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Classroom Strategies for Growth Mindset, Pocketbooks and Dragons at the #NPATConf

Today, I spent 7 hours in a hotel room with 152 other teachers from the Northampton Primary Academy Trust at our annual conference, learning more about Growth Mindset with Mike Gershon, co-author of the widely popular Growth Mindset Pocketbook and highly renowned for his work around Growth Mindset in schools.

In teaching, things can often be discovered and celebrated; lauded as the next ‘thing that makes a difference’ in education. Then they get adopted into practice (or not), criticised, occasionally dismissed and gradually find their way either woven into the fabric of school life or cast aside for ‘the next thing’. Growth Mindset as a concept has now become so popular in schools that it has hit that point where it has started to attract a small minority of critics and those who are keen to find satisfaction in categorising the approaches as ‘trendy’.

In defence of Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck’s research and work spans over 35 years (I’m sure she certainly wouldn’t describe it as new or revolutionary) and underpins much of the work that many schools have been doing in recent years, particularly around feedback and assessment for learning. Lots of the good stuff that works from our educational heroes such as Dylan William, Shirley Clarke and Ron Berger is either built on Dweck’s research or links very closely to it.

The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer...
The Growth Mindset Pocketbook is a really useful resource and one which we bought for all teaching staff across the trust this Summer…

Books and resources which package Carol Dweck’s work for teachers are now a-plenty and the internet is awash with ‘Growth Mindset’ quotes and images from a wide range of individuals such as Henry Ford, Gandhi, Michael Jordan and Yoda for enthusiastic types (including me) to post, like and retweet in various online networks. Amidst this backdrop, the staff and school leaders across our trust are convinced of the importance that Growth Mindset can bring to schools and have put this at the heart of our curriculum development plan for the next 3 years. Today was a great opportunity for us all to hear it from a real expert and I had the pleasure of spending the day as pupil, taking on board the messages that Mike Gershon delivered expertly to us.

What Mike did today was both clever and useful. He gave us all a comprehensive introduction to both the Science and Research around Growth Mindset which was informative and thought-provoking, even for those amongst the audience who have done all the pre-reading. He also did what we often cry out for within training in schools, made it simple and gave us practical approaches and strategies to take away and use which were in the following six areas:

  1.  Trial & Error
  2. Targeted Effort
  3. Feedback
  4. Metacognition
  5. Language
  6. Embracing Challenge

Throughout the day, we worked through a range of different strategies to use in the classroom which related to each of the above six categories. Some were new but many were those which staff were familiar with – the learning here was less about revolutionary new practice and more about how they all linked together within the context of Growth Mindset and related areas of pedagogy such as feedback, challenge and pupil talk.

We also enjoyed wrestling with the biggest question of the day, would you rather ‘own’ a dragon or ‘be’ a dragon, given the choice?  This was posed by one of the Weston Favell staff – I think it’s what comes from working in an outstanding school!

Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf
Mike Gershon in full swing at the #NPATConf

Some key messages for us to take away? Here are mine:

  •  Avoid trait-based feedback and celebrating outcomes – instead celebrate the processes and application that led to success.
  • Diminish the cost of failure in school (both for staff and students) through a range of activities that encourage trial and error or ‘trial and improvement’. Speed debating was one which we enjoyed today.
  • Work hard at getting feedback right across school.
  • Create a common ‘Growth Mindset’ language which is shared and used throughout the school community – work with parents to share this work and engage them as much as you can.
  • Work harder at getting feedback right across school.
  • Develop scripts for reframing fixed mindset language that you hear in the classroom. e.g. ‘I’m rubbish at Maths’.
  • Growth Mindset storytelling – providing examples, models and drawing on children’s own ‘Growth Mindset’ stories as reference points for staff and children.
  • Work even harder at feedback.
  • Never give out grades or levels alongside feedback if you want anyone to listen or act on the feedback!

One that I want to unpick further is about ‘targeted effort’ which is the beautifully simple premise that ‘If we focus our attention on improving something specific, we’ll get better in that area’. I’m conscious of the amount of different feedback and targets that we provide children with and wonder whether this helps provide clarity or confusion on their next steps.   We’ll look at this one a bit closer in the next few weeks at school.

A thought provoking and enjoyable day but I still  can’t draw… YET.

TR