Monday, 26 May 2014

Original Growth Mindset article

Grendon Underwood Combined School is a special, happy, thriving school which nestles along the main street of the rural village, Grendon Underwood in Buckinghamshire. From the outside it looks relatively quaint and quiet but don’t be deceived; inside is a hive of collaborative, reflective activity! As soon as you enter through the doors you feel an energy about the place and are greeted warmly not only by office staff, but also the Head Teacher and any other passing staff that happen to be in the vicinity. It is fair to say the atmosphere here is different.
As a Grendon employee I am bound to say positive things about our school but I assure you nobody is forcing me to write this! Since being judged RI in October 2012 we have been on an action-packed, enthusiastic and challenging journey to improve and ensure that we not only deliver educational excellence to our children but also develop them as rounded individuals that are prepared for success. Read on to learn more about how this is achieved…

At Grendon, we believe in leadership. Everyone is a leader with a vital part to play, not only in our school’s success but also their own. Our dedicated and committed team of staff and governors are here for one reason and one reason only; to better the outcomes of each unique child who attends GUCS. They are the important people who are treasured, valued and respected (it is their school after all!).

Headteacher since January 2013, Pippa Brand-Benee told Eduzine “At Grendon our philosophy of education is based on the principles of ‘Growth Mindset Learning’ (C. Dweck Ph.D). All the learners at Grendon – children, staff and governors – are here to ‘grow their own brains!’ The word ‘yet’ is very important to our philosophy because there are many things we all cannot do… however it’s just ‘yet’ because with determination, commitment, perseverance and many other Learning Behaviours we can fire the neurons in our brain to embed these new skills.  We are ready to make mistakes in our learning because we like to try hard things – we can’t grow our brains on a continual diet of easy stuff! So expect hard stuff at Grendon, and expect to make mistakes, show humility and learn from these.”

 Mrs Brand-Benee’s energy and ambition has been an asset to the school. Already, these positive behaviours are embedded within the school community, which can be attributed to her unwavering focus on what was needed to make this a school where children flourish. Staff members speak in a positive, growth language; parents use the learning behaviours to encourage children and students take responsibility for their goals, relishing any opportunities and inviting challenge. In an educational climate fixated on data, it is really refreshing to be part of a school t recognises that learning is not just a curriculum, but a way of life. Just as plants are nurtured to bloom, children here are equipped with the life skills they need in order to grow.

At Grendon the children wear the School badge with pride as it represents all of our Learning Behaviours: 
Pippa continued “We call these Learning Behaviours and not values as we aim to demonstrate these on a day-day basis in all areas of school life.” The learning behaviours are what makes this school stand out from the rest. Pupils enjoy coming to school and are good self-motivators, often referring to the Growth Mindset when working or taking on new roles around the school such as playground leaders or office helpers, where some confidence and commitment is needed. They embrace opportunities offered and truly ‘feel the fear but do it anyway’, making the Grendon community an exciting one to be part of.

It was through the embedding of these Learning Behaviours that led to many Year 6 children offering to help in our growing EYFS during the autumn term. Never before was the curiosity there for the eldest children in the school to ‘venture back down’ to where they all began! Whilst there are links across the school, it wasn’t often that the children from opposite end of the curriculum crossed-over, usually because of the perceived difference in intellectual ability and age. This curiosity of ‘playing’ with Nursery and moreover, Reception children, inspired those at the top of the school to suggest that they have a go at teaching phonics.

During October the ‘buzz’ of leadership escalated whereby 100% of the Year 6 children were signed up to help during their own time; before school, during break and at lunch time! However helping the children learn through their play wasn’t enough!  Initially two of the Year 6 children became the EYFS Leaders, observing and feeding back to me on the Letters & Sounds lessons programme I delivered.  They spoke to children and analysed what they had learnt and what the next steps might be in their learning, showing a maturity beyond their age. As well as this being a valuable experience for the children, it was also really beneficial for me to hear their perceptions of my teaching!

 With this information the two EYFS Leaders devised their own one-off synthetic phonics session called ‘Rainbow Phonics’ an interactive Power Point, following the four stages of teaching phonics ( revise, teach, practise and apply) was used as the basis of the lesson.  Reception children were given the opportunity to work in learning partners as well as using hands-on equipment, inside and outside environments and using the VAK approach.  Feedback was given to the two young leaders. As a result of the success of their teaching the girls were keen to ‘train up’ other children in Year 6 to deliver this once a week phonic session. So, having witnessed the passion to lead ignited in Charlotte and Ruby, staff created EYFS Leader roles to challenge their abilities. They delivered a lesson to their year 6 peers about what teaching phonics would entail, focusing on the fact this role needed commitment, organisation, patience and good communication skills. As so many embraced the challenge, we had to limit the idea to one class at a time for each term. Our EYFS leaders now give advice and guidance to others prior to delivery, feedback comments from staff to the children and continue to sometimes give their own sessions. The sessions have little impact on the year six curriculum time as they often prepare ideas during their own time and excitedly discuss with their peers what they could do. Due to their high motivation, the leadership duties have allowed genuine opportunities to take risks and have successful experiences, which in turn have heightened their confidence.

Responses from Year 6 children have included:
“It was a fun experience and helped me get to know the Reception children better while teaching them”
“I felt like a teacher and think I would like to be one”
“They were all well behaved” “I enjoyed deciding to use The Wild Wood Area to introduce an element of outdoor learning to every day learning.”

When asked what their favourite bit was and why, reception children responded by stating:
“I liked learning the letters using the PowerPoint”
“I remembered all of the letters when we drew on the SMART Board with Year 6”
“I liked using the wands the older children made for our learning”
“I liked using the dice to think of so many words.”

 The experience has proven a valuable interaction for both EYFS and Year 6 children and brought the school community closer together. As the year sixes are familiar to EYFS, the younger children tend to go to them on the playground if they want help, a friend or just to say hello.
 Now, having witnessed the benefits of Rainbow Phonics, and being overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for involvement from year six, we are continuing to offer the opportunity for them to take on this leadership role. If in September you’d have said the curriculum would be designed, delivered and evaluated by our year six pupils I’d probably have thought you were joking. It seems like such a big feat, especially when you consider the time dedicated to teaching teachers how to teach phonics on PGCES/SCITTs yet these children have epitomised the growth mind-set philosophy and shown that despite Carol Dweck’s ideas coming under criticism sometimes, the behaviours do have a positive impact on the children. Here at Grendon we are very proud of our pupils and what they have achieved.

Written by Kevin Morrissey and Kieran Dhunna Halliwell (Jan 14)

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Developing a classroom culture

Last week on Twitter we were discussing developing learning cultures and how to do this across a school. Essentially we were considering how changing mindsets are created as part of whole school initiatives and the ways which this may filter through in practice.

I work in a 'Growth Mindset school' and currently I teach year 6. In September, the children were not independent learners and placed a high value on my feedback, above their own evaluations. They were not confident when trying new things and just didn't seem to have the ability to think about then form their own opinions, which I found a bit frustrating. I am the total opposite extreme, highly advocating independence, discussion and questions.
 However, our classroom has a totally different atmosphere now. I think atmosphere is hugely underplayed in education. For example, the classroom looks and feels really empty after school when there are no children there. It isn't eerie but lacks the buzz it has during the day. During the day, there is an energy about and the room feels like a busy house.

This atmosphere hasn't been created overnight for us. We have several small initiatives going on that collectively make the difference to mindsets, attitudes and the learning that takes place. I feel the children really are learning now rather than just me teaching them what they need to do...

 One initiative we began early on was the use of object lessons. I have previously blogged about it in August (I think) and the impact of it is very similar to Thunks. For object lessons we would take an object and consider it's properties, e.g. what makes an apple an apple? How do you know it's an apple? What else could it be? As far as I am aware, object lessons are a Victorian thing but the children really enjoy them and I believe it has changed their thinking patterns. Most recently we did the object on the left.

Earlier this week I was out shopping when I saw this and thought it looked interesting. I too had no idea what it was until I read the label. In class we discussed the object and comments such as "I think it's a type of melon because it has streaks like a watermelon" or "it must be out the ground because the brown streaks on it could have been made when it was pulled up" and "the brown streaks look like bruises like bananas get. Are they?". The comment about being pulled out the ground was quickly suggested to be wrong by another child who pointed out the bobble on the top of it meant it probably grew on a tree. This was deeper thinking. Interestingly, I took the object into the staff room for lunch and colleagues immediately began asking if it was a mango, or a melon - closed questions without explicit reasoning, the natural response if you don't often think in a philosophical way. This has been one way we've created a learning culture in 6H. if you want to see an example of this type of working, look up the Culture Chat video on youtube as it's a similar approach.

Another way we have encouraged a learning culture is to be open that mistakes happen and are not a threat. Previously, children (especially in maths!) would take errors and any feedback on them a bit personally and visibly lose confidence. I am open about my mistakes and the fact I too used to dread maths but once you get a grip on conceptual knowledge and realise maths is everywhere in life, it becomes a fascinating subject like any other. Every subject is fascinating if you approach it with a mind that engages with the matter. 
 If we make mistakes in our work we don't throw it away but instead write a note to explain why it was an error (or they tell me verbally and I mark a 'V') so that we can use that error to make a correct attempt. Psychologically, I think it is important errors are kept and not treated as 'removable'. I feel SLT's and OfSTED would like neat, easy to read books but you can't limit learning that way. By removing evidence of errors I feel it creates an attitude where only perfection is 'right'. It makes children value the end product and not the process. If we make an error we work to improve on it in a relaxed way.

We also reflect a lot. Our learning culture is to be a 'reflective classroom' or philosopher's classroom. In my opinion, the benefits of philosophical thinking are huge and achieve what the growth mindset aims to do. I feel the philosophers approach is more one of children exploring and leading their thinking whilst adults facilitate whereas the growth mindset is adult led in that the values are developed by the practitioners. The photos above are examples of reflection. All I have done as the teacher is print a heading on paper and said to tell me their thoughts on maths. The children have ownership over our classroom and are able to share their feelings about subjects openly. Reflective practice is now not a strategy or initiative but an embedded way of working. However this has come about from 'the whole package' of creating a safe environment for the children, personalised marking that is not done for every piece of work, teacher-students interactions (the children invite me to have lunch with them now!) reflective work around the room and minimal display things that are from/by me, and smiling/joking. We do a lot of that too =)

Levels do infiltrate our classroom but in a positive way. They are not a competition and children are aware that things like age/birth month, personal motivation and readiness will affect their level. They know levels aren't fixed and that if I can find the things on the list in their work then I can put them up a level - there is no dressing anything up. We use levelling criteria to help us progress, but it is not a case of only the top level work being shared. On the Big Write display children's work is photocopied and put into the pockets if they've excelled themselves (check they are comfortable to share first though). In a way, it is cultivating a sportsperson's mentality of meeting then beating your personal best.

Below are photos of part of the philosophy/thinking/creativity display. The thinking display is a talking point in our room, which reinforces a pattern of 'growth' thinking. It is unfinished because it is a working display and the only content that goes on it is either a stimulus from me or the responses from the students, interspersed with photographs of the children. These displays have meaning for the children and because they go and discuss them, it helps create our learning culture. A lot of learning takes place when I'm not a round in much the same way there's a lot that goes on in young children's worlds that adults are not part of - developing children need privacy to explore but I don't feel UK Education allows for this really. Learning that is currently valued is either supervised, measurable, directed or is meant to be related to the curriculum only, but the world is bigger than a curriculum.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Future thinking (in a digital world)

What will the world be like when I'm 80? (Will I live to be 80?) 

Will people one day get bored of the internet and being constantly 'available'? Today's primary generation know nothing different - will they breakdown at some point and feel a need to seek 'true' solitude? 

When will the first human-robot marriage happen? Will it be more successful than human-human marriages?

When will life be like the Jetsons? If life becomes like the Jetsons, will all the animals live on the ground then be eaten by the 'space people' above? If humanity moved above the ground, or into space, would this make us all migrants? Or space travellers?

If I buy a star, can I charge humanity for 'using' it's light whenever someone steps outside? 

Is the lack of interest in religion in recent decades partly down to the development of space travel and the ability to be up in the clouds (visiting God?) Does God mean something different now?

Has Big Brother become God? Was God a Big Brother? 

Who invented the question? 

 © Kieran Dhunna Halliwell