over time.
  • Take control of their own Bell Work, empowering, safe and challenging.
  • Pupil ‘A’ counting up in twos on his fingers. yr11!!!
  • Pupil ‘B’ in Year 8 showing a peer the 9x table trick using your fingers

Ultimately, we have removed a massive stumbling block that lurks on the road to mastery!

DEVELOPING STUDENT CONFIDENCE

So many students do not know their times tables and believe that is the end of it…but now we have challenged this idea. Just as some people say they can’t do maths…now we can move on and challenge the idea that ‘I can’t do maths’. Mastery teaches students to move away from these barriers and

  • Develop mathematical language
  • Articulate their reasoning
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas……..

BUT to articulate their reasoning they must first have an opinion. To discuss their ideas they must first have an idea. To solve a problem they must first want to find a solution. They must first form an identity as a learner. Self-worth and confidence play an enormous part. Teaching lower ability classes can often (but not always) mean the students are largely disaffected. Through perceived/experienced failure their confidence has been eroded. We must challenge the perception of mathematics being all about right and wrong answers to build up a self-esteem that is positive enough to support the mastery platform.

When I asked a new group of Year 10s to GUESS the size of ten angles they were shown, half the group did not commit to paper, stating that they did KNOW the answers. Therefore these learners denied themselves the chance to feel good – others who guessed were thrilled when their guess was close but interestingly were not crushed when their guess was way off. Their learning identity was positive and it grew in a very simple exercise. I too joined in to prove that I do not KNOW all the answers, but have the tools to either guess or work it out.

Year 8 Extension task: (LOWER ability) Having studied the rule for adding and subtracting directed numbers, I asked students to write down what THEY THINK the rule could be for multiplying and dividing directed numbers. Some students wrote, ‘I don’t know, we haven’t done this yet’. Again, they didn’t have an opinion and again these students reinforced the negative image they have of themselves as learners. They needed choices pointing out to them and then they were able to take ownership of their choices and make it their idea by giving an example. Imagine their delight when some had predicted the correct rule. Again, those who had predicted in error were not crushed – it was just an idea. The students who had developed their own idea were keen to tell everyone what their prediction was, irrespective of being right or wrong, purely because it was their own idea.

TRICKS

  • Give students opportunities to GET IT WRONG and show it doesn’t matter.
  • Insist (‘encourage’) students commit an idea to paper- to have an OPINIION. Having an opinion gave them a vested interest in outcome which in turn made them more likely to come up with an outcome AND remember it.
  • Admit that as a teacher/ human/ adult we don’t know everything. I am not expecting my students to KNOW everything, the joy is in the working it out.

RESULTS

  • Students are prepared to guess, think, form an opinion, take risks.
  • Students are more likely to see a method through to the end to see if they were right (a win-win situation)
  • Students are more likely to have confidence in the next unfamiliar learning episode.
  • One Year 10 pupil could not even say true or false to a probing question. She has no confidence in maths and so does not think about maths, has no ideas about maths, cannot possibly articulate maths………I sat down with her and asked her to guess (we’ve been working on this idea). She chose False. I encouraged her to use an amount of money to see if she was right or not. We worked through the calculation and proved it to be False. She was thrilled, smiled (!!!!!) and wrote in her book ‘so I was right!!’. Anna believes she has been very successful and her confidence and enjoyment of maths has changed enormously in just a few weeks.

REFERENCES

¹ Drury, H. (2014) Mastering Mathematics. Oxford University Press, pp8.

Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/45776 [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/40529 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/46689 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk

Featured image: ‘Central City Times Tables’ by Derek Bridges (www.flickr.com) CC. BY 2.0

Building Resilience in Students

An Action Research project by Ursilla Brown (Science)

[Featured image: ‘Resilience by Ron Mader’- ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) ]

Focus

This action research focused on the concept of resilience and how it impacts on learning among our students.

Background

Throughout my teaching career, the link between work ethic and success in students has been obvious. What is less transparent are the factors that lead some students to relish diving into a problem and being prepared to take the risk of charting unknown territory while others desperately cling to the edge, afraid to take the plunge. This fear can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. While some students are absorbed in the challenge of cracking a code or finding connections, reasons for or ‘what if’s’, those on the periphery of learning can be sitting passively, getting distressed, engaging in off task behaviour or defiantly declaring that the content is boring or pointless. With a critical mass of students in the latter category the teacher invariably works much harder than these students as she guides, cajoles, pleads and, yes, even sometimes threatens detentions for lack of effort. So, while the issue has been of long term interest to me, the catalyst to embark on a journey of discovery was the coincidence of the launch of this Learning Focus cycle of research in school with my first experiences of my Year 10 GCSE Chemistry class. Since the beginning I feel I have had a good relationship with the students. They are a friendly bunch and came to me as a class seemingly happy to be in the room but mainly passive and pretty hard to strike up a dialogue with about anything to do with Chemistry. My lesson starters engaged around half the class while the others sat in a frozen position, not doing anything wrong, but not learning or seeming to engage with the activity. My mission was to shake them out of their lethargy and take charge of themselves as learners.

Objectives

My aim was to cultivate resilience amongst the students. The success criteria for this were to get the students:

  • To be able to concentrate for long/longer periods of time. (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’
  • To recognise that learning is a process and takes time

Context

The class was a middle mixed ability class. I teach them the Chemistry component of the Science GCSE.

These were my thoughts about the class at the beginning of the year:

  • Lovely class – friendly, polite but quite passive
  • Majority of ‘resilient’ students quiet and self-contained so maybe not obviously modelling to others
  • Happy to listen to instructions but want to be ‘spoon fed’
  • Not really making the connection between effort and achievement
  • I was working harder than them – re-directing, re-assuring, checking, cajoling in some cases
  • Many students would give up if they did not already know the answer

Actions

  • De-mistifying ‘being clever’. At every opportunity reinforcing to the students how the brain works and how we learn. I have explained to them and continuously remind the students how we commit information to long term memory and used two examples to unpick ‘being clever’ :
  1. How amazing we all are at speaking our own language compared to how
  2. challenging we find it to learn a new language in school. The students can see the clear link between mastery and frequent repetition, often getting things wrong initially.
  3. Me as a teacher – I reminded them why I appear to be so effortlessly good at what I teach and discuss the fact that I am immersed in it, teaching it many, many times. The reason I am an ‘expert’ is that I teach the subject matter often so my neural networks are well developed FOR MY SUBJECT MATTER
  • Resilience poster – This has become a whole school tool and it reflects the effort that is put into becoming an effective learner. I continue to refer to the iceberg at every opportunity.
  • During Directed Improvement and Response Time (DIRT – time dedicated to allowing pupils to respond to teacher feedback/making to correct, develop or improve their work) taking the opportunity to Facilitate reflection on progress and relating it to effort
  • Linking to Science of the brain – unpicking the reasons for repetition and consolidation for mastery with reference to my above examples or other skills and aptitudes. I have a visual representation of the neurone connections in the brain that I refer to when reminding the students of why practice is important and why things seem hard at first.
  • ALWAYS praising effort not achievement and linking this to life skills
  • Seating resilient students with less resilient ones and encouraging a climate of mutual support where students can move around when appropriate and support one another in their learning.
  • Liberating students from the fear of committing mistakes to paper by allowing them to write on the desks. This seems to be very effective at getting some students to take the plunge and ‘have a go’.
  • Avoid re-assuring answers to questions – reflecting back to students.
  • Scaffolding resilience training by having selected differentiated resources available to enable students to help themselves to become unstuck (Links well with SOLO)

Impact

The last column shows the actual results achieved in the GCSE. Bearing in mind the target grades are actually for Year 11, the majority of students made expected progress. It is hard to say how much is attributable to the emphasis on resilience but, anecdotally, the vast majority of the students are focused and open to giving the challenging Additional Chemistry content their best shot and, importantly, bouncing back and returning to the drawing board when they get things wrong. The pupils highlighted in red were ones I was still concerned about the level of commitment from at the time of preparing to share my findings with colleagues in our learning focus group meetings but subsequently the majority of these have sought out advice from their peers or myself to help them progress.

ub-stats

Conclusions

To summarise the findings of the ’Developing resilience’ Learning Focus group of which my research was a part:

  • We believe our strategies have made a difference but……it would be more powerful if the language of resilience was consistent across the school
  • This approach supports stretch and challenge you have higher expectations and avoid ‘helicopter’ teaching
  • This work supports pupil independence and less teacher dependence
  • Rewarding attitude and effort is crucial – sending the right messages about what we value

Next steps

I will continue to employ these strategies with the students I teach. I will continue to focus on resilience development in the next round of Action research and explore ways of embedding the language of resilience across the school.

Sources/references

‘Mindset’ by Dr Carol S Dweck

Lesson Plans for teaching resilience to Children by Lynne Namka

Promoting resilience in the classroom by Carmel Cefai

The Iceberg Illusion poster by Sylvia Duckworth