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  • First working paper published – “Getting Gritty with It.”

    First working paper published – “Getting Gritty with It.”

    Over the last year we have been working with researchers from Harvard GSE to look at student self-perception, specifically around the areas of Growth Mindset and Grit and are delighted to publish our first working paper on our findings. The preliminary findings were reported here by the BBC but the full report is now available below.

    Dr. Christina Hinton, a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, notes: “Our results suggest that ‘grit’ does not require pushing yourself at all costs, but rather cultivating healthy emotional regulation skills and effective learning strategies.”

    Year 2 of our project will explore the impact of a 6 week intervention around Growth Mindsets in partnership with Highbury Grove school between November and December.

  • The Education Technology backlash begins….

    The Education Technology backlash begins….

    Julian Thomas, Master of Wellington College  

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    THE wind is changing.  The movement to turn the use of technology in schools into the educational equivalent of the Emperor’s new clothes is gathering pace. The hysteria surrounding the introduction of greater technology in the classroom has, it would seem, finally generated a backlash.  A hysterical response to the hysteria, perhaps?  A new day brings a new report from the OECD about technology in schools with a predictable response from the media. “Computers do not improve pupils’ results says OECD” was the headline take on this report followed by an exposition on why technology is not the answer. Well, here’s the funny thing: nobody ever said that it was!  For that matter, neither did anyone suggest that unlimited use of mobile devices in and outside the classroom was a sensible way forward.

    It is worth looking behind the headlines generated from the OECD report.  Its main finding is that investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.  Well, as my grandad used to say, you could knock me down with a feather!  Seriously, have you ever heard a more obvious conclusion?  No educator, even the most technically minded, would ever suggest that simply buying and using more kit is going to result in improved educational standards.  In the same way that buying more footballs for the England team won’t help us to win the World Cup.



    The problem seems to be that all of the ills of modern technology – perceived or real – are being lumped into one giant catch-all argument that is increasingly asking educators to take sides: are you in “Team Technology” or “Team Old School”?  This is no way to conduct an educational debate that can, and almost certainly will, revolutionise classroom learning over the next two decades.

    The starting point for any nation, school or individual teacher considering use of new pedagogy in the classroom should be the simple question: will the change I am about to make improve the learning process and outcomes for the children in my charge?  Notice no use of the word technology here as the question remains the same for any new idea or classroom methodology.  In some instances, the answer will be no; in others, yes.  The very best examples of the use of technology I have seen have been when schools or teachers have started out by defining what they want to achieve and then they worked backwards in order to ascertain how best to achieve it.  In some cases this involved utilising new ideas and technology; in other cases it did not.  Cause and effect.   Raising the standard of education should be the cause with technology (sometimes) the effect; the Reporting of the OECD report and others reverses this methodology by defining technology as a cause in itself and then states, to the surprise of few, that it has no discernible, or even a detrimental, effect.

    Forgive me if none of this seems like rocket science because, of course, it isn’t.  Interestingly, read closely behind the sensational headlines and you will find that most of the supposed protagonists have a surprising level of agreement, although the quotations used seem to be carefully selected to engender maximum animosity (and readability).  The result is a slow but noticeable entrenchment of respective positions with educators starting to identify themselves in one of the two camps.   In the early days of this discussion teachers who were unsure of technology seemed reluctant to state their concerns for fear of being seen as a luddite; these days you are more likely to find teachers enthusiastic about technology who do not like to speak up in case they look naive or, as one expert put it, “dazzled” by the use of technology.  This polarising of opinion makes for a good story and seems to capture the zeitgeist of an age in which the massive explosion of technology use in our everyday lives has caused a deepening suspicion.   In the process, we are stifling healthy educational debate about the best way in which to imbed new ideas for the benefit of the next generation.  And that is a tragedy.

  • Engaging Students in Their Own Learning: A Dialogue

    Engaging Students in Their Own Learning: A Dialogue

    By Denise Cook, English dept.

    I’ve been working on all that for the last few weeks, how to turn it into something I can actually use in the classroom.  Come the beginning of term, it’s time.  I decided to go forward with a general idea of ‘giving them space to learn’: I would provide the scaffolding and technical information, but so far as practical they would take responsibility for their own learning in the classroom space by deciding how we go forward.  Once the blanks (lessons) are filled in, which I’m planning to do over the next two weeks, give or take an hour, I’ll print and distribute.


    In my four lessons this morning we talked seating arrangements, timetabling and the differences between their learning experience on p.2 Tuesday and p.6 Friday.   We discussed having a mobile-free lesson once a cycle.  To my mild surprise, nobody raises any objections.  Is that a function of them really not minding or being compliant?

    But a picture is worth a thousand words, said someone.  Here are some from my first morning’s attempts at bringing the pupils on board with social emotional focus for academic progress (sorry: that’s a mouthful.  There isn’t a handy buzz phrase available yet).

    I asked them to set their own goals for the term/course.  (NB: Both offers of a goal for class work-shopping were from boys.)


    Yr 11 goal workshopped on the board: ‘Do all my preps by the deadline’

    Yr 13 goal: ‘Get A*s’

    I gave them these worksheets to help them bring together the information, the feelings/needs and their (self-determined) goals.


    Points of interest: the U6th form are most extrinsically focused (unsurprising, perhaps –  they’ve been in the system longer, they are looking beyond school…) All very illuminating and helps me to get to know them.  We started discussing the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – we’ll pick up the discussion as we go along.

    Lastly I asked the U6 form, whose set I have just taken over, to use the feelings words from the list to give me some anonymous Post it feedback about how they felt at the end of the first lesson – one apparently misunderstood what I was asking them to do and two didn’t hand in their Post its.  Those are also forms of feedback.

    Feelings feedback

    The basis for several more illuminating conversations over the next few lessons.  I’ll keep you posted.


  • When Pupils Talk in Absolutes: Understanding Mindset though Self-Narrative

    When Pupils Talk in Absolutes: Understanding Mindset though Self-Narrative

    By Sarah Donarski, English Dept.

    With the hype around growth mindset, it’s no wonder there is more attention being drawn to the ways that students understand their strengths, capabilities and passions. I, myself, am extremely guilty of asking a child to ‘tell me about themselves’, to which I accept vague, absolute statements such as “I am shy” or “I don’t like talking in front of people.”   Even in my adult life, a lot of discourse is reliant on an individual being able to assert these statements and they are actually praised for doing so.  Think of the plus points achieved for saying things like “you’re a hard worker” and you “feel confident” in an interview – you probably nailed it.

    What we rarely bring ourselves back to is how malleable and environmentally influenced these personalities are.  In fact, there is no doubt you could take an extremely shy person and, given the right environmental factors (friends, family, relatives, passions), they could instantly become the most confident.  Similarly, the most confident could turn to dust if they are thrown into something completely out of their depth.  So actually when we assert these so adamantly, we are lying to ourselves.

    Which brings me to the classroom.  We have all heard these absolute statements “But Miss, I hate reading” or “I’m so bad at mathematics” or “I’m just not arty”.  Current approaches to teaching have (rightly so!) started to address this as a ‘fixed mindset’ and the most accepted solution to attempt to coerce the student away from this thinking is Growth Mindset (see:

    Many of us by now have been trained in Growth Mindset as an effective pedagogy to encourage students to believe in their ability. However, I am worried that too many training sessions do not successfully communicate the underlying philosophies related to a child’s (or adult’s) cognition but instead, simplify it by pinning its effectiveness to the word ‘yet’ – which I believe is just as damaging.

    While I do not condone the use of the word ‘yet’ in the Growth Mindset phenomenon, I do wonder its effectiveness in motivating the pupil who hears the word ‘yet’ in every lesson.  Let’s imagine, as a child, hearing your teacher assert the statement “You just can’t do it yet!” in your fifth lesson that day.  No matter how cheerful, or enthusiastically that is expressed, it is bound to be disheartening.  For me, hearing it for the 5th time would only reiterate three things: 1) I can’t do it 2) I can’t do anything and 3) It’s going to be a long, hard struggle to be able to do something.  Not only this, I also believe there will certainly be a point to which that person will become ‘numb’ to the idea of the word ‘yet’ as a self-motivating philosophy; certainly we, as adults, can see straight through it.  What we need is to properly understand is the underlying philosophies – the way we construct our self-narrative – to assist young people in their cognitive dissonance and to train their self-narration into adult life.

    So what is the underlying theory? It is simply understanding our self-narrative (note: narrative is the key word here – for all English teachers).

    To put it simply, it is the theory that we, as people, have a constructed image of ourselves.  This self-fabrication is the assumptions we make of ‘who we are’ and is generally based from previous experience, however, sometimes it can be constructed from nothing at all.  To make matters worse, however, we also construct the narrative that what we think about ourselves is accurate. In doing so, we constantly set ourselves up to be our strongest deceivers.

    Teaching pupils to understand that self-narration – or absolute statements about themselves – is a fallacy is essential for building their confidence both academically, socially and physically.  We have to teach them that their self-narrative is not only incorrect, but a fictional, malleable construction influenced constantly by a plethora of factors.  I do not want to be trained in persistently telling students “You don’t like English.. YET!” as though I am some teacher-guru-magician that will enable them, at some point, to reach a liking in English (a final destination in some journey they undertake by being in my classroom).  Because that is not the case.  The truth is, they have simply formed a narrative bias that makes them think they do not enjoy English based on previous and current environmental factors.  And there could be many: perhaps their previous teacher had no longer been inspired by the asceticism of Wilde? Perhaps they had never tried to actually read a book? Perhaps cognitive factors? Either way, it is not that they do not like English, or Science, or Maths.  It is that they currently do not have the right environment that enables them to delve into that passion and enjoy it.

    So what could be a useful tool in ensuring students are aware of this?

    1. Challenge any student back when they say “I hate _____” or “I’m bad at______”.  Simply ask them: when have you loved English? What book do you love? What famous quote? Coach them into searching for a time where they may have loved that subject or achieved something creative and inspirational in that subject.  Allow them to delve into a memory of that subject that really captured their imaginations and watch the way they light up talking about it.  There is bound to be one.
    2. Consider that child in your planning for a lesson.  You don’t have to go overboard, but delve into their passions and interests.  Enable them to lead.  Most importantly, in order to address the self-narrative, you must talk to the student after.  Ask them whether they enjoyed your lesson and, if so, make them aware of their own fallacy: their ‘absolute statement’ of “I don’t like English” – encourage them to consider why this statement is no longer valid.

    Growth mindset is a wonderful way to enable us to see the ways we can change, stretch and grow.  But it does not build a child’s confidence in challenging their own self-deception because it still relies on a lot of telling. If you can get a student to discover their own narrative, it acts as a counter to the story they have constructed.  It provides another preposition that makes their original statement a fallacy.  They can, in fact, love all subjects.  They just need to change their mindset and potentially one or two factors to achieve this more consistently.  Of course, this is not new to us as educators. It’s simply another way to look at it. ​

  • Podcast: Carol Dweck Talks to Student Research Council

    Podcast: Carol Dweck Talks to Student Research Council

    One of the things we were keen to do this year in setting up an in-house research centre at Wellington College was to have a small number of students partner with us on our project with Harvard faculty on Growth Mindsets and Grit. A key point for us was what does this research actually look like in the classroom and and at the level of the student? Another goal was to have them help us in designing a survey by having them pilot test some of the more problematic questions so we could get as reliable data as possible. We asked the students to read some of the literature and research in these areas and then had a series of group discussion with them where we discovered a huge range of things that was really helpful in helping us understand Growth Mindsets from multiple perspectives. 



    At the education Festival this week we were hugely fortunate to have Carol Dweck as a speaker so when I met with her I was really keen that our student research council interview her and put some of their own pressing questions about student motivation, assessment and Growth Mindset to her from their own perspective as students. She was incredibly generous with her time and was really eager to meet with them.


  • Learning and Research Journal Volume 1.

    Learning and Research Journal Volume 1.

  • What does Growth Mindset and Grit Mean to Students?

    What does Growth Mindset and Grit Mean to Students?

    This year we appointed a student research council to help us in a number of areas:

    – To provide us with a student perspective in the research we were engaging with.

    – To co-design and pilot test surveys and data collection.

    – To inform the school leadership about implementing new approaches.

    These students have been a revelation on a number of levels but their enthusiasm and dedication in working with Harvard faculty has been invaluable in helping us understand the impact of this research.

    These are their words.

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    Being part of a Student Research Council

    by Alexandra Russell and Edward Caffyn-Parsons, 6th form students at Wellington College.


    Over the past year, both of us have been involved with the Wellington Student Research Council. In collaboration with Harvard University, the group has investigated the impacts of Growth Mindsets and Grit on individual academic performance and emotional wellbeing. In January, we conducted a survey that gathered data from the entire school regarding conscious attitudes towards these areas, the results of which proved to reveal a great deal in terms of the influence of character on achievement. Among the content we learned from participating in the programme itself lay a variety of established ideas, including those presented below.

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    From the research that we conducted, it has become evident that an effective method of creating a growth mindset attitude within a student (in the context of Wellington) is simply to encourage discussion regarding neuroplasticity, further reading of the relevant pieces of literature, and then engagement in active debate with other students over the topic matter. The pure appreciation for how the brain functions can induce a greater growth mindset, without a conscious focus on whether or not one has a growth mindset in reality. The inherent ability of any one individual to change their own “mindset” as such is subjective, and varies from person to person. Thus, the possibility of universalising and intervention in which the stated goal is an imperative seems highly unlikely, as per:


    “You are going to get a growth mindset, and we are going to help you in realising the oasis that lies ahead.”


    If the students are aware that their perception of their own ability is being directly “targeted”, the majority will refuse to accept the concept in any quantity. A particularly significant idea that arose from our research demonstrated that many students achieve very high levels of academic success, but possess fixed mindsets. Since such pupils achieve consistently good grades, they feel comfortable with the manner in which they are working, and deem it appropriate. Education has been one of the only ‘constants’ in the lives of students, so to admit that one has not been learning as well as they potentially could have for a number of years will be unlikely to yield an effective response. The very patient nature of what growth mindsets appear to be may, in some cases, cause a student to lose focus as their final aim does not seem instantly achievable. This is where the idea of ‘grit’ becomes a necessity. Perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity combined with a positive attitude towards learning (as demonstrated by the Growth Mindset) will bear for greater individual performance, and thus also higher levels of personal satisfaction and feelings of achievement. This is likely to be one of the most encouraging factors in the development of a student, both academically and emotionally.






    The ‘Disease’ of a Fixed Mindset.

    by Gianni Fortes, Lower 6th form 


    You’ve just completed an excruciatingly difficult task: in fact ‘completing’ is the wrong word in this case. You’ve sulked your way through a set of questions, your head slumped against the table, mumbling some nonsense about “your teacher short changing you”, as your brain tries to ignore the ‘tick tocks’ of an obnoxious clock. This particular person is one of two people: Either someone who has been lauded their whole academic life with praises like “you’re so smart” or “what a genius”; or someone who has impressed their teachers through their “strong work ethic” and “perseverance”.

    Can you guess what type of person this student is?

    According to Dr Carol Dweck and many psychologists in the field of education, the answer is the first person. Surprisingly, the so called “genius” isn’t as smart as they think; but then again who is?

    “Robert” as we will affectionately call him is one of many students in Britain that suffers from the “fixed mind-set” disease. I say ‘disease’ for three reasons: One it is a very serious and dangerous problem; two it is a nation-wide epidemic and thirdly, and most importantly, it can be treated, like most others. Before I elaborate any further I would like to make it very clear, as my fellow students at Wellington College and Harvard colleagues have discovered, throughout the course of the year, through studying the “power of the mind-set in education” is that this is neither Robert’s,  nor his teachers, or his parent’s fault. In fact, no one should or could be held accountable for such a disease.

    I wonder how you could blame the proud mother of Robert who has enjoyed her son’s past academic successes; how you could you blame the teacher who’s been proud of her star student’s academic progress in a class where she’s focusing most of her teaching abilities on obtaining her student’s a grade C in GCSE; you get the idea? Surely their good intentioned praise and admiration for such an intellectually curious student is justifiable? The answer to that question is “yes”, “yes” and… “Yes”. The only problem that Dr Dweck and Duckworth, behavioural psychologists, Harvard University and Wellington College have is the ‘overdose’ of praise. It is ill-advised and unwarranted. It may seem harsh, and I do predict that some parents will cover their children’s ears as they read this now, but the truth has to come out.

    Fixed mind-set children are less resilient to problems. Fewer are motivated to overcome difficult challenges in the short and long term, and more are inclined to ignore their weaknesses. By that definition, I agree, I am a fixed mind-set football fan (I support Tottenham), but on a serious note, the evidence is extraordinarily scary. In, one of many rigorously carried out experiments by Dweck, it showed that 67% of growth-mind-set children (children who believe that success is through hard work rather than a predisposed ability) chose to set challenge-learning oriented goals. This in stark contrast to 8% by fixed mind-set children. Fixed mind-set children spent ton average 3.2 minutes on a problem they were rigged to fail compared to 4.5 minutes from the growth mind-set students.

    Before, I’m drowned in uproar and outcry such as these results being “isolated to a certain area, city, demographic, religion, gender…or that particular day”. Allow me the pleasure of informing you, such studies were carried out for students of mixed gender and of Caucasian, Black, and Hispanic and Asian descent all between primary school and middle school ages (ages of concern in social development). There can be no doubt that such findings should garner more attention and be applied to educational reforms as soon as possible.

    A person with a growth mind-set is someone who shows key features: Tenacity, resilience, open mindedness, curiosity and grit. The only problem of implementing more “growth mind-set” students into an already rigid educational system is the problem of measuring it. At Wellington College we have scoured through pages of research papers and studies aimed at finding a method to measure this important cognitive tool. Indeed the usual arguments that “mind-set” is subjective and recordings of such behaviours will differ from observer to observer will arise, and I am not denying their truth. It is hard to measure a person’s character. Not solely because of the instability of operational definitions but also because, like any normal person, our attitudes and perspectives of life differ on a daily basis (especially us teenagers), depending on situational factors like the classroom climate and the cumulative interactions with people over the course of the day. It is here where one major problem, regarding measuring features like perseverance develops. Is perseverance a dispositional or situational factor? Is it to do with a set of continuous processes that occur on a daily basis or a part of a person’s character? This is important because, through answering this question we can find the optimum set of methods to use in measuring and understanding behaviours like ‘perseverance’.

    For example if we were to take the stance regarding perseverance being dispositional we could then collate a set of self-reports, taken by the students themselves on a daily basis, on their pursuit of their long term goal, academic performance and how they feel their progressing.

    If we were to theorise perseverance as a set of processes, however, we would have to do more observational studies carried out by teachers, with the intent of recording and noting down a series of behaviours, physiological reactions and emotions performed by the students struggling to answer difficult questions.

    All in all, it wouldn’t be sensible to invest in one approach, and then abruptly change tactics
    over the course of the “implementation” period. That would be detrimental and psychologically harmful for the students, not to mention a waste of time and resources. This is solely my opinion on the matter, not of the Wellington or Harvard faculty, but it makes sense that a clear conscientious approach to our understanding of “perseverance” would go a longer way than our rigid British culture of a “wishy washy” ambiguous approach. The more focused and analytical we are, the clearer our results will be.

    Therefore to overcome the first barrier of the implementation period there needs to be an acknowledgement of what the methods are for measuring perseverance. Over the course of the year Wellington College has looked at four possible methods: Self reports; informant reports; the use of technology and school records. Each idea thrown and ripped to shreds around the Harkness table of a small but cosy room in Wellington’s Mallinson Library. Yet all commendable for their practicality; in conjunction with developing behavioural theories, being easily implementable; being indicative of a student’s traits such as tenacity and grit and finally being flexible within its mechanisms, so that such their structure can allow room for slightalterations.

    At Wellington College we have spent a long time in that calm room snugly tucked amidst the first floor of our library, debating about the idea of Growth Mind-set. Make no mistake, however, that we haven’t experienced the struggles, first-hand, of being a British student, and dealing with teacher expectations, parent expectations, university expectations and most importantly our own. Having now enrolled at three different type of schools ranging from a small inner-city state school in London, to the imposing independent boarding school that is Wellington, I have experienced the different approaches teachers, administrators and other students have used to motivate students not only to continue learning but also to acknowledge their weaknesses and ‘gaps in knowledge’. From what I’ve seen there needs to be a time for change, a time of certainty, and a time of action. A new wave of growth mind-set like children, need to outnumber their fixed mind-set counterparts. This cannot be done today, nor cannot it be done next week, however it can be done for my generation, installing a new culture in the way we approach education, praise, criticism and failure. In a time where innovation and imagination appear only to be confined in the world of technology and thee adult world, we need to break out of such pretences, and drag ‘innovation and imagination’ to the world of teaching; where it is needed the most.

    That is what ‘Robert’ needs; wants, requests. It is now our duty to listen.

    Alexandra Russell, Edward Caffyn-Parsons and Gianni Fortes are students at Wellington College