Sowing Seeds in September

sowingLike most teachers, August is my favourite month.  No alarm clock, holiday adventures, lazy days, carefree, relaxation, friends, family etc.  September is inevitable though – and I quite like that too.  A new school year brings with it a fresh start.  An opportunity to try out new things and get new classes into good habits.  Which brings me on to the subject of growth mindset.  I’ve said before that I think this is a great idea – getting students to realise that success is the result of hard work, high expectations, effort and resilience is, in my mind, a winner.  However, it’s a big idea and if it’s going to have an impact in the classroom, it needs to be broken down into actions. This is the important point.  We often start September with the best intentions that often aren’t sustainable.  So they drift off.  With this in mind, whether you’re an NQT or an old hand, it’s worth considering these ten practical and sustainable ways in which we can foster a growth mindset with our students – starting in September.

back to school1. Challenge for all

Challenge all students to develop and extend their learning – not just the more able.  There are three aspects to this:

challenge vennFirstly, get to know your students.  Know their names, know what motivates them, know what they have achieved in the past and know what they get stuck on.  This will take time, but make it a priority, as only then can you use this to challenge them.  Secondly, have high expectations of all of them – don’t accept ‘I can’t do this’ (more later!) – push them all out of their comfort zone.

In order to ensure challenge, think carefully about the surface and deep learning.  Surface learning being the key facts/knowledge that students need to acquire, with deep learning being what they then do with this knowledge in terms of linking ideas, analysis and evaluation.  This has implications in terms of your planning/ teaching.  You need to be clear what the surface/ deep learning will look like in that lesson – what do you want them to ‘know’ and then what should they be able to do with it?  Furthermore, make sure you plan enough time to embed the surface knowledge before moving on to the deep learning.  Likewise, don’t rush onto the deep learning without embedding the surface knowledge.  Both are equally important.  For some subjects, SOLO taxonomy provides a useful framework for this:

awl solo thresholds

Don’t use ‘all, most, some’ learning objectives.  Have single, challenging objectives for all and support all students to get there.  And finally, know your subject.  Know it inside out.  If you’re teaching an unfamiliar topic, don’t try and blag it.  If you are going to stretch your students, you need to know what you are teaching in depth, so go through it.

2.  Make Struggle Good

Let students know that it’s OK to struggle and find things hard – then we’re learning!  When students are in their comfort zone and doing easy work, they are unlikely to be learning, so we want them in the ‘struggle zone’.  Take care here though – if we push them too much, we risk panic and cognitive overload – not conducive to learning.  So, we need to judge this just right.

So, when met with a response of ‘I can’t do this’, in the words of Carol Dweck, counter it with ‘Yet!’  Similarly, don’t ‘unstick’ them straight away.  Tell them to keep trying and you’ll come back in 5 minutes.  At the end of the lesson, instead of asking ‘what have we learnt today?‘ ask ‘what have we struggled with today and why?

3.  Set Themselves Long Term Goals

September is a time of hope and optimism – exploit this!  get them to write in the front of their books what they want to achieve and how they’re going to do it – then refer them back to this during the year.

In the first few lessons, get them to produce a brilliant piece of work – then use this as the benchmark for the rest of the year.  Andy Tharby calls this a ‘Benchmark of Brilliance’.   Barry Hymer sums this up nicely ‘An A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into‘.

4.  Make Redrafting Normal

Use the mantra ‘If it’s not excellent, it’s not finished’.  Get students into the habit of redrafting their work early on in the year, so this becomes a normal way of working.  If you start introducing it during the year – they will moan about it a great deal – and so making your life much harder!  Layered writing is a great strategy to use here.

5.  Share Excellence

If we want students to produce excellent work, they need to know what it looks like – they need to know the standard that is expected of them.  So immerse them in it, like textiles teacher Steve Bloomer does brilliantly:


Also, during the lesson, when you find a brilliant piece of work, stop the class and share it.  Discuss what makes it so brilliant?  How does it compare to their work?  What do they need to do to improve their work?

Go further though, and have a gallery of excellence for the whole school to see, like the one below.  Or dedicate a wall in your classroom to something similar.


6.  Praise Effort

Praise the process and effort, not the intelligence e.g.

  • Intelligence Praise – “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.”
  • Process Praise – “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have tried really hard.”

Why is this important?  Those students  that receive intelligence praise, tend to choose the easier task they know they will do well on – so learning will be limited.  Those students who receive process praise, will tend to choose the challenging task, as their intelligence will not be at risk.

7. Make Feedback Manageable & Meaningful

Feedback is really important to students and to us as teachers.  It tells students how to improve and it should inform our future planning as teachers.  But it needs to be manageable and meaningful.  So use a variety of strategies, including verbal and written feedback.  Make written feedback manageable e.g. each lesson, give written feedback to 7-8 students, so over a fortnight (or so) all students will receive it. Make it meaningful, by ensuring that students respond to the feedback – give them DIRT (Directed Improvement & Reflection Time).  So at the start of the lesson, they look at your feedback and respond to it.  Use a ‘marking schedule’ so that you can plan your marking time effectively.  More on feedback here.

8.  Model it – Practice it

Often we expect students to be able to write a brilliant piece of writing, produce a wonderful piece of art or carry out an excellent experiment, without showing them how to do it.  This is madness!  So plan time for modelling.  Deconstruct a finished product first of all i.e. how has it been created and what makes it so good?  Then co-construct it – build it up slowly.  Following that, give them the time to go it alone – deliberate practice. Despite popular educational mythology, this is the only way to develop independence – by showing/ supporting students how to do it first of all, letting them try it out themselves, whilst giving them feedback on their performance – not just ‘letting them get on with it’!

Cognitive science tells us that repetition and practice is so important for learning – so don’t assume that because they can do it once, they have learnt it.  That won’t be the case – they need to keep coming back to it, so plan for this.  Set homework regularly and make it count i.e. make it purposeful and give students feedback on it – it’s a great opportunity for deliberate practice.  More on modelling here.

9.  Ask Lots of Questions

Get students to think deeper than they thought was possible, by responding to their responses with more questions – Why do you think that?  What could be an alternative view to that?  How have you come to that conclusion?  Could you add anything else to that response?  Don’t let them get away with superficial responses!

Socratic questioning is a good way of thinking about how we structure our questioning. It teaches us to dig beneath the surface of our ideas, by considering 6 ‘types’ of questions:

  1. Getting students to clarify their thinking
    e.g., ‘Why do you say that?’, ‘Could you explain further?’
  2. Challenging students about assumptions
    e.g., ‘Is this always the case?’, ‘Why do you think that this assumption holds here?’
  3. Evidence as a basis for argument
    e.g., ‘Why do you say that?’, ‘Is there reason to doubt this evidence?’
  4. Alternative viewpoints and perspectives
    e.g., ‘What is the counter-argument?’, ‘Can/did anyone see this another way?’
  5. Implications and consequences
    e.g., ‘But if…happened, what else would result?’, ‘How does…affect…?’
  6. Question the question
    e.g., ‘Why do you think that I asked that question?’, ‘Why was that question important?’, ‘Which of your questions turned out to be the most useful?’

Visual prompts at the start of a lesson (or at any point) are a great way to stimulate thinking and questioning – and eliciting prior knowledge.

10.  Use Academic Language

Tell the students ‘In this room we talk like…scientists…mathematicians…historians etc’  Then, insist on using formal, academic language during discussions e.g. ‘It’s not a thick liquid, it’s viscous’.


And finally, NQTs and mentors take note of this graph:

NQT phases

This is how your year is likely to pan out!  So pace yourself, look after yourself, plan relaxation and recuperation time during the year and support each other.

Have a good year!

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2013-14. Done!

Schools-Out-for-SummerAt this time of year, it has become fairly traditional for educational bloggers to write a round up of what they think they’ve achieved over the course of the academic year.  I had every intention of doing this, but have changed my mind.  I’ll explain why. One of the things I have been working on this half term is a new school prospectus (with the brilliant ‘Devised Designs Company and Jason Keffert Photography).  We wanted to include some quotes from students in the prospectus, so I gathered a group of students together and asked them a simple question – What has Durrington High School done for you?

Their responses were great.  So rather than share what I think we’ve done well this year, I thought I would share their responses – what difference we have actually made to our students, according to them.

This is what they wrote down…

“I am grateful for all of the support from teachers and students.  They set me high goals and then push and support  me to do my best.”

“The teachers have encouraged me to enjoy learning.”

“Durrington High School has helped me find myself, by encouraging my work efforts. This has made me the person I am today.  As a result I have realised I can achieve anything.  I am now a more confident person, thanks to Durrington.”

“Working to the best of your ability is the only way to work at DHS.”

“Determination is a key part of school life. Without hard work and determination, you will not achieve. But DHS has helped me through the years to become focused and determined, helping me to push myself to my peak potential.”

“Durrington gave me a chance to have a voice within the school community through student leadership.”

“Durrington High School believes in me.”

“Durrington has taught me that no matter what difficulties you face, you can always overcome them with determination and perseverance.”

“Durrington High School has made me become more confident in myself by encouraging me to just go for it! The extra-curricular activities have offered me good opportunities to work with new people and meet new friends, resulting in me feeling safe and content at school.”

“Durrington High School has helped me by making sure I always put 100% effort and hard work into all my work.  This helps me to overcome obstacles in my learning.”

“At DHS everybody works for everybody, we are a community, which is why we are successful.”

“At Durrington High School we achieve the best we can by being committed, positive and confident.”

“Durrington High School has made me work harder than what I thought was possible, making me proud of the results I have achieved.”

“Durrington has shown me that I can try again and do better rather than settling for satisfactory pieces of work.”

“At Durrington we are encouraged to thrive upon feedback, which  allows us to further develop our learning and to go beyond our best.”

We are not a perfect school, in fact I don’t think such a place exists.  What I do think though, is that if our students make comments like this, we must be doing something right – and this is testament to our amazing staff. It puts me in mind of this by the brilliant Taylor Mali:

Remember, we make a difference…

…and so deserve a great rest!

Have a wonderful summer!

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Getting Great

Teaching is a creative profession, and at DHS we want our teachers to be innovative and excited about what they do – not stifled by an overly prescriptive approach to teaching.  We want teachers to takes risks and try new things out, by learning and growing from each other.

Within this though, we acknowledge that there are some key aspects of pedagogy that should be consistent throughout our practice – so we talk about a ‘tight but loose’ approach to teaching.  Tight, in terms of ensuring that these key pedagogical principles are strong features of our teaching, but loose in terms of how they are implemented and developed by teachers.  They are outlined below by the following diagram:

expert pub

In order to facilitate this, we’ve stopped using lesson observation grades.  This has been liberating and has opened up a great deal of discussion about what we think great teaching looks like.   Andy Tharby has written here about how this has made lesson observations far more of a developmental process – this is exactly what they should be.  We want our teaching to be informed by:

  • Dweck’s idea of a ‘Growth Mindset’.
  • Berger’s idea of an ‘Ethic of Excellence’.
  • What other external research, thinking and developmental work around cognitive science and learning says is effective.
  • What other great schools are doing.
  • What our own internal research, carried out by our own staff, suggests works within our context.

We’ve used this as an opportunity to come up with some prompt questions to support discussions about great teaching – not a checklist.  This is what we’ve come up with so far:


  • Are learning objectives concise and challenging for all?
  • Are the tasks set going to allow all students to be stretched and challenged?
  • Are all students expected to develop their knowledge and skills during the lesson?
  • Is there sufficient support in place to allow slow and stuck learners to achieve these challenging objectives?
  • Does the teacher’s knowledge of the students they are teaching allow them to be proactive about implementing this support – so that it is seamless and focused?
  • Is formal, subject specific, academic language modelled by teachers and encouraged from students?
  • Is the bar of expectation high for all students?
  • Is appropriate support and scaffolding in place to enable all students to achieve this level of expectation?
  • Are examples of excellence shared, discussed and deconstructed with the class?
  • Is subject content relevant and challenging, because of excellent teacher subject knowledge?
  • Are assessment criteria referred to explicitly?
  • Is homework suitably challenging and engaging for all students?


  • Does the teacher establish prior knowledge and use this to ‘hook into’ new knowledge?
  • Does teacher subject knowledge add clarity, depth and breadth to the learning?
  • Does the explanation focus on the key learning points, success criteria and subject threshold concepts?
  • Are there opportunities to make the explanation more concrete and credible e.g. demonstration, visual, practical, appropriate use of analogy etc?
  • Does the explanation generate curiosity and so ‘open up the learning gaps’?
  • Is explanation clear and concise, especially when subject matter is challenging?
  • Is teacher talk and gesture enthusiastic, firm, kind and inclusive?
  • Does the teacher judge carefully when to move from surface learning i.e. key ‘bits’ of knowledge to deep learning i.e. using, linking and applying that knowledge:

awl solo thresholds


  • Is practical work and other activities carefully modelled, so that students are shown how to use this new knowledge and skills?
  • Does the teacher share and compare examples of excellent work – ‘This is great because…’
  • Are exemplary examples of subject specific products, including writing, deconstructed with the students
  • Is subject specific writing then modelled and co-constructed with the students
  • Does teaching allow critique of models
  • Do teachers model ‘expert thinking’ by verbalising implicit thought processes?
  • Is modelling scaffolded to maximise the learning for all students?

Deliberate Practice

  • Once students have had input from the teacher, are they given time to practise this new knowledge & skills?
  • Are students made to redraft and improve their work?
  • Does the teacher observe for mistakes, intervene when necessary and so ensure that practice is perfect?
  • Are mistakes utilised as a key aspect of leaning?
  • Is practice supported by scaffolds and support when necessary?
  • Are scaffolds and supports removed at the right time to allow for independence?
  • Is there evidence that threshold concepts (key subject-specific knowledge and skills) are practiced regularly to improve retention?
  • Is homework used as an opportunity to develop the use of new knowledge and skills?


  • Does questioning involve a wide range of students?
  • Do we ask students ‘Why?’ a lot – to get them to verbalise their thinking?
  • Does questioning both deepen and develop thinking and check for common misconceptions?
  • Are student responses developed by further questioning e.g. what do you mean by that? Can you expand on that?
  • Are students given enough time to think about their responses? Think, pair, share is a nice strategy to develop this.
  • Are hinge questions used during the lesson – to assess whether or not the learning can be moved on e.g. from surface to deep learning?
  • Are reluctant respondents encouraged to respond by careful scaffolding?
  • Are students encouraged to respond to and evaluate the responses of their peers e.g. use ABC questioning – after a response, they need to agree, build on or challenge the response.
  • Are students encouraged to ask questions?
  • Are students expected to rephrase answers in Standard English?
  • Don’t respond with ‘excellent’ if it isn’t. Be positive, but develop their response by further questioning.


  • Is feedback in line with subject specific expectations – as outlined in the feedback policy?
  • Is feedback a 2 way process? Does the teacher reshape and adapt instruction in response to student feedback?


  • Is our teaching (within and between lessons) and curriculum planning responsive, based on the performance of students?
  • Do we use a good variety of feedback, that encourages students to consider – Where am I going? How am I going? Where to next?
  • Do we focus our feedback on – the task, the process and encouraging self-regulation?
  • Is personal feedback focused on the effort and hard work that students put in to their work?
  • Is there a good mix of verbal and written feedback?
  • Are students encouraged to critique the work of their peers? Are there opportunities provided for students to do this e.g. through ‘gallery critique’?
  • Are there opportunities for the ‘public presentation’ of work?
  • Is feedback kind, specific and helpful?
  • Is feedback designed to make students think – instead of giving them the answer?
  • Is feedback timed right i.e. are students given enough ‘struggle time’?
  • Are students expected to move towards ‘closing the gap’ by responding to feedback e.g. DIRT – Directed Improvement & Reflection Time?
  • As a result, do students know what they have got to do to achieve?
  • Are self-assessment strategies such as proof-reading, editing and redrafting employed to aid metacognition.
  • Do students get useful feedback on their homework, as well as their classwork?

Next steps for 2014-15…

We will continue on our journey next year, supported by the following work:

But for now…a few days to go, then this….


Have an amazing summer!


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Thinking About Mindset

mindset brainIn a previous post, I stated why I think developing a growth mindset with students is so important.  It makes students:

  • Have high expectations of what they can achieve and be inspired by the success of others.
  • Accept that hard work and effort is needed to master new ideas and achieve excellence.
  • Accept that they need to be resilient and so keep going when things get tough.

Whilst it is obviously important to develop this culture with staff, through their teaching and interactions with students, if it’s going to be embedded across a school, we need to get students thinking about mindset.  By getting them to think about mindset, we will encourage them to reflect on themselves as learners and then hopefully change their approach to learning.  There’s no quick fix here, but I think there are opportunities all around us in schools, that can be exploited for this purpose.


I’ll try to give a few examples of how we’re trying to get students to think about mindset at DHS.


All students have a planner and they look at it a number of times a day (he says optimistically!)  Over the past few years ours has had a photo of our school on it.  Whilst quite nice (and it is a lovely building), this is an opportunity to get students thinking about mindset.  So next year, this will be the image on the front of their planners (courtesy of Jason Ramasami):

dhs mindset manifestoNow, is this going to transform learning for all?  No, but what it might do is to get students thinking about themselves from time to time.

The inside of planners have usually had some kind of list about qualities required to be an outstanding learner, or a list of ‘Business & Enterprise Skills, or PLTS.  Not in 2014-15 though!  Instead we’ll elaborate on the front cover and unpick what these growth mindset attributes look like:

mindset planner descriptionsOn a termly basis, students will then think about these attributes in form time and how they apply to themselves.  They will record this on a chart like the one below and then set themselves some actions to address any weak areas.

mindset apgar

Measuring mindset in a quantitative way accurately is at best difficult and at worst impossible. That’s not the purpose of this though.  This activity is again, simply to get students thinking about and discussing mindset and most importantly, thinking about themselves as a learner in school.  Following that, they can then commit to tweaking their own learning behaviour in some small way – marginal gains for students.

This document can be downloaded here.


wall2I blogged last week about our new Excellence Wall.  The work up here is from a range of students, but has one thing in common – it took hard work, effort and determination.  The response from the students has been great.  Lots of them have been admiring the work at break and lunchtime – and then discussing what makes it so good.  Again, this must surely make them think about their own work – are they putting in enough effort to produce a piece of work worthy of ‘That Wall’?


As well as the wall, we’re looking at other opportunities to raise awareness of mindset.

mindset branson

Chris Hildrew has produced a series of excellent posters like the one above – they can be downloaded here.  We have personalised them for DHS and every week a new one goes up on the ‘Mindset Matters’ noticeboard – which is in a prominent position in the school.  It is also tweeted by the school twitter account – so reaching students and parents.

Another mindset display by the student reception, encourages students to think about the mindset attributes:

mindset main display


Last term I did two week ‘assembly tour’ across the whole school.  I’m indebted to John Tomsett for much of the content of the assembly.  The purpose of this again, was just to get students thinking about mindset and what it means for them. Here it is:

It can be downloaded here.

Again, the prolific Chris Hildrew has produced a whole series of great assemblies on mindset here.


Next year I want to think about other resources that can be used during form time to get students thinking about and discussing mindset.  At a conference in London last week, Carol Dweck suggested using this article as a good starting point for discussing mindset with students:

mindset article

The full article is here.  The power of this is that, probably for the first time, it makes students realise that their intelligence is not fixed, but instead can be developed by hard work and effort.

growthSo, are these things making a difference? We’ll probably never know is the honest answer.  However, this week I was interviewing students to get some quotes to go in the new prospectus. I was asking them to think about and write down how being a student at DHS has developed them.  Their responses (some extracts below) suggest that we are getting there in terms of mindset, but of course, we’re not there…….yet!

Being a part of Durrington High School has made me want to achieve more than I believed was possible.  It has made me believe that I can achieve excellence.”

We are lucky to have the experience of teachers who will support, inspire and embrace our learning everyday.  We are taught to overcome obstacles, work hard and have a commitment to succeed.”

“We are a community here at Durrington High School, where we are motivated and driven by the excellence represented by everyone around us.”




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A grand day out with Dweck, Syed, Hymer, Brinton, Jones & Elder

Today was Osiris Educational’s ‘Growing Mindsets Convention 2014′ in London. As well as a programme of excellent speakers, including Carol Dweck, Matthew Syed and Barry Hymer, it was also an opportunity to spend some time with EG Schools colleagues – Dan Brinton, Pete Jones & Zoe Elder.  The day didn’t disappoint and provided many thought provoking moments.  A summary follows.

dweck pic

The day got underway with Professor Carol Dweck – and a photo opportunity not to be missed!

“I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures…I divide the world into the learners and non-learners.”

- Benjamin Barber

Mindset Rule #1

Fixed Mindset: Look smart at all costs

Growth Mindset: Learn at all costs

If you don’t try, you won’t fail and so you’ll always look smart.

Mindset Rule #2

Fixed Mindset: It should come naturally

Growth Mindset: Work hard, effort is key

This is key.  If you believe that you have natural ability, you don’t need effort and so you won’t try.  You’re unlikely to have dreams or goals as you get used to people telling you ‘you’re so good, you’re going to be a……‘ – this is hugely damaging for students.  In one study in the USA, top athletes from a range of sports were interviewed.  None of them had been number 1 in their field as teenagers.  They all said this was a part of their success – they knew they had to do something to get better and beat the rest.

Mindset Rule #3

Fixed Mindset: It’s about me – hide mistakes and deficiencies

Growth Mindset: It’s about learning – confront mistakes and deficiencies.

After a setback, students had the following responses…..

Fixed Mindset:

“I’d spend less time on this subject from now on.”

“I would try to cheat on the next test.”

Growth Mindset:

“I would work harder in this class from now on.”

“I would spend more time studying for tests.”

Praise is key – it gives messages about what we value

  • Intelligence Praise – “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.”
  • Process Praise – “Wow, that’s a really good score. You must have tried really hard.”

Those students  that received intelligence praise, tended to choose the easier task they knew they would do well on – so learning was limited.  Those students who received process praise, tended to choose the challenging task, as their intelligence was not at risk.

Why isn’t ‘struggle’ a fantastic word?

We should be praising the effort and the struggle.  This will encourage students to develop strategies to help them get unstuck, so that they are more likely to choose challenging tasks and persist when the going is hard – they will then use their mistakes for learning.  If we foster this mindset with students, improved grades will be a natural by-product of them engaging with the learning process.

So, when we say “Look, you got an A without really working, you’re really good at maths.”  The students hears – If I had to work at it, that must mean I wouldn’t be any good at it.

Similarly, when we say “You did that so quickly and easily. That’s impressive!”  The student hears – If I don’t do it quickly, you wouldn’t be impressed.

So by changing how and what we praise, we change the values we communicate to students.


By using ‘yet’ we give students confidence in what they can do and encourage persistence e.g.

  • I can’t do it….yet
  • I’m not good at this topic…yet
  • I tried, but I can’t do it…yet

Is it ever too late?

Taught mindset programmes have been shown to make a difference to high school students, college students, university students and the elderly.  It’s never too late!  It has most impact on the bottom 30% of achievers.

A good way to start such a programme, is to read the following article with students and then discuss it:

mindset article

Full article here

Students need a growth mindset to…

  • Choose learning over looking smart.
  • Prefer high effort over low effort
  • Be resilient: profit from mistakes and setbacks

Teachers need a growth mindset to…

  • Help students fulfil their potential
  • Fulfil their own potential as educators

 “Infallible is the enemy of learning.”

Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed, form British number 1 table tennis player, journalist and author of ‘Bounce‘ made a compelling argument that the idea that high levels of performance comes from natural talent is at best misleading and at worst, destructive.  Instead, it is the result of two things:

  • Quality of practice
  • Quantity of practice

Matthew used to believe that he had natural talent – in his quick reactions, that helped him to such success in table tennis.  It was this that made him ask tennis player Michael Stich, to serve some balls at him during an interview.  Convinced that his natural reactions and talent would enable him to return the serve, he was amazed that he couldn’t….time and time again.  Why?  Because reactions alone weren’t enough.  As a table tennis player he had practised over and over watching his opponents body to see where the ball would go and then respond.  This was completely different in tennis – he had no idea because he hadn’t practised and refined the technique.  This convinced him that the talent thing was a myth.

If success is about natural talent, what’s the point of trying hard?  In fact, with this view, effort can be seen as embarrassing as it is interpreted as ‘I haven’t got talent.’

This view has been perpetuated by programmes such as the X Factor – success is about instant gratification, not hard work.  The Olympics helped to dispel this myth though – with many athletes talking the years of effort, commitment and sacrifice that had been needed to help them gain their success.

There’s much to learn from successful football teams on this idea of deliberate practice:

  • Brazil – are great, not because of ‘natural samba rhythm’, but because they understand the need for deliberate practice.  They spend hours playing futsal – a scaled down, close version of the game, where quick reactions and close control are key.  So when they play on the big pitch, it’s easy.
  • Barcelona – spend hours doing training drills like this:

Some key points about building success for teachers:

  • Sell the growth mindset message to parents as well as students
  • Support students to know what to do when they fail – embrace it and use it.  Give them the self confidence and robustness to use failure.
  • Be precise with feedback – where exactly did they go wrong?
  • Equip them with the psychological tools to perform under pressure i.e. exams e.g. mock exams, keep hydrated, do past papers…lots, use chief examiners reports, get feedback from markers.

BarryHymer2012Professor Barry Hymer spoke about developing a growth mindset in schools.

Proposal: Implementation of mindset theory in schools might require us to step outside the paradigm within which it has been conceived and articulated.

Possible implication: Practitioners researching their own practice with their peers provide a model for the emergence of growth mindset cultures in schools.

Proposal 2: Implementation of mindset theory in schools might best be achieved by pursuing neo-classical emphases, albeit within a hypermodernist world.

Possible Implication: Many of the things we do (or are required to do) for the best of reasons have the worst possible effects e.g. praise, targets, differentiation by ability (instead, think about differentiation by challenge – so they have a 50% chance of not getting it and so have to struggle).

Privelege feedback over praise

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”  Norman Vincent Peale.

“Especially when tasks are demanding, the quality of pupils’ meta cognitive skills rather than their intellectual abilities becomes the chief determinant of their learning outcomes.” John Hattie

A few problems with praise

  1. Invites complacency – geniuses always excel?
  2. Feeds resentments – everyone says I’m brilliant, why don’t you?
  3. Erroneously locating the purpose of learning with someone else
  4. Seeding a fear of future failure – what if I don’t succeed next time?
  5. Feeding unrealistic self perceptions of current skills levels
  6. Inadvertently diminishing the value of effort and exaggerating the role of natural ability.
  7. Emphasising the summative at the expense of the formative.

3 Good Feedback Moves – John Hattie

  1. Task level – how well tasks are performed – “You need to put more about the Treaty of Versailles.”
  2. Process level – the process needed to understand/ perform tasks – “Try reading this more slowly.”
  3. Self regulation level - self monitoring, directing and regulating actions – “You know when you need full stops – check to see if they’re needed here.”

Privelege pupil autonomy over teacher control

Autonomy – being the perceived origin or source of one’s own behaviour.

3 Massively Researched Conclusions:

  1. Autonomously motivated students thrive in educational settings
  2. Students benefit when teachers support their autonomy – and so do their teachers.
  3. These benefits appear in both the educational and developmental domains.

Autonomy’s classroom gifts:

  • Better conceptual understanding
  • Better grades
  • Greater persistence
  • Greater productivity
  • Less burnout
  • Greater psychological well being

The 4 Ts of Autonomy:

  1. Task – is there a degree of open endedness about the task?
  2. Time – are there flexibilities about how long it can take?
  3. Technique – does the task offer alternative routes to completion?
  4. Team – do pupils have a say in choosing their collaborators?

Something tor try…

Giving an A

At the start of the year, ask all students to write a letter (dated July next year) that starts ‘Dear Sir/Miss, I got an A because…….’


  • Tell the story of what will have happened to you by next July that is in line with this exceptional performance grade.
  • Provide as much detail as you can and write in the past tense.  Avoid phrases like ‘I hope…’, ‘I intend….’ etc.
  • Report on goals achieved or prizes won if you must, but emphasise more the person you have become.

An A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into……



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Celebrating Excellence

As a school we’ve been thinking a great deal about developing a growth mindset with our students and staff.  There’s been a lot of discussion on twitter around mindset recently, some positive and some not so.  In my mind the principles around growth mindset are pretty solid and in no way gimmicky.  It’s about getting students to:

  • Have high expectations of what they can achieve and be inspired by the success of others.
  • Accept that hard work and effort is needed to master new ideas and achieve excellence.
  • Accept that they need to be resilient and so keep going when things get tough.

I struggle to see how anyone could argue against these.  These are the sorts of attributes that the best teachers have been developing in their students for years (a reminder about Mr Clarke).  The issue I suppose is how schools put it into practice.  It’s not a quick fix and it can’t be a one off ‘strategy’ – it has to permeate everything we do and be a way of working and thinking.  For example, the idea of having a ‘growth mindset’ learning objective for lessons, seems bizarre (though I have heard of one institution that does this).  However, there are things that can be done to support this ethos.

This week, inspired by Pete Jones, we’ve unveiled our ‘Wall of Excellence’, to put these principles into action.  The idea is very simple – a high impact display of excellent work.  Not work that necessarily looks pretty, but work that is of a high quality and has been achieved by hard work and determination.  Work that sets the standard of excellence and inspires other students to aim for that standard.  Work that encourages students to want to go ‘beyond their best’.  Work that allows us to celebrate excellence instead of hiding it away. Work that shows what can be achieved with hard work, effort and determination.  Work that makes it ‘cool to be smart!

In his brilliant book, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’, Ron Berger sets out the following factors for establishing a culture of excellence in a school:

excellence ahead2

Our wall facilitates this perfectly. Students and staff will be able to study and discuss examples of excellence in an informal setting.  The discussion will help to develop a culture of critique.  It will also provide the opportunity for public presentation.  As subjects prepare for their exhibition slot (see below), I imagine that it will also encourage them to think about the nature of the work they are setting and so ‘assign work that matters’.

This is what it looks like:



The response from students has been great – it’s been lovely to see them standing and admiring the work and getting very excited when they see a piece of their own in a frame! They’ve been pointing out particular pieces of work to each other and discussing why it’s so good.  The work includes poetry from English, math problems being solved, science experimental write ups, geography case studies, photos of drama productions, historical source analysis, QR codes to student video presentations etc etc.  This initial exhibition is from a range of different subjects, but we have some other ideas about how else we will use the wall:

  • Supporting transition – our middle schools have been contacted to ask for samples of excellent work from Y7, who will be joining us as Y8 in September.  We will then use this as an exhibition in September, so the first thing our new Y8 students see is their own excellent work up on display in their new school.  This will hopefully help them to feel a part of the school.  In the words of Andy Tharby it will also act as a ‘benchmark of brilliance’ for their future work – setting the standard high and celebrating excellence from the outset.
  • Subject Exhibitions – next year each curriculum area has been allocated a half termly slot where they will be responsible for ‘filling the gallery’ with work.  This will allow us to celebrate excellence across the curriculum.  Taking this a stage further, during lessons students could be taken to the wall and critique the work for that subject.  This can then be used to inform their own work.
  • Governor celebration of excellence events – Once a term, our governors are invited to an event in the library where they can see examples of excellent work on display and discuss this with the students who produced the work.  This will now be done here, at the gallery – giving it more of an exhibition feel.
  • Parental open evenings – A great way to allow parents to see the great work their children are producing.  This should also encourage discussion about excellent work at home, supporting the importance of hard work and commitment.


Is it possible to ‘go beyond our best’?  Yes, I believe so.  Your best, is the best you have done up until that time.  Once we’ve achieved our best, we shouldn’t just be happy with that, we should be striving to get better and better – and so go beyond our best.  The only limit to this is the level of expectation we place on ourselves and our students and the amount of hard work, effort and determination they put in.  That’s a key part of this wall – to show students what can be achieved by their peers, with the right mindset – expect excellence, work hard, learn from your failures, be inspired by others and keep going when the going is tough and you’ll do well!

Tom Bennett sums this up very nicely in a recent blog entitled ‘The problem with potential’ :

“I expect them all to get an A. Which doesn’t mean I disregard prior achievement and other impediments, merely to say that I believe anyone can do anything if they want it hard enough and are prepared to do what it takes to get it.”




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Making Enquiry Learning Effective

The 15 Minute Forum this week was led by geography NQT Ben Crockett.

Dylan Wiliam asserts that sharing objectives (or intentions as he prefers) is essential in opening up a discourse about learning and that students need to know where they’re supposed to be heading if they’re going to have a chance of getting there.  There’s a potential problem here though.  Over the course of the day, students will be exposed to a range of learning objectives, in a variety of forms.  David Didau says the following:

“Every lesson I have observed in the past 5 years has objectives (or aims, or intentions, or outcomes, or whatever) dutifully written up on the board and copied into students’ books. Does this mean that the learning objective has become mere white noise; a meaningless routine enacted in thousands of classrooms with very little impact on learning? Well, sadly, yes; this is probably all too often the case.”

(David Divau, 2013 –

crockett1Enquiry learning could hold the answer to this.   Roberts (2003) says that there are 4 main aspects to enquiry learning:

  1. Creating a need to know approach to learning – “students will learn more if they have been made curious about what they are going to learn and can ask their own questions.”
  2. Encouraging students to use data/information as evidence.
  3. Making sense of information – “students being actively engaged”.
  4. Encouraging students to reflect on learning.

Many teachers have been put off enquiry learning due to the fear/ belief that enquiry learning has to be 0% teacher control/ input and 100% led by students.  This is not the case – it’s more about encouraging students to be curious about a topic and then think deeply about it.

So it can take this kind of format:

  • Base the lesson (or the start of the lesson) around one central mystery question (Leat, 2001), that is unusual and so makes students think.
  • They are given data/ information cards, to prompt thinking
  • They need to process this data to answer the question.
  • Finally students reflect on what they have learnt through a debriefing or answering of original question.

So here’s an example – an unusual question that students are posed at the start of the lesson:


This will generate lots of questions and discussion, that can be guided by the teacher – by probing questions and reshaping their responses.  The answer is of course that Anthony Dubber is the Head Chef at the British Antarctic Survey Station. Growing fresh vegetables in the Antarctic is very difficult due to the climate so they have to be grown in special heated and lit laboratories. This makes it very expensive to grow fresh crops.  So rather than starting with a dull set of learning objectives, start with a question that will get them thinking. and then lead this into a lesson on environmental conditions, food production etc – avoiding the white noise of learning objectives at the start of the lesson and stimulating thinking.

Another example:


Maura runs ultra-marathons and once got lost in a desert.  Why did he make a bed of coal?  He buried hot coals (found at a shrine) under the sand and slept on top of them over night to keep him warm, and to prevent hypothermia.  This then leads in to a lesson on environmental conditions and adaptations.

Other examples of enquiry questions that have been used:

  1. What has human hair got to do with the BP oil spill? (Human hair naturally absorbs oil and is used in clear ups).
  2. Why does Angelo live on a wing? (Settlement patterns – Brazillia is shaped like a plane)
  3. Why is Dr Maurizio wearing a new costume to work? (Based on news story of doctors dressing up as clowns to comfort children after earthquake)
  4. Why does Tweetie Pie not turn into KFC? (Based on birds on over head cables and step up transformers)
  5. Why can’t we trust paintings of Queen Elizabeth I? (Based on portraits and representation of the queen)

So, why do these enquiry questions work at the start of the lesson?

  • They catch their interest.
  • They appeal to our fondness for ‘story telling’
  • In the words of Chip and Dan Heath, they ‘open up the learning gap’ and so make students want to find out more – so ‘making explanations stick’.
  • We avoid telling them about the learning at the start of the lesson – so keeping the ‘mystery of learning’ alive.

The following diagram as a helpful tool in terms of planning enquiry learning:





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