The image above, or versions of it, are probably commonplace in a number of schools up and down the country – and understandably so. It makes perfect sense to be focusing our efforts on fostering a growth mindset in our schools – getting students to realise that their intelligence and achievement is not fixed, but can be developed, is important. Really important. Recently I read a blog by Nick Rose that made me think about how we’re going about this in schools. This extract struck a chord:
(Read the whole blog here)
This sparked a conversation with a colleague at work – a non-teacher with a background in psychology. She spoke about how this idea linked to work being done to support alcoholics. Whilst they may shift their attitude and see why not drinking alcohol is important, without a toolkit of strategies to change their behaviour and help them to stop, they are unlikely to succeed. So, a toolkit of ‘things to do in certain situations’ was developed to help them e.g. what should I do if I’m offered a drink at a dinner party? What can I do when I’m feeling down? This helped them to change their behaviour and was far more successful than just telling them ‘drinking was bad and that they needed to stop’.
So, mindset posters, assemblies and other messages from staff might change student attitude about mindset i.e. that a growth mindset is preferable in terms of improving achievement, but will they change student behaviour? Will they bring about a change in terms of how a student actually ‘works’, that will shift them more towards a growth mindset? Probably not. In order to achieve this, we would be more sensible using our time to come up with a ‘toolbox of strategies’ that students can use in lessons, everyday, to foster a growth mindset. We need to look at changing their behaviours as well as their attitude. Just telling students to put more ‘effort’ into their work is not useful – they need to know what this means.
- When we are doing ‘live marking’ in lessons i.e. looking at student work and writing a question to develop their thinking further, make sure they respond to the comment. This is not easy for all students – and always for the obvious reasons! One of my Y11 students, Taylor, takes great pride in the presentation of her work – which always looks beautiful! She hates it when I write on her book and has taken some convincing that this is worthwhile!
- Along the same lines, make sure that students are given DIRT (Directed Improvement & Reflection Time) to reflect upon your feedback and improve their work. Take care with this though – make sure they have the knowledge to make the improvements (if they couldn’t do it before, what’s different that will enable them to do it now?).
- Get into the habit of ‘self checking’. We spend a great deal of time going through answers etc with students, but how effectively do they use this to check their own work? Every time I do this now I insist that students ‘tick or correct’ their work/answers.
- Make sure they are learning from each other. By this I don’t mean that they teach each other, that’s our job. However, if they are stuck on something and their neighbour can do it, they should get into the habit of asking their neighbour how to do it.
- Make crossing out and redrafting normal. I saw a great example of this from a Y11 student called Toby the other day. The class were responding to a question and as I went round the class, I had noticed that quite a few were missing the point. So we stopped and talked it through. A few minutes later, as I was moving around the class I looked at Toby’s work. He had made lots of annotations around his first answer (based on what we had discussed earlier) and then crossed it out. He had then redrafted a new, improved response. All without prompting.
- Plan their written responses – rather than going straight into a written response, model to them how to plan their responses before writing their extended response e.g. use bullet points to plan the content of each paragraph; identify the key ideas/words they are going to use in their response etc.
- Use exemplar work that is displayed around the room. When I go into textiles teacher Steve Bloomer’s classroom, the students are always looking at the work of their peers that hangs in the room, to improve their own work:
- Make sure they are using academic language. So, get them into the habit of re-reading their work and thinking if there is a ‘better word’ they could use e.g. in science use viscous, instead of thick.
- Know that it’s OK to put your hand up if you’re stuck and can’t unstick yourself by using the ‘Board, Book or Buddy’ – so therefor need to ask the Boss (the teacher) – the 4Bs is a nice way to remember this.
- Encourage students to ask questions when they are reading. Model this with them to get them into the habit of doing it. So as you are reading through a text together, pause and ask questions such as ‘What does that mean? Why have they said that? What’s the key idea being discussed here? Then in lessons, provide time for them to read and assimilate in this way – and then feedback any questions that arise.
- Ask a friend what they think of your work and to give you feedback.
- When they do a mock exam, completely scrutinise their own paper. Where did they lose marks? Why did they lose marks? Did they use the information given to them in the question, to answer the question? Was there a certain type of question that they got wrong? Why did they miss certain marks on a multi-mark question? Look at the papers of their peers who did better than them, and compare their performance with their own?
- Self-report grades – rather than telling students the grade that you want them to get, ask them to tell you – what grade they want to get? Why they want that grade? What they will need to do in order to achieve it? Maybe get them to write this down and stick it to the front of their books.
We need to be careful about how we go about this – as just presenting students with a list like this could be overwhelming and result in no change in behaviour. In his blog, Nick Rose talks about ‘nudging’ students. I really like this idea. So for those students who need to shift more from fixed to growth, pick just one of the small changes mentioned above, and ‘nudge’ them to do it. Don’t make a big deal out of it – suggest what they could do, get them to agree to giving it a go and then move away – whilst observing from a distance how they get on. If they respond and change their behaviour, go back and tell them what was good about what they did and how it has/will improve their work. If they don’t….nudge again.
I like the idea of thinking explicitly about these ‘non-cognitive interventions’ – providing students with specific strategies that they can put into place in the classroom, to change their behaviour…..and so develop metacognition and move towards a growth mindset.