#TLT15: Getting attitudes right

We’ve been working for a while on getting our attitudes right. We didn’t need excellent blogs like these from Heather Fearn and Tom Sherrington to know that effort and hard work are the key to success. I’ve blogged before about our pilot programme, attitude determines altitude, which ran with Year 11 last year. We tracked attitudes at each monitoring point and worked with students on improving their dispositions in the classroom. In evaluating that programme, we came up against one key question that needed resolving:

How do you accurately assess a student’s attitude?

The question was put pertinently by Sue Cowley back in March:


As a parent with children in our school, I know Sue follows our work very closely. Whether or not her tweet was a direct reaction to our work, or something more general, I don’t know, but it gave us pause for thought. Were we grading attitudes accurately and meaningfully? Could we?

In our pilot programme, we were using the existing set of attitude descriptors which had been used at the school since 2010. Students were awarded grades VGSU (Very Good, Good, Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory) for their Behaviour, Classwork, Homework and Organisation. You can read the descriptors here.

We had a few nagging doubts about our work in this area.  There wasn’t a separate grade for “effort”, which seemed out-of-step with our development of a growth mindset. There was inconsistency in their application, and it seemed that passive compliance was enough to gain a raft of “V” grades. They needed a revamp. So, from January, we set about a research project to try and establish what our new attitude grades should look like.

Research part 1: what does an excellent attitude look like?

Our first step was to ask neighbouring schools what they did. We got some excellent models that way, including from Gordano School, whose “effort profile” was among the reasons they won a DfE “character award” in February 2015.  One of our teaching and learning leaders also paid a visit to Rebecca Tushingham at Hanham Woods Academy, who shared with us her draft “Engagement Ladder”.

We also scoured the web for inspiration, and our Head of Science found CharacterLab, which explores attitude dimensions such as curiosity, gratitude, grit, optimism and zest with some handy resources and links to further research.

CharacterLab's attitude dimensions

CharacterLab’s attitude dimensions

We didn’t forget the olden days either, revisiting the personal learning and thinking skills which have survived the bonfire of the strategies on the national web archive:

 Of course there was also Angela Duckworth’s work on grit,  and helpful school-based models shared freely online by John Tomsett and applied by Pete Jones.

Here's what student attitudes are made up of. Now, which to choose?

Here’s what student attitudes are made up of. Now, which to choose?

Research part 2: how do you describe attitudes?

Once we’d gathered all of these different ways of breaking down student attitudes, we set about selecting, synthesising and collating to create the rubric that we wanted for our school, and working out which language we should use to describe it – replacements for VGSU where “satisfactory” was not really satisfactory at all. In this quest, our head of computing (@morewebber) conducted extensive research into US effort rubrics, uncovering examples including:

  • Exceptional, Accomplished, Developing, Beginning
  • Attempted, Acceptable, Admirable, Awesome
  • Master, Veteran, Apprentice, Novice
  • Excellent, Good, Fair, Weak
  • Exemplary, Proficient, Marginal, Unacceptable

Fortunately, John Tomsett was wrestling with the same dilemma and published his post “this much I know about accurate terminology to describe students’ effort” in June, hitting the ball sweetly down the fairway and giving us a model to emulate. By which I mean copy.

Following a joint meeting of pastoral and curriculum middle leaders to agree the framework, it fell to the teaching and learning leaders to knock the final document into shape, and here’s the result:

Behaviour for learning 2.0

Behaviour for learning 2.0

We came up with additional guidance for SEND students which can be seen here: Attitude report guidelines.

What next? 

Of course there was the mechanics of switching aspects in SIMS to record the new attitude grades, and adjustment of policies to match. But the advantage of the system is that it can still provide an attitude percentage score at each monitoring point by assigning values to each of the attitudes in a SIMS marksheet: three points for each Excellent, two for each Good, one for each Insufficient and zero for a Poor. Insert a formula to add the total and divide by the total possible to create the percentage score. This figure appears on reports, in seating plans via MintClass, and on teacher marksheets in SIMS as a KPI. It allows simple tracking of improvement or decline in attitude over time, which can then trigger praise and reward or intervention and discussion. But because it’s split down into four areas, tutors and teachers can see specifically where changes in attitudes have occurred – an improvement in response to feedback for example.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, was explicit teaching of the attitude expectations to students. We used an off-timetable session for this, so the whole school worked on the new attitude grades together. Students self-assessed against the criteria and set targets for improvement, alongside a discussion about exactly what it would look like in the classroom to display the attitudes in the “excellent” column.

Thirdly, teachers have been working hard to create opportunities in lessons to make the attitudes they expect to see completely explicit to the students. Setting up tasks in the classroom with specific reference to the new attitude grid is a great way of ensuring students see the application of the attitudes in a subject-specific context.

Finally, information for parents and families has been provided through letters, re-written keys on the reports, and face-to-face information evenings. It’s vital that families understand why we’ve changed, and why attitudes to learning matter so much, so they can support us in developing the best approaches to study possible.

Your attitude has more bearing on your outcomes than your ability

Your attitude has more bearing on your outcomes than your ability

 There is a lot more work to do on this – more blogs to follow!

Here are the slides from my #TLT15 presentation:


5 thoughts on “#TLT15: Getting attitudes right

  1. Loved your talk at TMC15. This blog is a very clear explanation follow-up. We have been teaching our students about Growth Mindsets using Jo Boaler’s work for a couple of years. But I have been really missing something concrete to follow up. I was beginning to recognize we need clear expectations of the attitude we are expecting. I am so excited to share your school’s work with my PLC.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write this blog, Chris, it is great to read about the approaches you are using in your school to develop students’ learning. I would like to do something similar at my school and wondered if you came across any clear evidence that measuring and tracking students’ attitudes leads to improved outcomes? It seems self-evident that it should do, however, our Head can sometimes need a lot of convincing before agreeing to change things!

    • Thank you! Yes, we correlated attitudes to learning in Year 11 to GCSE APS and found a positive correlation with some outliers. You can see the graph towards the end of the slides in the Slideshare at the bottom of the blog post. Hope that helps!

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