Learning Behaviours and Growth Mindset: The impact of a whole school initiative.

November 19, 2017

|@iTeachPri

In September 2015, as part of my whole school research project following my Middle Leaders Training Programme, our school introduced what we called Learning Behaviours. Heavily influenced by Guy Claxton’s building learning powers, we used similar principles to create a bespoke model that met our exact needs at the time. Initially, implementing Guy Claxton’s model would have been an “easy option” but, given our context, cohorts and staffing model, would have probably failed within the initial few months owing to complex nature of the system.

Claxton says “it is about creating a climate or a culture in the classroom – and in the school more widely – that systematically cultivates habits and attitudes that enable young people to face difficulty and uncertainty calmly, confidently and creatively” (2010)

So we went back to the drawing board and posed a question: what do we want our learners to be? After much discussion and a “short” list of about 15 qualities, we narrowed it down to four key Learning Behaviours that we felt would serve our pupils well both in their school career and later in in life. Those Learning Behaviours are:

  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Confidence
  • Resilience

For me, reslience in learning is key and with this, children will develop the others naturally. Respect, of course, is a more holistic quality, which can certainly be developed in terms of learning, but is much more wide reaching.

“Resilience in the face of difficulty is one of the basic ingredients of learning power.” (Claxton, 2010)

The next stage of the process was to introduce these to all key stakeholders: staff, pupils, parents and governors. We wanted to ensure that everyone in the wider school community had a crystal-clear, shared understanding of what our Learning Behaviours were and what they looked like in our school.

The following few weeks involved INSET seminars, staff training, guest speakers, whole school launch days (mixing up the entire school for an immersive day of resilience training), parents meetings and governors meetings. I’m happy to say that these were exceptionally well received and provided us with a solid platform on which to develop our model.

One aspect of the model had been bugging me from the off: how would we measure the impact of the project? As one thing I’ve learned over my career so far is if it’s not having an impact, stop!

Measuring the impact of a English or maths based intervention is, in most cases, straightforward – data measure at the start, intervention takes places, data measure at the end. Done! Measuring confidence and resilience, however, would be a bigger challenge.

After a strategic meeting with a seasoned School Improvement Advisor, she suggested looking at the PASS Questionnaire (Pupils Attitude to Self and School) published by GL Assessments (https://www.gl-assessment.co.uk/products/pupil-attitudes-to-self-and-school-pass/)

This tool measured 9 key aspects of a pupils’ attitudes (basically, it does what it says on the tin!)

The responses are averaged against a national benchmark and ranked in terms of a satisfactory scale:

From here, a comprehensive report analyses the responses of each child as well as the subgroups they belong to (i.e. gender, ethnic group, FSM, PP etc) and provides you with a  detailed understadning of each learner.

The table below shows the whole cohort profile and indicates that children’s self-regard as a learner and response to curriculum demands are considerably lower than the other seven factors.

This allows staff to plan a relevant and targeted response to the individual needs of the child.

This comprehensive questionnaire will be completed again at the end of the academic year to track progress.

So how does this link to the original topic of this blog – Learning Behaviours and Growth Mindset?

Well after spending an academic year embedding our learning behaviours and continually assessing their impact through pupil voice interviews, questionnaires, structured conversations with parents and evidence gathered from lesson observations and book looks, we were happy that we could develop the initiative further. For us, the next step would be to introduce the concept of Growth Mindset.

Now I hear some of you already say “Growth Mindset, that educational fad” but believe me, we are not in the business of trying things for the sake of them; we will only embark on a project or initiative if we are sure there will be an gain for our children – and by gain, we mean either in terms of attainment academically or socially, or, in the best case, both.

After researching the work of Carol Dweck (www.mindsetonline.com) and listening to a fascinating Ted Talk titled “The power of believing that you can improve” (watch it here) I was convinced that with a bit of work, the concept of Growth Mindset could work for our children.

Given the work we had already done on building resilience, it made sense to introduce Growth Mindset within the realm of something the children were familiar with.

By launching our Growth Mindset initiative on International Dot Day using the phrase, I can’t do it…yet the children bought into the idea immediately. The day then allowed children to explore the concept of Growth Mindset in more detail by looking at:

  • The language of Growth Mindset
  • Strategies to employ when you get “stuck” in your learning
  • Challenges that build resilience
  • Art work based around “make a mark and see where it takes you”

The result was incredible: children from Year 1 through to Year 6 had a shared understanding of what Growth Mindset meant for them and where they were on their learning journey, a common vernacular that they could employ when discussing their strengths and areas for development in their learning and stretegies they could employ when they got “stuck” in their learning. Not bad for a days work.

But how do we make this sustainable and how do we measure impact?

Having been recommended a great read titled The Growth Mindset Coach: a teacher’s month-by-month handbook for empowering students to achieve, this provided me with an easily accessible, quality assured bank of strategies, activities and challenges for embedding Growth Mindset.

In short, we chose an element of Growth Mindset we felt best developed our children’s understanding (not necessarily in calendar order) and delivered these to staff, who in term, found an afternoon session or a series of afternoon session to deliver these to children. The strategies were then applied to all learning experiences to promote cross-over between curriculum areas. A neat, compact and self-contained way of minimising excess workload for staff but ensuring maximum impact on the children’s learning.

So there’s sustainability covered. What about impact?

Again, measuring impact on such a qualatitive area of learning is challenging but, as mentioned earlier, through structured conversations, pupil voice questionnaires and the eviidence gathered from lesson observations and book looks, children’s (and teachers) attitudes to their learning had become more positive; they were more willing to make mistakes and felt confident that they had a bank of strategies they could call upon to help them help themselves.

It will be interesting to measure the difference in children’s attitudes, particularly their “self-regard as a learner” and their “response to curriculum demands” in the follow up PASS Questionnaire.

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