Nurturing a Growth Mindset with Year 11 Boys

An Action Research post by Kevin Magner

Reading time: 8 minutes

Context

A class of 13 Year 11 boys with a variety of different needs to be prepared for a GCSE exam in Religious Studies – what is the biggest challenge?

At the start of the year I decided that the challenge lay in getting the boys to believe in themselves and that, despite anything that had gone before in their educational experience, they still had the opportunity to reach or exceed their target grades.   For many of the boys  a history of low achievement and a variety of other social and learning needs made it that much harder for them to succeed.  As GCSE exams loomed on the horizon it was time to try and help them to raise their game.

There were two things I hoped to achieve.  First, to help them to do their best in readiness for their exams.  Second, to learn some lessons for life about self-belief and self-confidence.  With these ideas in mind I was inspired by the work of a number of colleagues who had been investigating the application of Growth Mindset thinking to their teaching, and decided to look further into this aspect of education.

Growth Mindset

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed is a book I would encourage everyone to read.  Taken together with the work of Carol Dweck on ‘Mindset’, they  present an argument for the idea that our potential as learners is not predetermined but open to development given the right environment, resources and above all, a ‘growth mindset’.   That is,  being open to the belief that ‘purposeful effort’ is what brings you success in learning.  As teachers, it is our job to cultivate this attitude in our pupils and provide the learning resources, experiences and environment that allow pupils to discover their potential.  This then would be my focus.

The ‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon provided a useful tool for reflecting upon Carol Dweck’s research in a school context and identifying strategies that might be used in the classroom.  Looking at a variety of other resources (see ‘Further resources’ below), including the work of a number schools which have introduced Growth Mindset thinking to staff and pupils, I decided to adopt two approaches to work on with my class.

Firstly,  to focus on ‘targeted effort’ (Hymer and Gershon, pages 43-58).  My intention was to try and shift pupils’ interest away from focusing on the grades or marks they were (or were not) achieving and instead focus attention on the effort they were making in their work.

Secondly, to focus on trying to develop a greater self-confidence in the boys and the belief that, they were the ‘Masters of their fate’ (from ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley) and by believing in themselves they could have the confidence to face the challenges that lay ahead – in their GCSE course and in life – and succeed even in the face of adversity.

Putting the theory into practice

Focusing on the importance of effort and trying to cultivate a greater sense of self-confidence and self-belief were two mutually supportive aims which I sought to put into practice in the classroom.

Targeting effort

Typically, if you mark a piece of work with a grade or score and a comment, pupils will look to the grade, feel a sense of joy or deflation and read no further.  My aim therefore was to shift the focus away from marking and feedback which concentrated on attainment because this, according to the literature can serve to reinforce fixed mindsets, such as,  ‘I did not succeed therefore I am no good at this subject!’.

So, with the exception of end of module assessments/mock exams, I set out to ensure that all of my formative assessments focused on the pupils’ effort rather than their attainment.  To ensure this was meaningful, it still needed to embrace best practice by being specific in identifying where in their work I could recognize and acknowledge effort; and where additional effort would help them to make genuine improvements to their learning when completing DIRT (Directed Improvement and Response Time) work.

yellow sticker

Example of a feedback sticker acknowledging effort

The boys adapted more quickly than I expected to this new approach to marking and quickly stopped asking, ‘What mark did I get?’ or, ‘What grade would I get for this?’.  The greatest challenge for me as a teacher, was in learning to phrase my comments in a way that focused the pupils’ attention on effort, and their ability to improve their work, rather than on comments that were either too vague and general to be of value, or comments which tended to imply an innate ability and therefore fell into the very trap or reinforcing the mindset that,  ‘I have a fixed level of ability which cannot be changed’.

In time, as I developed my vocabulary and ability to articulate my feedback more precisely, the process became more effective.   This applied to both written feedback and to verbal feedback given during the course of lessons.

To reinforce the message that it was their effort that was most worthy of recognition,  I adopted a series of reward stickers to acknowledge a particularly positive or note-worthy effort on the part of each boy.  The stickers were tiny ‘button’ stickers of a child like style  with pictures of footballs and butterflies, trophies and flowers, along with a ‘great effort’ or ‘well done’  type statement.  Initial laughter soon passed and many of the boys became quietly keen to see whether they had earned a new sticker when their books were handed back to them.

Effort stickers

Pupil’s book with effort stickers

We started counting the stickers earned and every time a boy gained five stickers I sent a praise postcard home acknowledging ‘sustained effort’ over a period of time.  This reinforced the message that it was effort that deserved praise and recognition.   For many of the boys this brought them praise and recognition in a way that attainment alone was unlikely to bring and the boys (and parents) were proud of this recognition.  While not admitting openly to liking the effort stickers, it was after one boy asked what would happen to his stickers once he started a new exercise book that I decided to add a count of the stickers already earned to the cover of a new exercise book where new stickers would add to the total earned across the year.  In such small ways self-esteem is boosted.

In going forward, I do believe that it is important for me as a teacher to continue to cultivate and practice the use of a vocabulary with pupils that emphasizes the importance of effort and the virtue of recognizing that, it is only with effort that we can truly improve ourselves as learners.

Building self-confidence

In a groups of boys, many of whom did not have high self-esteem and who had experienced knocks and disappointments when their progress was measured against target grades, I felt it was important to try and build a ‘can-do’ attitude which promoted the virtues of effort, resilience, perseverance, overcoming obstacles, coping with disappointment and believing that everybody can achieve more in life if they make a focused and sustained effort to do so.

I felt it was important to focus this work not exclusively as a rallying cry to, ‘work hard academically so you will pass your exam’ (though this was obviously one motivation for this work), but as an attitude to carry beyond school into all areas of life.

On a practical level I chose to focus on this explicitly in every lesson through our ‘bell-work’ activities (an activity that was waiting for the pupils, ready to engage them from the moment they entered the classroom).

I researched a broad range of motivational or thought-provoking pictures, images, quotations, YouTube clips and posters that were a prompt for a brief discussion and to set the tone at the start of every lesson.

I sought out ideas that I felt would appeal to boys.  Ideas associated with sport, celebrity role models, humour and a variety of activities/pastimes.   As I built a bank of resources for the bell-work activities it became clear that there was a great deal of overlap when focusing on effort, ambition, perseverance and resilience.  I therefore grouped my resources into what became ‘fortnightly themes’ , where we would approach one idea from five different angles, over each timetable cycle.  The effect of this was to reinforce the key message and a pattern emerged where we would begin the fortnight with a film-clip to establish that fortnight’s theme and then develop it in consequent lessons.  This meant investing more time in the first lesson of each fortnightly cycle but I felt that the investment in terms of the cultivation of self-confidence was a worthwhile one.

GM slideMichael Jordan

Example of  bell work slides to prompt discussion 

By the end of the year I developed the resources for 76 lessons which saw us right through to their exams.  By beginning every lesson in the same way the boys became used to the routine and could soon use the vocabulary of, ‘effort, perseverance and resilience’ and explain what it meant.  My hope was that by drip-feeding these messages to them in every lesson, alongside a focus in my feedback and conversations in class on promoting, praising and encouraging the virtue of effort over attainment, that some of the messages would begin to ‘stick’ and influence their approach to work and exam preparation.

Conclusions

In terms of measuring the impact of each initiative it is hard to give a scientific analysis of outcomes.  However, at the end of the course I gave the boys a questionnaire and interviewed them about their experience.

On the whole, at the end of the year a majority of the boys surveyed identified more strongly with statements that suggested a ‘growth-mindset’ attitude.

When asked to recall which messages they could remember from the Bell Work at the start of each lesson they recalled:  “Don’t give up until you succeed”, “Stick at it!”, “Take on the Challenge”, “Persevere!”, “Make the effort”, “If you fail, keep on trying”.

Among the bell work activities that they found most memorable they cited, ‘The Michael Jordan messages not to give up when you experience failure’; and ‘The squirrel one’ (based on a You-tube film of a squirrel successfully overcoming an obstacle course which was accompanied by the story that it had taken the squirrel 6 months to learn to overcome the obstacles that it could eventually tackle in 30 seconds), and the reason –  ‘because it was funny’!

I also asked the boys whether they felt their attitude towards and effort in R.E. had improved across the year and all those asked said, ‘Yes’.  When I probed further to ask which factors had contributed to this improvement they all said that ‘teacher encouragement’ and ‘seeing my work improve during the year’ had been a part of their motivation alongside ‘parental encouragement’ and a desire to ‘get the grades necessary to get onto a course in September’.

Ultimately, the exam results the boys achieved showed a mixed picture of attainment.   Promoting growth-mindset is not a magic bullet and does not turn a ship around in a year!  However, hearing the boys being able to talk about ‘perseverance’, ‘resilience’ and ‘effort’ as the year progressed and seeing a number of them genuinely make their best effort – at least some of the time – in the run up to the exams, encourages me to believe that the effort invested in cultivating a growth-mindset culture in the classroom is worthwhile.

Above all, regardless of exam results, I hope that each of the boys has taken into adult life something of the belief that their potential is not limited and that with perseverance and resilience their efforts to develop their potential in any area of life is both worthwhile and achievable.

Bibliography/Further resources

‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed, published by Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)

‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck, published by Random House Publishing Group

‘Growth Mindset Pocketbook’ by Barry Hymer and Mike Gershon, published by Teachers’ Pocketbooks

https://slooowdown.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/summary-of-summarised-by-paul-arnold-trainer-facilitator-paul_arnoldme-com/ – a summary of ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed

http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html – Summary of Carol Dweck’s Theory of Motivation by Geoff Petty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkE1lC4CpIE – A You Tube summary of Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset’

https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve Carol Dweck – TED talks

https://johntomsett.com/2013/10/20/this-much-i-know-about-developing-a-dweck-inspired-growth-mindset-culture/ – John Tomsett, Headteacher Huntington School on introducing a Growth Mindset to his school

https://chrishildrew.wordpress.com/growth-mindset/ – Chris Hildrew, Chew Valley School on introducing Growth Mindset to his school

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElVUqv0v1EE – You Tube film explaining Growth mindset in simple terms for young people

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUWn_TJTrnU – ‘Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset’ -A You Tube animation explaining the implications of different mindsets through the behaviour of two young people

‘Developing a Growth Mndset in your child’, Great Torrington School parents’ page: http://www.gts.devon.sch.uk/learning/mindset.html

http://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2017/02/the-growth-mindset-collection/ – The Growth Mindset Collection – a collection of articles about Growth Mindset compiled by Alex Quigley

Featured image: ‘Bicycling, bicycle, uphill’ by Perlinator on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Creative Commons

 

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Scaffolding and Differentiation

An Action Research project by Teresa Howe

My action research project was born out of a realisation that as a primary trained teacher I would naturally scaffold and differentiate for the pupils in my class. I could quickly establish their needs, and therefore adapt my teaching style and resources (often overnight). Transferring to teach in a secondary setting, teaching Year 8 and 9 English as well as SEND pupils in a nurture class, highlighted that scaffolding and differentiation were paramount in lesson planning. I felt that my skills in Scaffolding and Differentiation needed refreshing. I was also aware that there were many approaches that I still had to learn and try.

Rebecca Alber in her blog post ‘Scaffolding lessons- six strategies’ on Edutopia.org explains both the difference and connection between the two clearly. Scaffolding is ‘breaking up’ the learning into chunks and then modelling or explaining the tool to help. For example, when scaffolding for reading you may do one or many different things prior to work on the text. You may discuss the nature of the text and key vocabulary. Alternatively, you may chunk the text and read and discuss each part as you go. Differentiation might involve you giving a different piece of text to a pupil, or you may give a shortened or altered version. You may also modify the writing task associated with the text.

In my opinion, there are many approaches used in primary teaching that are useful tools in secondary teaching. The most important approach, I feel is flexibility. It is having the confidence to adapt and change set lesson plans to best suit an immediate pupil need.

I heard a fabulous example of this given by a PGCE tutor, who observed a student using a block of post it notes. During a task, the student would assess the progress of pupils and jot a note of help/advice/challenge to pupils and pop it on the desk next to them.

The student explained this as ‘instant differentiation’.

One of the classroom management tools I find very effective, no matter what level a pupil is working at, or whether they have a particular learning need, is a visual lesson plan displayed to the class giving a brief LIST of the steps or activities to be completed in the lesson. This helps pupils (and you) to focus on what to expect and acts as a reminder as to how far the lesson has progressed. I have used this with all my classes, small groups and when teaching individuals. It has  worked especially well with challenging groups of boys who have a reading intervention with me.

I’ve also found this useful when needing to ‘change’ the lesson content / order / recording method to suit the needs of the group (flexibility). The pupils appear to appreciate that their needs have been taken into account when you are crossing through your ideas and writing the new ‘agreed’ task.

Scaffolds and differentiated tasks, including visual aids, benefit all pupils. I’ve found that when pupils become familiar with the variety and range of activities that form part of your everyday lessons, they are not seen as ‘the easier option’ but rather, a different way of working. A good way to introduce this is by using a ‘tick-tack-toe’ or ‘noughts and crosses’ grid. This gives the pupils a choice of 9 activities (on a 3X3 grid). They have to choose 1 activity from each row but they make the choice. (You select tasks that you know give all pupils in your class the ability to access the lesson and use prior learning). Other consolidating or starter activities could be loop games, matching activities or sequencing tasks.

Since starting my action research, I have become more interested and stimulated by the needs of Dyslexic Pupils, primarily, when I began working with a statemented pupil and others who showed strong dyslexic tendencies, particularly with regards to literacy. As a result, I adapted my activities (scaffolding and differentiation) for intervention with these pupils and assessed their impact. The area that is crucial for such pupils before expecting them to complete tasks is to ensure that they are organised in preparation for both their learning and then recording. The lesson plan plays an important role, as does giving them model answers and creating opportunities for shared writing. Mostly for me, this would be teacher/pupil shared writing which proved very successful with groups of boys. Shared writing is not cheating but a way in which a group can learn from and teach each other.

One important fact became evident from my initial work with groups.  I was not always ‘chunking’ information into small enough steps, I assumed too much as far as the skills a secondary aged pupil would have. I found myself revising initial tasks set, chunking information into smaller steps. I ensured step by step instructions with model sentence starters. Diagrams and mind maps proved to be essential in allowing the pupil to both access and complete the task. Another crucial discovery was that the time needed to complete an extended task was at least doubled. I became more realistic about the quantity of work output as well as the amount of practise time needed before independent work would follow. Consolidation exercises, such as loop games, were essential in raising the self-esteem of dyslexic and other SEND pupils.  All of these scaffolds and differentiated tasks contributed to the groups progress.

Conclusions

The most ‘obvious’ point I learned when trying new approaches in my teaching is to not expect the pupils to ‘know’ what or how they want to do something – without first giving them choices and ideas. With a few hints and scaffolded activities they develop the confidence to ‘have a go’ and follow their own instincts. They know that, using my lesson plan, I will keep them focused if they go ‘off piste’.

The resounding success was the lesson plan/structure.

Next Steps

During my research, particularly of the US websites, I regularly heard the phrase ‘having a growth mindset’. I liked this quote which made its meaning clearer for me.

Carissa Romero’s Tch blog post:

“People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is innate. This belief can make school a threatening place. It becomes a place to go to learn how smart you are — or how smart you’re not. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe intelligence can be developed. For these students, school can be an exciting place, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and develop their intelligence.”

This will be the focus for my on-going research, with the hope that my teaching provides children with positive support and I contribute to school being an exciting place.

HELPFUL WEBSITES

http://www.mentoringminds.com/blog/how-to-pair-scaffolding-and-differentiation/

http://edglossary.org/scaffolding/

http://www.edutopia.org/topic/learning-styles

https://www.teachingchannel.org/growth-mindset/?utm_source=newsletter20160903/

Featured image: ‘Scaffolding’ by 3112014 on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain

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

‘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

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

Engaging Disaffected Learners (2)

(Featured image: ‘untitled’ by stupidmommy is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Engaging Disaffected Learners

An Action Research Project by Hannah Gale

Objectives

  • To develop my pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection, particularly in Year 10 boys.
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners.
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence in my students.

Background

“…by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, Changes to the examination system at GCSE, mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Jim Smith suggests that one of the most effective ways to establish engagement is to give learning purpose and to show its relevance to students (2010).

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

Context

The focus for this action research project has been disaffected boys in my Year 10 GCSE groups, with a view to achieving the following aims:

  • To increase engagement in lessons;
  • To promote a resilient and problem-solving attitude among my most disaffected learners;
  • To use the coaching style as a means of building relationships.  

I have focused on three learners in particular: Andrew, James and Peter.

Background Reading and Research

This project began after my first-hand experience of Coaching with my NQT mentor. In the education sector, coaching is a mentoring technique used in a 1:1 setting to enable a colleague to combat a problem or concern that they are facing. It involves the mentor giving no advice at all, but simply asking probing questions that encourage the mentee to take an independent approach to the problem and to discover their own solutions. This made me consider how the technique might be adapted for students, particularly those who are so disaffected that they lose a desire and/or ability to combat their difficulties. I know that I have very often defaulted to giving answers to my most disaffected learners, never considering that asking them the right questions could prompt them into helping themselves. As Carol Dweck, establishes, learning will happen when students start to ask “What can I learn from this? What will I do next time I’m in this situation?” (2015). Of course, it’s easy to go to a default ‘OK, I’ll explain it again or I’ll help you with that’. What we should be doing is encouraging students to elicit their own solutions and/or to at least pinpoint their own difficulties.

If my mentor could influence me to become more problem-solving and resilient in my approach to difficulties, could I establish that in my students too? I began by reading up on the coaching technique and reading Carol Dweck’s, ‘Growth Mindset’.

According to The MRT Group, these are the benefits of coaching upon an individual:

  • improvement in individual’s performance, targets and goals
  • increased openness to personal learning and development
  • increased ability to identify solutions to specific work-related issues
  • greater ownership and responsibility
  • development of self-awareness
  • improvement of specific skills or behaviour
  • greater clarity in roles and objectives
  • the opportunity to correct behaviour/performance difficulties  

Actions and Results

I tried two different strategies in order to meet my aims and explore a range of techniques to re-engage these students and promote resilience and confidence. Firstly, I used coaching style questioning within my Year 10 lessons. For example, during one lesson observation I combated one statement of disaffection (‘I always fail’), with ‘What could you do next time to help you succeed at this?’ which allowed the student to focus on the solution and not the problem.

In addition I trialled a 1:1 coaching conversation, to see what results this would glean. I chose Andrew for this individual study because I wanted to build a more supportive relationship with him in particular, as well as allow him to identify his own barriers to learning in English and elicit his own solutions for overcoming them.

I was astounded with the result: Andrew spoke eloquently and specifically about his difficulties and was able to arrive at his own solutions. Here are some snippets from our dialogue:

What can help you to be in the right frame of mind for learning?

‘It depends what kind of day I’ve had. If it’s been really boring and I’ve had to do loads of writing throughout the day, then I probably won’t be bothered to do English when I arrive.’

‘If I know I’m gonna be doing something creative where I can let my imagination go then I’ll want to do it.’

What helps you to learn best? (Andrew particularly dislikes analysing texts, which we do a lot of in English. When asked what might help him to engage in the task of analysing a poem, he said):

‘I find thinking of ideas hard, so I think I’d find it easier if you kind of gave me the answers and then I had to find where that was happening in the poem. I think I’d be pretty good at that actually.’  

After this conversation, I put into practice Andrew’s suggestions and saw a new determination in him across a number of English lessons. It is apparent that “self-awareness and confidence are internal processes essential to ongoing growth and development” (‘Why Coaching?’, Wales, 2002). Indeed, when Andrew believed he’d found the solution to his barrier to learning, he was so much more engaged and willing to overcome his difficulties. I believe that the Coaching process can empower disaffected students to take responsibility for their learning and realise that they can make a change.

Sources/Links/References

Dweck, Carol (2015). ‘Growth Mindset’.

National Literacy Trust. ‘Boys’ Reading Commission’. https://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

Wales, Suzy (2002). ‘Why Coaching?’ http://contextcoaching.com.au/Suzy%20Wales%20(2002)%20Why%20Coaching%20EBC.pdf

Smith, Jim (2010). ‘The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’