#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:

cowleytweet

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:

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Growth Mindset Misconceptions and Missteps

Bill Gates with picI have been working on developing a growth mindset culture in my school since October 2013, when I heard John Tomsett speak at TLT13. Over that time I have learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t work, and the stumbling blocks and misconceptions that still persist around growth mindset. I have also learned a lot more about the growth mindset, and refined my thinking about Dweck’s work. In this post I hope to summarise some of that learning.

Misconception 1: I’ve got a growth mindset, so everything’s okay

This is a common misconception. Dweck herself refers to it in this video:

One thing that’s been happening a lot that I see is that people prematurely conclude that they have a growth mindset. I call it “false growth mindset.” [They say] “oh! Growth mindset equals good? I have it! I’m good! I must have it!” And they haven’t done the work.

The fact is, shifting mindsets is about accepting that success is not going to come easy. If we want to be good at something, we’re going to have to work at it. Not just now, but for a long time.

It's all about hard work

It’s all about hard work

Misconception 2: I’ve got a growth mindset: where’s my Nobel Prize?

Another common misconception is that a growth mindset will turn you into an Outlier – an exceptional success. This is partly the result of the “famous failures” assembly and, yes, the growth mindset posters which highlight those people who have reached the top of their fields and also demonstrate a growth mindset. The fact is, there are examples of fixed mindset successes – incredible talents who achieve great things on the strength of natural ability and circumstance alone. There are also millions of people who have a growth mindset and are moderately successful. Having a growth mindset does not make you exceptional. As Malcolm Gladwell shows, Outliers are created by a combination of circumstance, system and approach.

However – and I firmly believe this to be true – a growth mindset is the best way to ensure you develop the talents that you have and continue to improve. I will never run faster than Usain Bolt – I don’t have the physique. But if I train hard and work at it, I will run faster than I can run now. I am unlikely to paint a masterpiece. But if I go to classes, practice and work at it, my painting will improve. If I don’t believe that I can improve – if I believe that my running or painting ability is fixed – then I won’t work at it and I definitely won’t get any better.

Misconception 3: Growth mindset is just good teaching; I’ve been doing it for years

I’m sure, in many cases, this is true. In other cases, however, it’s an opt-out from a critical self-examination of practice and an opportunity to improve. I’ve definitely been guilty of fixed-mindset practices in the past: I’ve congratulated students for getting the top mark in the class in their end of year exams, for example. This kind of well-intentioned approach to celebrate achievement encourages students to compare themselves with one another, rather than evaluating their own performance relative to their own progress. To then bemoan the fact that students are only focused on the marks and not on the painstakingly constructed formative feedback is the ultimate irony. Removing grades and marks from work this year and handing it back only with formative feedback has been transformative. We can all get better. But we need to be self-critical, and actually engage with the research. Read Mindset. Listen to Dweck speak. Read her interviews. Read the research. Don’t assume you know what growth mindset is all about until you have.

Misconception 4: they tried hard, so that’s okay

Dweck’s famous study on praise and mindsets has rightly attracted a lot of attention. However, mindset is primarily about achievement. It’s not about making kids feel good about mediocrity or failure. “Never mind, you tried your best,” is not what Dweck advocates. In fact, in her interview with Schools Week she warns against this approach:

The thing that keeps me up at night is that some educators are turning mindset into the new self-esteem, which is to make kids feel good about any effort they put in, whether they learn or not. But for me the growth mindset is a tool for learning and improvement. It’s not just a vehicle for making children feel good.

Failure should feel bad. It should be painful. We should all be motivated to work harder because we want to be successful. We should learn the lessons of failure so we can avoid those mistakes in the future. Effort and hard work are only worth it if they are directed and purposeful, otherwise you ingrain bad technique and habits. Practice piano scales for an hour with poor hand positioning, and you’ll do more harm than good – so it’s no good praising that hour’s practice unless it’s been purposeful and productive. Am I better now than I was before that work? What have I learned? What have I improved?

It’s worth remembering, however, that the growth mindset done right is beneficial to self-esteem. In her interview for Inside Quest, Dweck explains:

Self Esteem is not something you give to people by telling them about their high intelligence. It is something we equip them to get for themselves, by teaching them to value learning over the appearance of smartness, to relish challenge and effort, and to use errors as routes to mastery.

And that is why mindsets matter so much.

Mis-step 1: You can’t change someone’s mindset; they have to change it themselves.

I know there are no silver bullets in education (though Tom Sherrington’s Silver Arrows are great!) but Dweck’s Mindset was so convincing, so obvious, so natural for me that I couldn’t see how anyone could fail to be persuaded. In the hullabaloo of our Growth Mindset launch I had the zeal of an evangelist, and many were convinced. Many, but not all. There have been lovely moments where I have seen the ethos work:

And yet…and yet…I still picture a Year 10 student faced with an amateurish looking magazine article in GCSE Media. The conversation went something like this:

Needless to say, I didn’t leave it there and the fonts and image were improved. But still, why wasn’t my student convinced? She’d been to my assembly. Surely she should be applying herself to self-improvement with every fibre of her being. Didn’t she realise she was at a Growth Mindset School™? I can create the conditions which make the development of a growth mindset natural, easy, and self-evidently sensible – but teenagers being teenagers, the self-evidently sensible path is not always the path most trodden. I could compel her to improve her work. But I couldn’t compel her to change her mind. She needs to do that for herself.

Mis-step 2: Small scale, low-key interventions work best

One mis-step I think we made in launching our growth mindset ethos, due in part to the enthusiasm we felt as staff for the project, is that I think we made too much fuss. It was teacher led and this ran the risk of creating a condition which we came to recognise as “growth mindset fatigue” – the tendency of teenagers to groan whenever the term was mentioned.

Looking into the research in more detail, it is clear that the best interventions are small-scale, and followed up by shifts in the culture of the school to develop the growth mindset. A superb summary is presented in the excellent blog Growth Mindset: What Interventions Might Work and What Probably Won’t? from @Nick_J_Rose:

A successful psychological intervention involves a quick, well-targeted ‘nudge’; not repeatedly hitting students over the head with a sledgehammer!

What we definitely got right is ensuring that each aspect of the school’s culture and approach is compatible with developing a growth mindset. This approach to adjusting the normative influences within the school is definitely productive. But, in the early days, asking students to reflect weekly on their learning approaches definitely felt more like sledgehammer than nudge, and led to the aforementioned “growth mindset fatigue”. None of this is catastrophic, and easing off the use of the terminology whilst maintaining the shifts in culture, language, feedback and praise kept the project moving forward. And, after all, in a growth mindset we learn from criticism and persist in the face of setbacks!

Mis-step 3: Student Leadership – the missing piece?

In my wider reading and research around growth mindset, I came across the wonderful Growth Mindset Journey blog from Rebecca Tushingham. The whole blog is full of great ideas, including the on-topic Little Nudges, but she has also posted about Growth Mindset Leaders, student ambassadors for the growth mindset developed from within the school. We sent our Head of Science over to meet with Rebecca to discuss her approaches and we definitely feel like this is a strategy we missed. Using student leaders allows ownership of mindset theory within the student body and offsets the risks of top-down, teacher-led “nagging” approaches. As Dweck said in an interview with Schools Week:

Some teachers who genuinely have a growth mindset aren’t understanding how to apply it properly. They are just telling kids to try hard: which I call nagging, not growth mindset. Or they are just saying ‘hey kids, have a growth mindset’.

We definitely ran the risk of falling into this trap. However, by continuing to read around the subject, listening carefully to feedback, and refining our approach we are able to improve and develop what we are doing. It’s almost as if we have to have a growth mindset about developing a growth mindset…

Conclusions: Sticking with it

I remain just as evangelical about the power of the growth mindset to improve achievement, motivation and self-esteem as I was in Southampton in October 2013. Listening to Jo Boaler in the recent Radio 4 Mindchangers programme on growth mindset demonstrates why mindsets matter for achievement:

Anyone can do Maths at high levels if they are given the right teaching and the right messages. Many kids think that you can either do maths or you can’t…[but] we can all develop the brain connections we need. The brain is very flexible, very adaptable…if you need to learn some maths your brain can adapt and learn it.

I feel just the same about growth mindset interventions at school. We have achieved a lot already, but we are flexible and adaptable, and we are learning.

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Getting revision right

This year we have taken a strategic approach to revision with Year 11. We have been trying to make the most of everything we have learned over the past few years about the learning process, memory, recall and deliberate practice to deliver a consistent message to all students. This has involved borrowing many ideas from colleagues up and down the country – and beyond! Here’s what we’ve been up to.

How to revise – students

We borrowed from Shaun Allison’s excellent blog Supporting Learning Through Effective Revision Techniques to reformulate our “How to revise” session for Year 11 students this year. Based on the research conducted by Dunlosky, Willingham et al we advise that highlighting, reading through your notes, and summarising were not the most effective revision techniques. For revision to be effective it must involve thought – students have to process the information to stand the best chance of retaining it. We advised:

  • Chunking and interleaving revision
  • Self-testing
  • Distributed practice
  • Interrogation – asking “why?”
  • Self-Explanation (the PQRST technique)
  • Transforming information

In order to deliver the message we took advantage of an off-timetable slot to split the year into smaller groups, bringing in as many SLT, pastoral leaders co-tutors, and additional staff to reduce class sizes. Students were issued with individual revision packs containing calendars, planners, a pack of flashcards, and copies of the revision advice session slides, before rotating through three workshops. You can find all of the materials from our workshops below:

How to revise – families

We borrowed this idea from Andy Day’s Relating to a revision plan – it’s a family affairHis idea of bringing in families to help them understand effective revision certainly chimed with our experience, which was of parents who were telling us “we want to help, but we don’t know how.” We ran a morning session for families of Year 11 on 14th March:

The event was really well attended and the feedback from families was glowing: “a great investment of our time and a credit to the school’s investment in learning” said one evaluation. We also adapted Stuart Lock’s Revision Advice for Parents  post into a handout for all families in Year 11:

It was vital for us to close the loop between home and school, so that the advice students were getting from their families reinforced the messages they were getting from school. Clarifying expectations and sharing best practice was a really helpful process.

Covering the curriculum angle

This year we are keeping our students with us in school for longer. Students will still have study leave, but we want to maximise the contact time we have with them to ensure that they are revising effectively. This is always a tricky balance, but we think we’ve got it right this year. We’ve also put on our traditional Easter Study Camp, a week of taught and supervised revision over the Easter break to make the most of the time over the holidays. We’ve collated the extra-curricular revision sessions on offer into a single timetable so students know what’s on offer. I issued Andy Day‘s subject revision checklist to curriculum leaders to ensure that everyone had all the angles covered. And finally, we updated our online Revision Centre with all the resources available, including an subject-specific collection of past papers, mark schemes and revision resources for Study Camp collated by our excellent Head of Computing @morewebber.

Covering the pastoral angle

We have been running our Attitude Determines Altitude programme with Year 11 all year, and this has positively impacted on student approaches. Head of Year Phil Edwards and I have been master planning the interventions and messages for Year 11 since September through assemblies (including the key message Don’t Settle), tutor activities and interventions, all with a view to getting the attitude right – it’s all about the effort. One glance through Phil’s twitter feed will show you how consistent that message is! However, we’ve also been mindful of the need to relax and take time out, and we’ve put on a stress-management group to help those who may be feeling the pressure.

Motivation – the Fix Up Team

Ever since I saw Action Jackson lift the room at #TMNSL last year, I knew I had to get the Fix Up Team into school. This year it happened, and the brilliant Caspian (#KingCas) came in to do an hour’s assembly with Year 11.

The haven’t stopped talking (and singing) about it since. Having an external speaker in – especially one as engaging and powerful as this – makes all the difference. They’ve heard it from us a thousand times, but hearing it from a “real” person somehow brings it home!

Motivation – Proud Letters

Further to reinforce the connection between home and school, and to send the students off to Easter with a positive attitude, we ran our Proud Letters programme for the second year. This great initiative sees families write a letter in secret to their young people, explaining how proud they are of them and what their hopes and expectations are over the coming months and years. We delivered them on the last day before Easter to boost the students into the break. Again, it helps to show that home and school are working together in partnership to deliver a consistent, positive message about success.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The aim has been to align all of the resources we have available to help the students make the most of these crucial final months. I think this image, printed on all of the individual revision packs, sums up our approach perfectly:

Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do

Attitude Determines Altitude

Attitude determines altitude banner

Attitude determines altitude banner

As part of our growth mindset ethos this year, we have been working hard with students on their attitudes to learning in school. As David Didau has explained, “good behaviour is necessary for good teaching to take place,” and we completely agree. I have been working closely with Head of Year 11 Phil Edwards (@_philedwards on Twitter) to help the cohort get into the right mindset for success. One of the innovations we’ve tried is the publication of attitude grades under our “Attitude Determines Altitude” banner.

“Attitude Determines Altitude” was adopted by NASA’s education programme in America (see here) as a variant on Zig Ziglar’s quotation.

zig

Of course, it’s not rocket science…except, in this case, it is! Aim too low – or get the attitude wrong – and you’ll crash and burn. Get the angle of ascent right, ignite the thrusters, and you’ll go into orbit.

At Chew Valley, we collect teacher assessments of student attitudes three times a year. We use a four point scale – VGSU for Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, and Unsatisfactory – in four categories:

  • Behaviour
  • Classwork
  • Homework
  • Organisation

All the categories are underpinned with clear definitions issued with report guidance (view a copy here: Attitude Grades). The grades awarded are processed into a percentage score – if students were to achieve all V grades, they would get 100%, whereas all U grades would result in a 0% score. These scores are reported to parents (along with individual grades), tracked at each reporting point so that trends can be identified.The most recent score is also included in student Key Performance Indicators in SIMS. The advantage of tracking attitudes in this way is that it is possible to identify improvement and decline in student attitudes over time. Tutors are issued with a tracking spreadsheet which shows students’ attitude scores over time and their improvement or decline, as well as their relative position in the year group. This allows intervention to be targeted at students whose attitudes are declining, and the success of those who have improved to be celebrated.

This tracking process is well established and has been running for four years, but it has always been teacher-based. With Year 11, we have gone public. In November we published student attitudes on the Year 11 noticeboard, along with their rank order position in the year group according to that score. We debated the format for a long time! I was all for publishing a straight rank-order list from 1-200 to make it totally clear who was at the top and who was at the bottom. However, I was persuaded away from this as we worried that students would easily see who was surrounding them in that part of the table and this may create a sense of group identity and possibly negative reinforcement – “we’re the bottom of the table crew!”

Example attitude grades from first posting in November (anonymised)

Example attitude grades from first posting in November (anonymised)

Instead, we published the list in alphabetical order by tutor group.  This made it easy for the students to find their own name and see where they stood in the rankings. The launch was carefully handled by Phil and his team of tutors, who made sure the message was mediated and that students were encouraged to improve their attitudes – and their position in the ranking!

Guide to attitude determines altitude published in November (original here)

Guide to attitude determines altitude published in November (original here)

Last week, we published the second attitude determines altitude scores on the noticeboard. These had been awarded following mock exams and results over Christmas. A few interesting trends emerged! In November, the highest score in the year was 98% (awarded to two students); in January there were three on 100% and thirteen altogether over 98%. If you scored exactly the same attitude in January as in November, your position in the rankings dropped. The rest of the year group was improving – staying the same wouldn’t cut it! Most impressively of all, some students had leaped up the rankings, with a dozen students improving by 10% or more. Of course, some had also declined – this wasn’t a magic wand and it didn’t work for all! – but the response has been really positive. Above all, the average attitude score from this Year 11 cohort sits considerably higher than any other Year 11 cohort we have ever had – and the evidence from staffroom conversations and staff evaluations is that this reflects a reality in the classroom. Phil made the most of the publication by stoking a bit of inter-tutor-group rivalry:

On Friday, I asked a selection of the students what they thought of it. Here is a selection of what they said:

  • “When I saw how low I was, I knew I had to do something about it.”
  • “I think it’s good so you know where you stand.”
  • “My Mum was against it, but I’m not really bothered.”
  • “I would have worked harder anyway because the exams are so close. I’m not sure the board had anything to do with it.”
  • “When I saw how far I’d gone up, I was really pleased with myself.”

A mixed picture! This is an inexact science and we’re not conducting an RCT here. I don’t know if it’s our whole-school growth mindset ethos and focus on effort, the excellent leadership from the Head of Year and his team of tutors, the luck of the draw or the publication of effort grades on the board that is making the difference. But something is working! And when the scores went up last week, students gathered round, keen to check their position and progress. Conversations about attitudes to learning were happening between students. That’s got to be a good thing! Certainly was for 11H…

Making Festive Fun

Every school has their traditions: dates in the calendar which make each institution special. At my current school, Christmas is a time when the sixth form traditionally take over, and the staff watch on with bated breath.

The first tradition is the Sixth Form Christmas Debate. All the students dress smartly for the occasion and teams compete to carry two motions. This year, they took on “this house believes that in order to fight terrorism the government should pass a law that compels social media sites to monitor conversations”, and “this house believes that superheroes such as Batman and Superman are misleading idols.”

Secondly we have the Sixth Form Revue on the final afternoon. This is a show penned by the students combining sketches, musical items, videos and dance, with the express intention of…well, ridiculing the staff and the school. The rest of the students pile into the hall in full festive cheer (the last day is always Christmas Jumper day), the lights go down, and the staff look on with a mixture of excitement and fear. Who will the students impersonate? What character trait will they pick up on? There are definite mixed feelings when you see a sixth former emerge with a sign round his neck bearing your name. On the one hand, panic. On the other hand, it’s a kind of compliment. As Oscar Wilde said, “there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”.

This year, given our relaunch, Growth Mindset was squarely in the crosshairs. It is, I think, a fair comment on how visible our new ethos is, that they covered cars and offices in Growth Mindset post-its…

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My part in the proceedings included performing a “Growth Mindset Rap” alongside the Head of Geography, written and supported by Year 13 music students. Set to Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack.  Sample lyric:

Don’t give up (Get your mindset on)

Give it a go (and you will not go wrong)

The children show (get your mindset on)

A marked improvement (and your brain will be strong)

In what they know (all your worries will be gone)

And it’s all because (get your mindset on)

the mindset of growth (get your mindset on)

I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. If I’m honest, it’s probably best that way.

Of course, the irony is that the kind of hard work, effort and dedication taken to put on a show like this would make Dweck grin from ear to ear!

The reaction of the younger students in the audience during this thorough lampooning of the staff is really interesting. Many of them look round at the teacher to check it’s okay to laugh. And it is; it really is. Because the satire is a sign of the strength of relationships within the school, that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves and at one another. The warmth that this generates is what binds school communities together and creates the memories that we keep forever.

Happy Christmas everyone!

 

Colour coded self-assessment

This year every member of our teaching staff belongs to a Teaching and Learning team. These cross curricular groups are working together to improve pedagogy as described in my post Teaching and Learning Leaders. There are six teams: Research, Feedback, Independence, Engagement, Differentiation and Mindsets, and the work of each team is posted on our Echewcation teaching and learning blog.

I belong to the mindset team, and this term I have been working with colleagues from Maths and Languages on using self-assessment to improve redrafting. The concept is based on Ron Berger’s book An Ethic of Excellence, and the principles of improving work over time through specific feedback. This is best encapsulated by his famous “Austin’s Butterfly” example – mandatory viewing for all teachers! Just in case you haven’t seen it:

In Berger’s example, the work is improved through kind, specific and helpful peer feedback. I worked on this principle last year (see my post on Closing the Gap Marking and Feedback), and this year I have been looking for ways to encourage students to be more independently reflective on the quality of their initial drafts so that they can see how to improve. The principle we have been exploring in our teaching and learning triad uses colour codes for students to self assess their drafts.

Students use colours to identify successes

Students use colours to identify successes and drive progress

The idea came from our Head of RE and PSHE, Lou Pope (@philosophypope on Twitter), who had used the technique with her groups. When she explained it to the Teaching and Learning Team, I knew I had to give it a go! Here’s how it works:

  • Students complete a first draft of a task, with clear success criteria established
  • They go through their drafts, highlighting where they have met each criterion in a different colour
  • They then reflect on the pattern of colours – which criteria have they consistently met? Which have they met the least? Whereabouts in the work have they achieved the most success? And the least?
  • Redraft…and repeat until excellent.

Photo 11-06-2014 18 11 17

I liked this approach on several levels. Firstly, the act of colour coding the draft forces the student to evaluate every aspect. If they’re not highlighting part of their work, what is it doing there? How is it contributing to the success of the piece overall? Secondly, the visual nature of the finished product was very appealing. It would be easy to see the balance within students’ work of one element over another, and for students themselves to recognise what they needed to do more (or less) of.

I decided to run a trial with my Year 10 GCSE Media Studies group, who were working towards a controlled assessment in Advertising and Marketing based on perfume adverts. The students have never studied Media formally before, so they are still getting to grips with the conventions and demands of the subject, but they are making superb progress. As part of the assignment they need to analyse two existing adverts. I got them to complete this through marginal annotation, then unleashed the coloured pencils! Students had to choose four colours and highlight where they had:

  • used media terminology to identify technical features
  • explored the connotations of the technical features
  • commented on representation
  • commented on the impact of the advert on a specific audience

The gallery below shows a selection of the students’ drafts with their highlighting:

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After the highlighting process, the students evaluated which success criteria they had covered in detail, which only touched on, or which they had omitted completely. They then  began a second draft, some using the same adverts as in their first draft and others choosing to to apply what they had learned to new texts. The new drafts are barely recognisable – they are light years ahead of the first versions, and the students are really proud of the progress they have made. I will update this post with some of the improved work in the next week!

My next step is to apply this to my GCSE English class as they complete their next assignment, in a bid to help them to move towards becoming the reflective, self-improving learners that our Dweck and Berger-inspired approach is aiming for.

Colour coded self-assessment – highly recommended!

Implementing Assessment Without Levels

I have blogged twice before about assessment in the new national curriculum (here and here) and looking back at those two posts now it seems high time for an update. We’ve moved on quite some way and we are now implementing our assessment without levels system (or AWOL, as our Head of Science seems intent on calling it) across the school.

Context

We haven’t been using National Curriculum levels for a year or so now, but instead we have been using a system of “Chew Valley Levels” linked to GCSE grades as follows:

levelsgradesnewgcseThis was only ever going to be a stop-gap measure, providing some continuity for students and their families whilst we explored the alternatives. In reality, in the world of comparable cohort outcomes we are not able to say with any certainty what a “C” grade at GCSE is, only what it was last year, and thus tying our levels to this moveable feast rendered them no more reliable than the preceding National Curriculum levels. We have even less idea what students will have to know or be able to do to be awarded the new GCSE 1-9 grades, though Ofqual have published this:

ofqual gradesWhat we know, then, is that roughly the same proportion of students as currently achieve grades A*-C in existing GCSEs will achieve grades 9-4 in the new GCSEs, but that the threshold standard is being raised to grade 5 against international benchmarks. But we still don’t know what students will have to know or be able to do for that grade 5 in any given subject, nor are we likely to as the boundaries will shift year on year, especially in the infancy of the qualifications I suspect.

All of this means two things:

  1. We need to aim higher if we are to get as many students as possible to grade 5 and above – it will be tougher than C and above.
  2. Linking our assessment system to GCSE grades (as was our original plan) is not going to work.

The Threshold Model

Both Shaun Allison and Dan Brinton have been instrumental in clarifying my thinking about the threshold model of assessment. I highly recommend you read Shaun’s Assessment without levels – an opportunity for growth and Dan’s Designing a new post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch as they are both superb and you will see that a lot of the ideas in this post are not, in fact, mine, but theirs!

Essentially, in a threshold model, you set up your curriculum with an expectation in terms of content and skills within each unit, year, or key stage – the “threshold”. At each point, you assess students to see the extent to which they have met, exceeded or fallen short of this threshold. The model has the advantage of letting teachers decide the expectations (thus allowing challenge to be built-in) and providing ready-made opportunities for formative assessment and feedback in relation to the threshold expectations. As implied by the title of Shaun’s blogpost, it’s also a system that is compatible with our growth mindset ethos – more of which later.

What to call the threshold? 

This was a tricky point. Initially we considered the Durrington School model using four noun descriptors:

Thresholds from Durrington High School (from http://classteaching.wordpress.com/)

We were then quite taken with the Belmont School model using verbs to describe the thresholds:

Example assessment scheme from Belmont School Science (from http://belmontteach.wordpress.com/)

However, we couldn’t quite agree on language that would fit different subjects appropriately. We considered with the idea of using new GCSE grades 1-9, but they sounded too like the old levels and, in any case, we would have to guess at the standard they represent which is not a sound basis for a new assessment system.

In the end, we decided to use existing letter grades A*-G on the basis that students and their families understand them, and they have a well-understood threshold built in to them at the C grade boundary. Thus students meeting the threshold expectations of our curriculum at each point will be assessed at grade C. Those who exceed it can be graded A*, A or B; those who fall short can be graded D, E, F or G. Each year’s threshold directly correlates to the next year as illustrated in the following table:

AWOL Mapping

In other words, if a student can demonstrate they have met the demands of the Year 8 curriculum by the end of Year 7, they would be graded as B in Year 7. An A* student in Year 7 would be demonstrating the knowledge, skills and processes required of a Key Stage 4 student who had met the C grade threshold.

Mapping the threshold standard onto the curriculum

In our system, for students to have achieved the threshold on entry to the school, they will have to demonstrate that they have met the requirements of the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum in each subject. In time, we will receive this information (at least for English and Maths) from the new Key Stage 2 assessments, but this will not happen until 2016. Therefore we will baseline all students (as we do currently) to assess the extent to which they have met those requirements at the start of Year 7. Any gaps or shortfall will need to be addressed early.

The threshold standard in each year will be decided by the teaching teams within school. It will be informed – but not limited – by the relevant national curriculum requirements, of course, but the guiding principle is that if we are going to value what we assess then we must assess what we value. Therefore the new curriculum that is being designed is based on the key ideas, concepts, knowledge and skills within each subject, informed by the national curriculum, but decided by teachers. At Key Stage 4 the curriculum will, of course, incorporate the examined elements of the KS4 programme of study or examination specification but will not be limited by that. Our best students go beyond and around the specifications anyway – and so should we. If we are going to prepare our students to do well at GCSE we should be teaching them beyond GCSE in Year 11, so the terminal exams they sit seem like a walk in the park in comparison to what they have been doing in the classroom.

Tracking progress in the new assessment system

We already use a flight paths model to track progress in all subjects. Within the new system, tracking progress is even easier.

AWOL Progress

In the example above, a student is assessed at C on baseline and maintains that performance through Year 7 and 8 (the green highlighting). We should expect all students to maintain their performance through the curriculum, but challenge them to improve it. In Year 9, the table above illustrates what happens if a students improves their performance (the orange highlighting), leading to better than expected GCSE outcomes, and what happens if they do not make progress through the year (the red highlighting), leading to an under-performance at GCSE.

At this stage it’s important to be clear about the expectations of this system. No matter where students are on their baseline assessment, it is the job of the curriculum to ensure that as many of them as possible end up above the threshold by the end of each unit, year, or key stage. If a student is a D or an E at the baseline, that is not an excuse to stay on a D or E for the whole of their school career. Rather, it is a challenge to the teacher and the curriculum to fill in the gaps from the previous year as well as teaching the content, skills and processes of the current year. This is the gap that must be closed.

Terminal Assessment

One important element of this system is the introduction of a terminal assessment in each year of the curriculum. This assessment will be in the same style as the GCSE assessment in the relevant subject, and should assess the knowledge, skills and processes of the entire year’s curriculum. Students will have to revise for it, thus preparing them earlier for the demands of the two-year linear assessments in Year 11. We also intend that this approach will improve retention and recall, as curriculum design will be interleaved to incorporate regular revisiting of the key knowledge, skills and processes.

The end of targets? 

Finally, this model moves away from giving each student a target to aim for based on FFT D, CATs predictors, teacher assessment plus some magic dust and a following wind (as described in this early post on my blog – see, David Didau doesn’t have the monopoly on changing his mind!). When I launched our growth mindset ethos, one of the first responses I had was our Head of Geography asking if this was the end of Challenge Grades (our term for student targets). If potential is unknowable, why are we selecting an arbitrary grade and pretending to know it? She was (and is) right, of course. So we will now be judging progress based on where students start and how far they’ve come from that known point, rather than how far they’ve got to go to a point which we cannot and should not pretend to know.

So what now? 

  1. Faculties are meeting on Monday to begin the process of deciding the threshold standard for each year within the curriculum. Some are already there, having piloted systems through last academic year. Others will need to move this year.
  2. We need to finalise what reports to parents will look like in the new system – we have a draft, but it needs thinking through.
  3. We need to troubleshoot the progress measures – if a student moves up a grade in Year 8, does the higher grade become their new baseline or do we continue to measure progress from the start of Year 7 baseline point? What if they drop a grade?
  4. We need to decide when we move over from the legacy system to the new. We only get one chance to get this right – so we need to be sure we have it sorted.

These are the practicalities – but the principles I am certain are right and the system I am sure is workable. I’ll keep you posted!

UPDATE: we are holding an open meeting in January 2015 to share our approach with colleagues. Details here: https://echewcation.wordpress.com/assessment-without-levels/

Growth Mindset Launch

Back in March I blogged about becoming a growth mindset school following our staff launch event.  Since that time we have been very busy preparing to roll out the ethos to the whole school. Here’s what we’ve been up to, and what we’re planning for September…

Re-branding the school

Our old school motto was “Developing Potential to the Full” – a noble idea full of good intentions. However, as John Tomsett pointed out on Twitter, how do you know what anyone’s potential is, even your own? For this reason we have rewritten our school aims and changed our motto to “Learn, Grow, Achieve” to encapsulate our growth mindset ethos.

Graphic of our new school sign

Graphic of our new school sign

The external signs and website have all been “refreshed” with the new motto. Unfortunately our paper prospectus was printed in bulk so re-branding that will have to wait until next year!

Inside the school, we have put up over ninety “inspiration signs.” These all feature quotations which encapsulate aspects of the Growth Mindset crowdsourced from the school staff (and a good trawl of Twitter and Google!), made up into A3 sized plastic signs. You can see the whole collection here. One of the activities we will be running with young people is an “Inspiration Treasure Hunt” where the students have to find all the different signs and research the sources of the quotations. There will be prizes for the most detailed research as well as the first to find them all!

Finally, there are two displays in school explaining the idea of Growth Mindset – one outside my office, and another due to go up in main reception. The latter will also include an excellence wall to celebrate student work after the model of Pete Jones and Shaun Allison.

We felt that it was important that the students arrived in September to see something visibly different about the school, and we also felt it important to wear our hearts on our sleeves. The ethos should be visible from the front gate through every corridor and into every classroom in the school.

First days back with staff – INSET

Staff have already had the launch presentation, so the presentation below will serve as a reminder of the principles and set out our strategy for launching the new ethos.

The presentation boils down the growth mindset approach to three key mindset traits, and lays out the importance of praising effort not intelligence. I have also prepared a handout on the use of growth mindset language in the classroom and in written feedback (GM Language) adapted from various sources including the Grow Mindsets blog from Huntington School. From this session, teachers will move into their inaugural Teaching and Learning Team sessions to work on improving their own teaching practice. This is a cornerstone of the growth mindset approach, as teachers as well as students will be working hard to develop a growth mindset for themselves. You can read about our Teaching and Learning Leaders approach here.

Launching Growth Mindset With Students

1. Growth Mindset Questionnaires

With tutors on the first morning, students will complete a Student GM Questionnaire. This has also been borrowed from Huntington School via John Tomsett and their excellent Grow Mindsets blog.  The idea behind this is to get the students thinking about the ideas of intelligence and mindset, and reflecting as they start the school year on their own mindsets. We will also be collecting the data to evaluate whether our interventions have had an impact on student mindsets over the first year.

2. Launch Assembly

Secondly, I will be delivering a Growth Mindset launch assembly, using the Prezi below. If you can’t see the embed, please click this link.

This assembly is a refined and condensed version of the presentation delivered to staff and governors in March. I didn’t want to over-complicate it, so I began by thinking about the most important information that students needed to know. I came up with:

  1. The difference between growth and fixed mindset
  2. The basic neuroscience of how the brain learns
  3. How this neuroscience can be used to understand the benefits of a growth mindset
  4. How to use a growth mindset voice in learning situations
fixedgrowth-copy

Growth Mindset Infographic

I based sections 1 and 3 on a simplified version of the well-known mindset infographic by Nigel Holmes, and used this Robert Winston video from The Human Body for the neuroscience:

The key part of the assembly is emphasising why the growth mindset attributes – embracing challenges, seeing effort as the path to mastery, learning from critique and the success of others – help develop intelligence by growing and developing neural pathways. Struggle is essential for learning. I will also make sure that the students know that all teachers will also be working hard to develop a growth mindset in their Teaching and Learning Teams to ensure that the quality of teaching young people receive continues to be excellent and improving. It’s important that students understand that learning, growth and achievement are critical for every member of the school community.

3. Tutorial session

The week after the assembly, all students have a session with their tutors to reinforce growth mindset ideas and apply them. Click here for the lesson plan: GM Enrichment Lesson 230914 . This session uses “The Learning Brain” video to revisit the link between neuroscience and mindset from the assembly:

Tutors then have a choice of three activities to help embed the ideas of a growth mindset, including Elizabeth’s Story.

Learning Reflection Journals

The final part of the tutorial session involves the launch of our Learning Journal for reflection (click here for a copy). Each student has a journal and they will use it to define their goals at the start of the year. It serves as a “getting to know you” exercise for new tutors, as well as being something to refer back to during the year to remind students of the big picture. There are also sections in the journal for more detailed reflection at monitoring points when reports are shared with parents (three times a year). The bulk of it, however, is taken up with weekly sheets to review learning in the previous week and set goals for the week ahead:

Weekly reflection from an original by @abbie_tucker adapted by @Ashley_Loynton and @chrishildrew

Weekly reflection from an original #5minplan by @abbie_tucker adapted by @Ashley_Loynton and @chrishildrew

The aim of this is to promote consistent reflection on learning and enable regular dialogue between tutors and students about mindsets and approaches to the learning process.

Next steps

We have already put family information sessions into the school calendar. I have pushed hard for these and they represent a substantial investment in terms of staff time out of normal school hours. However, it is essential that families understand what we are trying to achieve in school so that they can reinforce the message and provide consistent feedback at home. I will publish a separate post about these in due course!

Finally, it’s about getting on with it and ensuring that all of this planning actually makes a difference. That means enacting and developing a growth mindset in every interaction, every lesson, and every communication in every classroom, corridor and playground, not just for now but for the long haul – until it becomes the norm. Through the aggregation of these marginal gains, I hope we can achieve a true ethic of excellence.

Napoleon Hill with pic

My problem with ability

I’ve always had a big problem with grouping students by ability. The Sutton Trust EEF Toolkit shows that ability grouping, setting or streaming has a negative impact on student attainment.

Ability grouping slows progress down

Ability grouping slows progress down

One of the first blogs I read and favourited when I began exploring the online educational world was Kenny Pieper’s Setting by ability: why? which used Ed Baines’ chapter on ability grouping in Bad Education: debunking myths in education to argue that setting and streaming was “self-defeating in the extreme.” Since then I’ve had a look at the research myself; there’s a list of some of the articles at the bottom of this blog. My favourite was Jo Boaler, Dylan Wiliam and Margaret Brown’s study Students’ experiences of ability grouping —disaffection, polarisation and the construction of failure. Susan Hallam concluded her study: “ability grouping…does not raise standards, and in some cases can lower them. It can also have detrimental effects on pupils’ personal and social development.”

It’s fair to say, the case for setting and streaming is full of holes and there is plentiful research out there to show that it doesn’t achieve what it tries to achieve. As the Sutton Trust Toolkit says: “ability grouping appears to benefit higher attaining pupils and be detrimental to the learning of mid-range and lower attaining learners.” In other words, it exacerbates the Matthew Effect and ensures that the gap between the knowledge-rich and the knowledge-poor widens.

Ability has no bearing on your accomplishments; effort does

Ability has no bearing on your accomplishments; effort does

My big problem with any discussion around grouping is with the weasel word “ability.” As Fearghal Kelly says it has all the connotations of a fixed mindset. When you talk about a “mixed ability” group what are you really saying? That some of them are more “able” than others? This language implies that those “low ability” students you have are actually less able to improve. The word itself reinforces the widening of the gap. In actual fact, as we all know, students who end up labelled “low ability” have complex needs, some cognitive, some behavioural, some social, and some attitudinal which have led to them performing poorly. This poor performance – their prior attainment – gains them the label of “low ability,” but it does not necessarily follow that low attainment corresponds to lack of ability.

I want to root the word “ability” out of my own and my school’s vocabulary. If we are truly to become a growth mindset school we must avoid the bear-trap of labelling students with fixed terms like “middle ability” throughout schooling when we actually mean “achieved between 25 and 40 marks on their English reading paper in Year 6 which was then translated using a threshold into an arbitrary level 4.” This has nothing to do with the individual’s ability. It is all about performance.

Ability is not fixed. As teachers we can work with young people to overcome their cognitive, behavioural, social and attitudinal issues and improve their ability to access the curriculum. We certainly won’t solve all of those issues outright, but we can ameliorate them  – and we must. But labelling a young person as “low ability” is not going to motivate them or us to try.

No matches. Mission accomplished.

No matches. Mission accomplished.

I wrote to parents this week explaining our grouping and curriculum approaches in school, and I didn’t use the word ability once. “Students are taught in groups with the full range of prior attainment,” I wrote to explain those subjects that mix – the majority of our curriculum is taught this way. Some still set, of course – that’s the Head of Faculty’s decision. Our challenge now is to raise attainment for all and to ensure that every student continues to increase their ability to learn, grow and achieve.

 

Research articles:

Points about prizes

I have been thinking hard about values and ethos recently. It’s probably to do with being on NPQH where every other slide on every PowerPoint is about your values and vision, but my thoughts were also prompted by Joe Kirby’s recent blog series on rewards which begins with the Lewis Carroll quotation:

“Everybody has won, and all must have prizes”

Image via Wikimedia commons

I remember David Cameron using this same quotation post-Olympics as he laid out his vision for the future of a Conservative-led Britain in the pages of the Daily Mail:

“In schools, there will be no more excuses for failure; no more soft exams and soft discipline. We saw that change in the exam results this year. When the grades went down a predictable cry went up: that we were hurting the prospects of these children.
To that we must be very clear: what hurts them is dumbing down their education so that their potential is never reached and no one wants to employ them. ‘All must have prizes’ is not just patronising, it is cruel – and with us it is over.”

Roger Bannister reaps the benefits of competition

Roger Bannister reaps the benefits of competition

I find this difficult, because I’m caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, I’m a fan of competition. I know that it can spur people on to achieve bigger and better things. I’ve been listening with interest to the documentaries commemorating the first four-minute mile, run by Roger Bannister on 5th May 1954. Most commentators, and Bannister himself, agree that competition from Australian John Landy pushed him on to achieve that feat. Kennedy’s drive a decade later to put a man on the moon was driven more by competition with the Soviet Union than scientific advance.

Man on the moon: the space race was driven by competition

I’m also a fan of competitive sport, both as a spectacle and as an integral part of schooling within and beyond the curriculum. Despite all of this, I can’t help feeling uneasy at the notion of awarding prizes to the single best performer in a discipline.

I’m certain this unease has its roots in my own experience; schooling is formative for all of us. But unlike Michael Gove, I am not driven to emulate my own schooling for the students in my care. My school (all boys, independent – read about it here) was competitive in every respect from the entrance exam to the end-of-year prize-giving; all very well if you were the single person that won. Which, after the first year, I was – I won the subject prizes for English and Biology and went up to shake the Headmaster’s hand the day after the great storm of 1987.  From that point forward, I measured myself against the success of others, constantly looking over my shoulder at the competition – the epitome of a fixed mindset. It’s no wonder that Carol Dweck’s story about being sat around the room in IQ order in sixth grade strikes such a chord with me! In the Sixth Form, when the school prizes were awarded, I came second in English. And I was gutted.

The competition

Let’s put this in context. I had a place to read English at Oxford; I got an A at A-Level and a 1 in S-Level English – and I was disappointed. Because there was someone better than me. It turns out the teachers were probably right, since the prize was awarded to my contemporary and all-round lovely bloke Andrew Miller, who went on to write the Man Booker nominated Snowdrops (heartily recommended by the way – a fantastic novel). I should have been proud of my achievements, but I wasn’t, and this was entirely due to the competitive ethos of my school where only one person could feel truly proud of what they had achieved – the winner.

I have no doubt that Cameron, Gove et al would nod at this and say “quite right.” In a true meritocracy, I wasn’t good enough. Perhaps they might even say that without the competitive ethos I would not have achieved as highly as I did. But I can’t accept that. In a growth mindset we should be measuring performance against our own yardstick, aiming to better our own personal best irrespective of the performance of others. This is the message I teach in my classes, the ethos I want for my school, and the frame of reference I set myself.

Are prefects compatible with an egalitarian ethos?

Are prefects compatible with an egalitarian ethos?

The same idea permeates my attitude to prefects and student hierarchy. My school had three levels – house prefects (bronze badge), sub-prefects (silver badge), and prefects (gold badge). As I’ve said, it was an independent boys’ school, so what do you expect? I was a sub-prefect but was never nominated as a prefect – I still don’t know why. The criteria weren’t published. I was certainly never in trouble, I was academically successful, I had 100% attendance throughout my school career. I wasn’t sporty; was that it? Maybe I wasn’t high-profile enough. Maybe there was a quota which had already been filled. My point is this – I had done my best throughout my schooling, and I was left disenchanted. A good student, passed over, left resentful and irritated, feeling second-best when there was no need! That’s why I strive in my classes to recognise the achievements of every single student, not to pass over any of them, and to celebrate each of them.

I wish I’d gone to the school I teach at now. There are no prefects, no Head Boy or Head Girl with their own offices and privileges putting them a cut above. The thriving school council, branded Change & Create, is comprised of self-generated student-led teams engaged in projects such as fundraising, Amnesty International, caring for the chickens, gardening, regenerating the pond and memorial garden, caring for wildlife, raising awareness of mental health issues… If a student wants to be part of it, they step up and join or form a project team. This way the community of the school pulls together towards common aims without the interference of hierarchy or external judgement. It is growth mindset in action.

And yet…we still have prizes. Each year the highest performing student in each subject discipline receives an award. Every school I’ve ever worked in has had them. And, for the winners, they’re great. The public recognition of achievement is powerful and important. We temper it slightly with awards for “most progress” and “best effort” alongside the achievement awards, which I think helps. And thankfully, we don’t have the situation which prevailed in a previous school where students were only permitted to receive one prize, which led to the bizarre situation of having my Media Studies nominees returned because they’d already been nominated in Art or Chemistry or something, so the second best media student would get the prize…and the senior leader in charge would not be budged. Insane!

Prizes can make us part of a shared community history

Prizes can make us part of a shared community history

The prizes themselves bring something else, however – a story. They’re named after an ex-teacher, ex-student, or member of the school community who wanted to put their name to an award. Some of them stretch back decades, some are more recent. Every year, as the story behind the award is read out, I get a lump in my throat: “this award is in memory of…a servant of the school for thirty years…” The names of the recipients are recorded, and it connects us to a shared community history that helps make the school more than a set of buildings and a seat of learning. I love this part of the prize-giving ceremony. I just wish there was a prize to recognise and reward the efforts of all our learners for the victories, achievements and triumphs they have celebrated on their journey with us.