Growth Mindsets

  • Independent Learning week 5: Mindset and Motivation

    Independent Learning week 5: Mindset and Motivation

    A key determinant in student success is the inherent beliefs they have about themselves in terms of their ability and how they learn. The two major areas to consider here are Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset and Angela Duckworth’s on Grit. However we might also pause to consider the broader areas of engagement and motivation and whether they are even a good proxy indicator of learning at all, and whether these approaches can be taught explicitly or whether they should be seen more as a overarching philosophy as opposed to an intervention.

    Growth Mindset

    Carol Dweck’s work over many decades claims that some students have an ‘entity theory’ of intelligence, more commonly known as a ‘fixed mindset’ which means they believe ability to be set and that no matter how hard they work they are simply stuck with their level of intelligence. Other students have an ‘incremental theory’ of intelligence, known as a ‘growth mindset’ which means they believe intelligence to be malleable. As Dylan William notes, “smart is not something you are, smart is something you get.”

    We were lucky enough to have Carol Dweck speak at the Festival last year and she kindly gave an interview to some of our student research council which you can listen to here:



    Angela Duckworth’s work over the last decade on ‘grit,’ which she defines as “passion and perseverance towards long term goals” seeks to ask an important question, namely why do some individuals accomplish more than others of equal intelligence? Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite negative experiences with failure and adversity. One of the interesting assertions by Duckworth is that this facility of grit is more predictive of long term success than intelligence. While there are some issues with the very definition of this trait, it does raise the question of how we might affect that disposition in students.

    Two years ago we worked with researchers from Harvard graduate school of education to explore the extent to which students at Wellington had ‘grit’ and to what extent they felt they were able to persevere towards long term goals.  You can read the published working paper on that study here.

    Working with the student research team and Harvard yielded some unique perspectives, not least how both growth mindset and grit can work synergistically to great effect and also how students can ‘switch off’ to direct attempts to try to motivate them. If students are taught explicitly about the value of Growth Mindset, Grit and the notion that ability is not ‘fixed’, does that cause a cognitive dissonance in the face of a culture of fixed target grades and league tables? As one student wrote:

    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 problem with ‘engagement’

    So how might we gauge whether students are indeed motivated and persevering towards long term goals? One of the most common signs of motivation and learning is seeing that students are ‘engaged’, however there are some real problems with this as a proxy indicator. As Rob Coe points out, engagement is one of the most misleading indicators of learning.




    Now these all seem like key elements of a successful classroom, so what’s the problem? and more specifically, why is engagement is such a poor proxy indicator – surely the busier they are, the more they are learning?

    This paradox is explored by Graham Nuthall in his book ‘The Hidden Lives of Learners,’ (2007) in which he writes:

    “Our research shows that students can be busiest and most involved with material they already know. In most of the classrooms we have studied, each student already knows about 40-50% of what the teacher is teaching.” p.24

    Nuthall’s work shows that students are far more likely to get stuck into tasks they’re comfortable with and already know how to do as opposed to the more uncomfortable enterprise of grappling with uncertainty and indeterminate tasks. A good example of this as Alex Quigley has pointed out is that engagement in the form of the seemingly visible activity of highlighting is often “little more than colouring in.”

    The other difficulty is the now constant exhortation for students to be ‘motivated’ (often at the expense of subject knowledge and depth) but motivation in itself is not enough. Nuthall writes that:

    “Learning requires motivation, but motivation does not necessarily lead to learning.”p.35

    Motivation and engagement are vital elements in learning but it seems to be what they are used in conjunction with that determines impact. It is right to be motivating students but motivated to do what? If they are being motivated to do the types of tasks they already know how to do or focus on the mere performing of superficial tasks at the expense of the assimilation of complex knowledge then the whole enterprise may be a waste of time.

    Learning is in many cases, invisible as outlined many times by David Didau and is certainly not linear but rather more nebulous in actuality. As Prof. Coe reminds us, ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’ but unfortunately there is no easy way of measuring this, so what does he suggest is effective in terms of evidencing quality?

    Ultimately he argues that it comes down to a more nuanced set of practitioner/student skills, habits and conditions that are very difficult to observe, never mind measure. Things like “selecting, integrating, orchestrating, adapting, monitoring, responding” and which are contingent on context, history, personalities, relationships” and which all work together to create impact and initiate effective learning. So while engagement and motivation are important elements in learning they should be seen as part of a far more complex grouping of factors.

    A key question to consider then is whether students can be taught to have a growth mindset or grit by teaching those concepts explicitly and whether students are motivated at all if they are merely doing ‘busywork’ that they already know how to do, or the kinds of activities that learn to superficial understanding. Are students engaging in the kinds of ‘desirable difficulties’ such as spacing, interleaving, self quizzing and the broader aspiration of intellectual curiosity that might be more difficult in the short term, but lead to greater mastery and motivation in the long term? The paradox of this field is that mastering a difficult concept through hard work, failure and eventual success may well motivate a student far more effectively than ‘motivation’ itself.

    Final advice:


    1. Encourage students to see mistakes as opportunities to learn rather than as a lack of ability.
    2. Praise effort rather than ‘cleverness.’
    3. Encourage them to view intelligence as something that can be affected by hard work not as a fixed entity.
    4. Emphasise current progress rather than past performance.
    5. Encourage students to view grades as temporary performance indicators not measures of fixed intelligence.
    6. Discuss student’s long term goals as intrinsic rather than extrinsic.



    Growth mindset: It’s not magic

    This much I know about…developing a Dweck-inspired Growth Mindset culture

    Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals

    To Grit or not to Grit: That is the Question

  • Pilot Study: What is the impact of explicitly teaching Growth Mindset theory?

    Pilot Study: What is the impact of explicitly teaching Growth Mindset theory?


    Despite the weight of evidence around Growth Mindset as a strong indicator of student achievement, there remains a lack of hard evidence as to how exactly affect that disposition. The EEF trialled various interventions in 2013 and found that the results were not statistically significant. Whilst researchers may be able to observe Growth Mindset as a valid psychological state, how to actually have an impact on that state remains somewhat unclear.

    Many Growth Mindset interventions take the form of superficial interpretations of the original research in the form of posters, assemblies and simplistic tasks. This appropriated approach can often lead to students switching off to the core messages behind the research and the interventions not having any real impact.

    After our initial year 1 study which sought to get some larger baseline data on exactly what dispositions our students had in these areas, we wanted to ‘zoom in’ and test a specific approach with a smaller group, and look closely at the effect of teaching this theory explicitly as opposed to tangentially.

    This pilot study proposes to evaluate the impact of teaching an intervention group of students the theory around Growth Mindset in an academically rigorous way using research literature and articles in the form of a course designed by Harvard faculty of education researchers.

    Harvard project year 2.001


    Control and intervention groups comprising of year 12 students selected randomly will take a baseline test using Dweck’s scales before and after the study. The intervention group will receive a term’s worth of weekly sessions looking closely at the research on Growth Mindset and applying it to their own context. These sessions will feature explicit instruction of the theory in its raw form, and follow-up coaching conversations with individual students.

    Previous studies have shown the efficacy of ‘stealth’ interventions where students were not made to feel stigmatised by being singled out for interventions based on poor attainment, enabling the students to bring more of an open mind to the project. This was an important consideration in this project.


    Harvard project year 2.002

    Next Steps:

    This pilot study was trialled in the winter term and will be evaluated by researchers from Harvard GSE in the spring with the results published later this year. If successful, a larger trial may be rolled out to other year groups and time built into tutorials to use the same approach. This same course is also being run at Highbury Grove under the supervision of head of research Sara Stafford and head teacher Tom Sherrington to be able to test the impact in different contexts.


  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

    Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 22.30.38

    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.

     Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 22.38.18


    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

  • Growth Mindset and Helpfulness

    Growth Mindset and Helpfulness

    Guest post by Dr. Christina Hinton, Catherine Glennon,IMG_4626

    and Abeer Alam – Harvard GSE faculty

    In classrooms, on playgrounds, and in homes, students continually hear messages, implicit or explicit, about intelligence. The kinds of praise we offer students, the way we respond to their mistakes, and how we react to their successes, all impact their beliefs about intelligence. As a result, students hold implicit beliefs about intelligence, their own abilities, and the abilities of others.

    Dr. Carol Dweck has carried out groundbreaking research on students’ understanding of intelligence and how it influences school success. Her work shows that students tend to possess one of two belief systems – or ‘mindsets’ – about intelligence. Students with a fixed-mindset believe that intelligence is innate and unchangeable. By contrast, students with a growth-mindset understand that intelligence is flexible. Growth-minded students realize that with dedicated effort, their skills and abilities can develop over time. These students tend to approach challenges as ‘bumps in the road’ while fixed-minded students tend to view set-backs as ‘roadblocks.’




    Students’ mindsets significantly impact their success in school. Years of mounting evidence shows that growth-minded students tend to have better academic outcomes than their fix-minded peers. In addition, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated, enjoying learning for the pleasure of learning rather than just to reach an external goal. Moreover, recent research suggests that having a growth mindset is associated with both self-esteem and self-compassion as well. Clearly, the beliefs a student has about intelligence have important consequences for his or her own learning.

    Does a student’s beliefs about intelligence impact his or her classmates’ learning as well? Researchers from Harvard Graduate School of Education partnered with the Wellington Learning and Research Centre to explore the relationship between students’ mindsets and their attitudes towards helping classmates. Researchers collected data from 2,627 students in year groups 7 – 13 in a diverse network of UK schools, including The Bulmershe School, St. Crispin’s, and Waingels College, and Wellington College. These students took an online survey that was designed to measure their mindsets as well as their attitudes towards helping their peers.

    Results reveal that students with a growth mindset are more inclined to help their classmates with academic work and beyond. There is a statistically significant positive correlation between growth mindset and helpfulness. Moreover, growth-minded students are more likely to respond that they care deeply about their peers, would go out of their way to help them, and genuinely enjoy helping others. These intriguing results suggest that if students believe intelligence can change with time and effort, they are more likely to find it worthwhile to invest time and effort in helping others improve. As one growth-minded student explained, “Helping another student contributes to improving their intelligence.” With this, we see that a growth mindset not only benefits those students who have it – but also supports other students to succeed.


    Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., & Dweck, C.S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246-263.

    Mueller, C. & Dweck, C. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children›s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52.

    Dockterman, D., & Blackwell, L. (2014). Growth mindset in context content and culture matter too. International Centre for Leadership in Education. Retrievedfrom

    Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

  • Using ‘Service’ to Build a Growth Mindset

    Using ‘Service’ to Build a Growth Mindset

    By Ed Venables, Housemaster at Wellington College

    Putting aside serious pastoral issues, the most challenging and frustrating issue that I deal with year-in, year-out when running a boarding house is a handful of boys who simply fail to discover or demonstrate any motivation towards academic work. Often they will have no lasting motivation towards anything despite, perhaps, their social lives. In every sense they are wasting a fantastic opportunity but they fail to see this and end up suffering sanction after sanction from the school and from their parents.

    It has therefore been an issue that I have been working on this year in conjunction with Wellington’s research group’s work on growth mindsets and resilience. These boys essentially appear to have fixed mindsets with very low levels of resilience. Below, I will attempt to describe how I am using the notion of ‘service to others’ to try to change the mindsets of these boys.


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    I have experimented with various approaches, from pure punishment to pure encouragement, from direction to coaching, with little sustained success. The pupils appear not to appreciate the bigger picture, they have no goals to aim for and hence really do not see the point of putting themselves out; they lack resilience in this sense. The vast majority of the boys in this situation come from supportive families and so it seems to me to be, in most cases, an issue intrinsic to them. Of course there may be historical factors that I have missed or am not aware of and this may merit further investigation.

    Knowing these students as their housemaster I felt that I wanted to experiment with seeking to get them a better appreciation of where they stand in the world. I have therefore changed the way we introduce ‘service’ in the house this year. The main group that I am working with is my Year 11 group, mainly because it was possible to timetable a weekly service session for them and I could also take advantage of the time they have when they finish their GCSE exams in the summer. They are doing two things which I hope will increase their inclination towards a growth mindset and their resilience. As a research project in itself it is not ideal because the evidence gained is only anecdotal this year but we hope to measure the impact more scientifically next year. I hope that I will have fewer boys lacking motivation in the sixth form as a result of this.

    The weekly service session has involved them being visited by or visiting students from a local school for children with medium learning difficulties. Ten of my students have got to know personally ten students from Carwarden House School and have designed activities to do with them each week. The learning curve has been very steep for both sets of students. The Wellington students have spoken about being very unsure beforehand and the early sessions were certainly awkward. Two terms later, however, they greet each other as friends and the atmosphere between the groups is relaxed and easy. The Wellington students speak about how they have really discovered the personalities of their peers at Carwarden. Their genuine frustration is simply that time has precluded the Carwarden students really discovering their full personalities. It has amazed me, however, to see how the similar characters in the groups have been drawn to each other – as with any teenage group! The Carwarden students have gained immensely in social confidence and will hopefully come across as such when seeking employment in future. What makes this project different, in my opinion, is the direct relationships that have been built. It has been about seeking to make friends rather than simply ‘serve’ in an abstract way. It has involved the hearts of all involved and this has been so special.

    The second challenge – three days climbing the 14 1000m peaks in Snowdonia (aiming to raise a significant sum of money each for their chosen charity helping children with special needs) – was designed to give them the realisation that through their efforts they can change other people’s lives. This walk takes place in late June.

    I have gathered feedback and reflections from my students via peer-led video interviews and via a harkness-style classroom session. The vocabulary that they use to describe their thoughts coincides strongly with that expected to be used by students with a growth mindset and I hope that this is an early indication that progress has been made. I haven’t been targeting any particular student this year but my colleague from Carwarden House, Maria Ramsey, has noticed big changes over the course of the year in some of my students – especially those who might be future concerns – and this seems to me to be a good indicator of success.

    As above, I hope that this method of grounding my students a little more will have a positive impact on their mindsets and this in turn will help them academically and otherwise now and in the future. Next year I hope to use Simon Walker’s heuristic model to identify and quantify the impact this project (and the fund-raising challenge) has made on both my students and those from Carwarden House School. Ultimately, I hope that we can show that ‘serving others in a wholehearted way’ really can be a realistic and scalable way to help students change their mindsets.