This week I’ll be focusing on Growth Mindset in the English classroom. Thanks to the people like Carol Dweck this has become very popular in the last couple of years, and rightly so in my opinion. Students without resilience are unlikely to succeed, particularly in light of the challenging new specifications (*gulp*). I hear frequent and worrying cries of “I can’t” or worse, “I don’t care” as the exam pressure increases and this has to be challenged. Over the week I’ll be posting about some strategies that can be used in the classroom and some English specific writing prompts. For today here are a couple of suggestions for starting points:
Are you ever surprised about how much of what you do the students remember? “Miss, it was when you wore that purple scarf”, “Miss, it was when the board wouldn’t work” “Sir, it was when you tripped over the box at the front!” They are ALWAYS WATCHING! This is why I think it is so important for us to model a positive mindset. If we don’t know something we should admit it and set a class challenge to find out the answer. We should tell them that we are going to an evening class because we have always wanted to learn Spanish. We should be honest about the fact that in school we found maths difficult (which I’m going to blithely assume most English teachers did) but that we persevered because we knew how important it was – and we were right. Students need to see that you have a positive mindset before you can help them to develop their own. Students have to believe they can improve and they need to see that you are also willing to do so.
The language you use in class should be littered with mindset vocabulary! If you aren’t sure where to start with this, complete an audio recording of one of your lessons and listen out for key words. If you aren’t using them in a sincere and useful way this is something which needs to be addressed.
Think about the difference in what you hear with these examples:
“Well done. Good work.”
“Your hard work on similes has really paid off in this writing. How could it be further improved with use of metaphor?”
The first does little to encourage and could almost feel dismissive. The second is specific and gives the student a way forward.
I would also encourage using the following words and phrases in class discussion, oral and written targets and for assessments:
- Targeted Effort
- Thinking about Thinking
- Good Mistakes
- Trial and Improvement
- Learning from Failure
- First (second, third etc.) attempt at learning
I’m not advocating making things so easy that students always succeed as I believe that they must have challenge and they must also fail in order to ultimately succeed. What I am suggesting is to have small goals for them to reach so they can see their progress and be inspired to strive. Formative assessment plays a massive role here, as it can help students to develop a growth mindset by focusing them on their learning and understanding instead of just the final grade. Rewarding effort rather than outcome is key here too.
It is essential to establish a classroom atmosphere in which students are not afraid to fail, but this must be balanced with a culture of high expectation. Students must see failing as part of the learning process and be able to use those failures in order to progress. An example would be to expect them to be able to achieve full marks on a sample exam question by the end of the week, but to make sure they see the journey towards this as one which perhaps won’t be straightforward.
I’m a huge fan of using classroom walls to aid the learning process. Use the space to put up motivational quotations (ideally from people the students admire), famous failures, growth mindset posters etc. There are loads available online. If all else fails, show them the Yoda clip.
If you fancy some further reading, I can highly recommend this pocketbook for developing mindset practices in the classroom. It is full of useful and practical strategies which will really help you to develop a classroom culture of growth mindset:
Watch this space this week for writing prompts and more classroom strategies!