• Independent learning and coaching

    Independent learning and coaching

    By Iain Henderson

    If there were a competition to find a concept most consistently misunderstood or misrepresented in education, independent learning would have a good chance of a gold medal.  Until recently, coaching might well have beaten it.

    So what do we mean by independent learning? 

    Firstly, it is far, far wider than just learning.  Narrowing the focus simply to learning is self-defeating.  It is about becoming more independent and able to be self-sufficient in all parts of life: independent thinking and coping as well as learning.  The concept of independence per se, or independence in a more holistic sense, seem far more realistic and productive ways to view it.

    Secondly, the development of that independence is a carefully supported but often unpredictable journey.  It requires teachers, tutors and leaders to be trusted to have a significant degree of autonomy, making decisions moment by moment in their classroom or in the way that they support those whom they lead, how best to help them both short and long term.

    It is not pupil-led enquiry, “go off and learn it yourself”, making the teacher redundant, or the utterly fatuous idea that, since most have the entire world in their pocket (the internet on a smartphone) they don’t need to “know” anything.



    What do we mean by coaching?

    The terms coaching and mentoring were almost interchangeable for many until even 2 years ago, and while many still don’t know the difference, there seems now to be a growing appreciation of the role of both.  Coaching is a dialogic process in which coaches raise awareness in coachees, shift their perspectives and enable them to take action.  This happens via excellent listening; effective, powerful, open and often challenging questions; and intuition.  Coaches hold their coachees accountable to themselves in completing those actions.  The shift, change, progress or transformation is powerful and lasting by being fully connected to the coachee’s own motivations, values, dreams, fulfilment and passions – what is, in other words, important to them.  There is no advice given, and the coach must often consciously leave aside their own experience in order to be most effective.  Indeed, it can often be helpful for a coach not to be an expert in the area that their coachee wants to improve.

    Mentoring is also dialogic, supportive, respectful and developmental, but it requires the mentor to be able to pass on useful suggestions, advice, wisdom, experience or idea.  It is valuable in many spheres, and it is successfully used for new teachers, new subject leads, and new heads.  In some organisations, especially tech companies, reverse mentoring is used successfully too.  This is so that the young newcomers with fresh ideas educate those at the top of the hierarchy who might otherwise be out of touch with the newest trends.

    How can coaching help?

    There are three obvious ways in which learning how to coach effectively can improve practice and develop independence:

    • You arrange to coach someone in a formal or semi-formal way. That person has something that they would like to improve or move forward, and the conversation may take anything from 5 minutes to 2 hours.  Being able to unlock untapped potential in your peers or students is of great value to them, to the school, and ultimately a big part of the reason why many teachers even entered the profession: they believe in the capacity of others and want to make a difference.  Beware of hearing things like “S(he) needs coaching to improve X” this might be mentoring, or it could be telling with a couple of questions thrown in to make it appear less directive, but it’s not coaching.
    • You have more coaching interactions, where rather than telling people things, you learn to ask questions so they go off and do it themselves. Seeing a student around school and having a moment to ask one question, listen to the answer and ask one more question takes no longer than telling them something.  The impact is greater if they are beginning to think more effectively for themselves.
    • You become more coach-like in what you do. Your heightened sense of the nuances of language when asking questions, your appreciation of the impact of silence, and your intuition about what is unsaid, become significant assets in interactions with parents, students and colleagues alike.  This is, for most who learn how to coach, the way that coaching integrates into their classroom practice.  Harkness teaching is one of many areas where the quality of questioning has a direct and obvious impact, but, as a Biology teacher, the benefit of coaching to the interactions I might have with a group doing a practical on enzymes is equally significant.


    The helping continuum

    In improving our coaching training of hundreds of teachers and leaders, both at Wellington and in many other schools, we have made explicit a notional continuum of human helping.  On one end, there is pure directional instruction – “this is what you do”.  At the other, would be coaching in its cleanest form, where there is no advice or guidance, but only questioning.  The best teachers and leaders are to some extent intuitive about where they are along that continuum at any one time, answering for themselves the endlessly repeated question “what do I need to do for this person/group/class right now that would help them the most?”

    To illustrate this, the analogy of learning to drive a car works for many.  Drivers need to learn to control the car, the laws of the road, how to read the enormous number of fleeting stimuli every second, and how to respond safely and appropriately.  There is a reason why we learn from a driving instructor: at the beginning, we must know some seriously important information.  The consequences of getting this wrong are so serious that we must have it explained very clearly, and good instructors bring clarity and simplicity to something very complex.  They know when to give which information, how to relate things together, when to slow down delivery or add more detail.

    However, the number of possible situations that you can encounter while driving is infinite, because the number of variables is so high and almost all of those are continuous.  Therefore, to rote learn responses is impossible, and the best driving instructors navigate seamlessly into asking questions to enable their pupil to start learning the skills of self-sufficient driving proficiency. They also – and this is a critical parallel with what we might hope to achieve in schools – instil a desire and humility to want to learn further once the test is passed and the ties are cut.

    If the analogy is valuable, it shows what we know to be true about education.  It is a lengthy and complex process, in which huge quantities of important knowledge and understanding are developed, and strung together to make connections.  The ways in which we do that must be relevant to the learners in front of us, and we have a desire and responsibility to help them become more self-propelled beyond that as well.




  • Independent Learning: ‘Desirable Difficulties’ part 1.

    Independent Learning: ‘Desirable Difficulties’ part 1.

    “The most fundamental goals of education are long-term goals. As teachers and educators, we want targeted knowledge and skills to be acquired in a way that makes them durable and flexible.” – R. Bjork

    One of the more counterintuitive things about learning is that when we consider matters in the long term, the kinds of activities we do in the short term might not be as effective as we think. A ‘desirable difficulty’ refers to a learning task that may prove difficult initially but that leads to greater learning and mastery over an extended period of time. Independent learners are characteristically very good at embracing desirable difficulties and view the process of retrieval or having to generate information from memory as an effective method of consolidation.

    The term was coined by Robert Bjork in 1994 when he made a helpful distinction between learning and performance. Performance is something that is easily measured through cues and engagement while learning is only something we can infer. Activities like cramming, re-reading material and highlighting information can give the impression of learning but these kinds of activities are often illusory as Bjork explains:

    “Basically, current performance, which is something we can observe, is an unreliable index of learning, which we must infer. Massed practice on a task, for example, often leads to rapid gains in performance, but little or no effect on learning, as measured by long-term retention or transfer.”

    In helping students to become independent learners who are able to access and use a broad range of knowledge in a wide range of contexts over a long period of time, there are a number of approaches supported by evidence that are useful but can often be met with initial resistance from the student who can feel that by being ‘busy’ they are learning something when in fact they may not be using their time as productively as they could be.

    The importance of retrieval: 

    An effective way of students consolidating learning is to engage in retrieval strategies which require the student to search their long term memory for information as opposed to using their working memory to do ‘busy work.’ Reading over or highlighting material is not as ‘difficult’ a task as trying to retrieve it as the students feel engaged and the material is often already familiar them. This paradox is explored by Graham Nuthall who 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.”

    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 Testing Effect:

    The testing effect is a well established phenomenon that has been replicated many times in cognitive psychology. This process doesn’t have to be high stakes and actually works better when students get into a regular pattern of active recall through flashcards or self quizzing in an independent manner.

    “Varying the context, examples, and problem type engages processes that can lead to a richer and more elaborated encoding of concepts and ideas, which can, in turn, support transfer of that learning to new settings.”

    Many of these findings are somewhat counterintuitive when considered in terms of traditional methods of learning where typically students study a unit of material, say a half term and then are tested at the end of that unit.


    Bjork’s research found that in the above model, no. 4 was actually the most effective method of retaining knowledge over a longer period of time. He suggests that engaging students in a process of ‘non-threatening’ retrieval through low stakes testing on a regular basis, and harnessing that process as part of covering the content is a far more effective way of consolidating learning.

     “difficult but successful retrievals are better for memory than easier successful retrievals”

    So having students generate answers rather than just re-read or highlight material, having them regularly engage in self-quizzing through the use of flashcards or multiple choice questions and ultimately have them step into the liminal space of ‘desirable difficulties’ means they will be far better prepared to remember and transfer knowledge in classroom discussions, presentations and formal exams.


    Further discussion:

    – What does the concept of ‘desirable difficulties’ look like in your subject?

    –  what are the barriers to students embracing difficulty and challenge?

    1. Bjork, Robert ‘Desirable Difficulties Perspective on Learning’ https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2016/07/RBjork_inpress.pdf
    2.  Pyc, Mary A.; Rawson, Katherine A. (May 2009). “Testing the retrieval effort hypothesis: Does greater difficulty correctly recalling information lead to higher levels of memory?” (PDF). Journal of Memory and Language60 (4): 437–447. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2009.01.004.
    3. Roediger, H. and Karpicke, J. (2006) ‘The Power of Testing Memory, Basic Research and Implications for Educational Practice’, Perspectives on Psychological Science Volume 1—Number 3
    4. Nutshell, Graham ‘The Hidden Lives of Learners,’ (2007, p.24)
  • 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.

    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

  • “They Are Simply Teenagers” – A Unique Collaboration

    “They Are Simply Teenagers” – A Unique Collaboration

    by Jarlath O’Brien, head of Carwarden House

    One of the defining problems in the British education system is the significant distance that exists between phases and sectors. Secondary teachers can mistrust primary colleagues (“They’re not really Level 5 are they?); state teachers can resent teachers in the independent sector (“Of course their results are great. Look at their facilities! And they’re selective!”); mainstream colleagues can patronise special school teachers (“Ah, you must be so patient.” *Cocks head to one side and wrinkles nose up*).

    So what?” you might say. I know that I have much to learn from colleagues working in schools very different from my own. More importantly to me, though, the stratification of our system entrenches the social isolation that children with learning difficulties face. Not only are they out of mainstream education but they are, consequently, out of sight and mind to most children, teachers and, crucially, policy makers.

    Future health and wealth indicators for children with learning difficulties are dire. Research shows that they die younger1; they are more likely to develop mental health problems2; and as adults they are poorer3. Less than 10% of adults with learning difficulties work, and most of those that do work part-time.

    Stanley CHCS 1

    Poverty also increases the likelihood of a child having a learning difficulty. Emerson and Hatton5 reported that exposure to poverty and disadvantage appeared to significantly increase the risk of acquiring intellectual disabilities. It is unsurprising, therefore, to find that there are children in my school whose parents attended the same school a generation ago.

    The gradient that our students have to climb to secure paid employment means that our curriculum is geared towards doing what we can to improve their chances in the job market. Mencap4 identify the attitudes of others as one of the biggest barriers. Society expects precisely nothing from people with learning difficulties so we need to make ourselves highly visible and secure opportunities for our students to show others what they can do.

    My colleagues and I from Carwarden House, a school for students with learning difficulties, have worked hard to build a solid partnership with Wellington College that is blossoming. Both schools are at the extremities of the educational continuum in England. 7% of all children in England are privately educated and 1.1% of all children go to a special school. We appear poles apart but the reality is that our schools, whilst looking superficially different, have much in common, share the same values and are ultimately trying to achieve the same things.

    Our partnership started with the recruitment of one of the senior teachers at Wellington to our governing body as a parent governor (he’s now our Chair and has been joined by another Wellington colleague); we hosted a Wellington teacher as part of their PGCE; I sit on the board of the Wellington College Teaching School Partnership; I have delivered a speech at one of their chapel services; we hold our annual Prize-Giving Evening at Wellington College. All good, but not a Carwarden student working with a Wellington student in sight. If our partnership was to have any real strength it needed children to be involved.

    This is where Ed Venables and Maria Ramsay come in. Ed is the Housemaster of The Stanley and an Old Wellingtonian and Maria teaches sixth formers at Carwarden House. Each week a group of students from each school meet and students from Carwarden House now undertake work placements in the Stanley boarding house. Ed and Maria have created an inspiring set-up that is led by the students. The staff involved are conscious that the world view of our students will be broadened considerably by spending time getting to know others they would not naturally gravitate towards.

    Stanley CHCS 2

    In the first term of the partnership Maria and I were kindly invited to an assembly at The Stanley where the students involved in the partnership explained their learning to the rest of the boarding house. The students had taken the time to learn more about autism, fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome. A common refrain was, “I’m learning more from him than he is from me.” This is precisely the kind of outcome I’m looking for. The social confidence of my students is rocketing and I can see such maturity, fun, sensitivity and creativity in the Wellington students.

    The students are all now firm friends and any hesitation or trepidation that may have understandably existed initially is now long gone. As Ed said recently, “When the students are together there is no sense of sector – they are simply teenagers.”

    Ed and I recently discussed the progress the students have made this year. It is very hard to quantify but we have an exciting research project in the offing with Simon Walker from Human Ecology on assessing the improvements in heuristic cognition6 of the students. However, much of the dividend of this work will never be seen. It may manifest itself in the career choice of one of the students after university; it may make such a profound impression on them that in years to come they become the governor of a special school as is the case forAntony Power, a governor at Carwarden House. It may be the boost one of my students needs to their social confidence that they manage better in the workplace. It might convince them that they can make lasting friendships with people that they think are different from themselves.

    Stanley CHCS 3

    Alvaro from Wellington recently commented to Maria that from now on he would never use the words special needs or disabled. James from Carwarden House recently interrupted a teacher when they commented on the link with Wellington. “It’s not a link. It’s a friendship.

    When I was 15 I spent some time finding out about life in the army. I met another student there who asked me what school I went to.

     “Brakenhale,” I replied.

    I’ve never heard of that school. I go to Pangbourne College.”

    It’s a comprehensive in Bracknell,” I said.

    I spent a day in a comprehensive once. It was horrible.”

    At the very least that kind of conversation is not going to be repeated with the students who spend each week working, laughing and joking together. They are simply teenagers.

    Jarlath O’Brien is Headteacher of Carwarden House Community School, a special academy in Surrey.


    1 http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cipold/migrated/documents/fullfinalreport.pdf

    2 http://www.rcn.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/78765/003184.pdf

    3 http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/our-work/key-projects/how-fair-is-britain/online-summary/standard-of-living

    4 https://www.mencap.org.uk/about-learning-disability/information-professionals/employment

    5 Emerson E, Hatton C. Poverty, socio-economic position, social capital and the health of children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities in Britain

    6 http://humanecology-education.co.uk/

  • Growth Mindset Resources

    Growth Mindset Resources



    Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

    “With the right mindset, we can motivate our kids and help them to raise their grades, as well as reach our own goals–personal and professional. Dweck reveals what all great parents, teachers, CEOs, and athletes already know: how a simple idea about the brain can create a love of learning and a resilience that is the basis of great accomplishment in every area.”


    Ungifted — Intelligence Redefined: The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness by Scott Barry Kaufman (2013)

    The chapters on Mindset, Self-Regulation, Deliberate Practice, and Talent are particularly relevant. The book is an accessible and informative read that consolidates the latest research. Recommended to all people starting out their research on grit and growth mindsets.


    Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn


    “The basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you’ll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way we train the family pet. Drawing on a wealth of psychological research, Alfie Kohn points the way to a more successful strategy based on working with people instead of doing things to them. “Do rewards motivate people?” asks Kohn. “Yes. They motivate people to get rewards.” Seasoned with humor and familiar examples, Punished By Rewards presents an argument unsettling to hear but impossible to dismiss.”






    Mindset Online


    An online compendium of resources, research, and teaching tools about mindsets, located in one accessible website.


    “Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives”


    “How to fine-tune the internal monologue that scores every aspect of our lives, from leadership to learning to love.”


    “Helping Students Start the Year With a Positive Mindset”


    “For students who have had trouble in school, or who have had a negative summer, it is especially important to get the school year off to a fresh start. And for all students, having a positive mindset makes learning much more likely. Here are three activities to help accomplish these goals.”


    “Stanford University’s Carol Dweck on the Growth Mindset and Education”



    “Making Friends With Failure”


    “There is a major disconnect between schools and the real world on the notion of failure. School teaches us there is only one answer for every problem. And if we don’t get it, we are a failure. This dissuades students from trying — they fear failure. We need to teach students how to make friends with failure.”


    “What’s Your Learning Disposition? How to Foster Students’ Mindsets”


    “Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindsets has dominated much of the attention around how students can influence their own learning. But there are other ways to help students tap into their own motivation, too. Here are a few other important mindsets to consider.”


    “New Research: Students benefit from learning that intelligence is not fixed”


    “Teaching students that intelligence can grow and blossom with effort – rather than being a fixed trait they’re just born with – is gaining traction in progressive education circles. And new research from Stanford is helping to build the case that nurturing a growth mindset can help many kids understand their true potential.”


    “Can Self-Compassion Overcome Procrastination?”


    “Putting something off can trigger a downward negative spiral of fixed-minded habits. But a recent study suggests that being kind to yourself can help you achieve your goals.”

    “How to Overcome an Immunity to Change”


    Two prominent Harvard teachers and researchers share a step-by-step plan that can help individuals break through old patterns, fixed mindsets, and finally make the shifts that matter.



    Mindset Online


    An online compendium of resources, research, and teaching tools about mindsets, located in one accessible website.



    “Carol Dweck: A Study on Praise and Mindsets” [Youtube Video]


    A short but super informative and engaging video about Carol Dweck’s seminal research study on praise, motivation, and mindsets.


    “Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability”


    Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.


    “Brene Brown: Listening to Shame”


    Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken and fixed-minded behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.



    Academic Mindsets as a Critical Component of Deeper Learning  



    EEF Project:


    Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 10.30.31

    Portsmouth University is delivering the project, which will teach children about the importance of having a ‘growth mindset’. The project is based on the hypothesis that children who have a fixed mindset and believe that “I’m no good at this and never will be” do less well than those with a growth mindset and believe that “I can develop my ability in this subject and I can succeed”. It will test two models of changing the way pupils think about themselves and their intelligence. The first, most intensive model, will involve a nine-week course of support from university students and external agencies, including the local football club’s Study Centre and the Education Business Partnership. The second model is a simpler teacher training model, where teachers will be trained to teach pupils about the malleability of their intelligence (e.g. praising effort, rather than intelligence).



  • Navigating research: A guide for teachers and school leaders

    Navigating research: A guide for teachers and school leaders

    Guest post by Dr. Richard Farrow 

    Part of the problem with the current rush to research has been that in making things accessible, well-meaning organisations such as the Sutton Trust have divorced teachers even further from actual research by publishing guides summarising findings. This is all well and good for many people, but when a result is non-intuitive, such as in the case of the non-impact of TA’s, many have questioned the findings. In order to do this, consulting the original sources is probably a wise move. This is a perfectly natural and valid thing to do and something people in a research rich-environment should encourage.


    The question is how to do that? Our first problem is that many academic papers are behind a pay wall because they usually form part of a journal that is paid for. This is either online or in a paper version. Academic journals have traditionally been expensive to buy and many of them rely on charging a lot for a small number of copies to keep publishing. I would like to see the EEF pay for every registered teacher to have access to a system where research papers can be read and downloaded for free (something that happens in Scotland). So assuming you can access a paper, what are the other barriers for lay people reading research papers? I have made a list:


    1. They don’t know where to look for the evidence or what they need
    2. They have no idea about the method being used and whether it is valid or not
    3. The academic language used sends them to sleep after a few seconds
    4. It simply doesn’t make sense


    Points 3 and 4 are easy to address. Academic language is a must for people who work in academia. However, if it is still the case that even when you have deciphered the hieroglyphics and think you know what something means, if you still cant make head nor tail of it, it is potentially rubbish. Often it can be a conceptual issue that provides a boundary, because some concepts are interpreted differently across disciplines, but I guess the key is to make sure that the language amounts to something you recognise and makes sense to you as a practitioner. There is a push towards developing “research literacy” amongst teachers. Membership of the National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) allows access to academic papers and provides support. If you are looking at this as an avenue for improvement further information is available here: tdtrust.org/nten/home/


    More pressing are points 1 and 2 and further clouding the water, they may be language dependent also. Evidence is a hard concept to pin down and many research papers use different types of evidence to make their points. A quick list of where evidence could come from:

    1. Survey/Interview data – either written or verbal generally designed to give you statistical value to make judgements from.
    2. Statistical data – i.e. exam results, either at a school or authority or national/supranational level (think PISA)
    3. Interviews – practitioners and children and whoever – designed to add “flesh to the bones” of statistical data
    4. Observations – of anything really, could be children, classes, teachers etc
    5. Other literature – as in the case of meta-analyses
    6. Philosophical tools – such as analysing and rewriting something from a Marxist (or whatever) viewpoint.


    There are more, but most fall into one of these categories.


    In the past certain methods were considered more valid than others, and this continues to evolve and change as the requirements of research become different. There are two main ways of carrying out social research: quantative and qualitative. There are pitfalls in both approaches and no one would pretend otherwise. A combination of the two is also used and referred to as “mixed methods,” an approach that is growing in popularity in educational research. In my own opinion, a research area that people want to investigate properly needs both approaches, either together or separate. The more evidence you can get, the better. People often dismiss qualitative research as opinion, and done badly this can apply. However, the same allegation can be made against a purely stats approach, which can often miss the point and flatten out nuances with large data sets.


    This issue is not addressed by meta-analyses, which attempt to review a number of papers and make value judgements from them. Researchers get together papers on a certain topic, take the data and findings from them and synthesise them together. The problem is, that unless the papers are analysing the same thing, comparisons can be useless. Repeat research is vital for understanding to improve and a general rule is that the more studies that exist on something, the better. Education is a field where crucially; very little repeat research is done. The figure given is that less than 1% of research papers actually repeat something done before. In other disciplines this is much higher. Meta-analysis as a tool looks great, but in reality gives false results and does not compare like for like studies. This is the main issue I have with the Sutton trust toolkit. While their aim is noble, the way of finding their results is full of holes so big you could drive a truck through them. The further fact that they give a numerical value AND then an increase/decrease in months learning, makes it hard to take seriously. It is a shame that so many people appear to take their findings at face value. Perhaps this is the point of this blog, a call for practitioners to ignore the overall analysis and get back to the roots of the results. Developing that “research literacy” will help.


    What a research paper has/should have:


    A paper will start with an abstract, which summarises the research in around 100-150 words. This is an extremely difficult thing to do, so it is probably better to skip this bit if you have committed to reading the whole thing.


    Next should come a short paragraph introducing and summarising the aims and findings of the research. In paper written for press attention this is called an executive summary and can be much longer. Often an executive summary is skewed somewhat and attempts to present findings that back up the ideological view of whoever commissioned the research. Again, if you have committed to reading, I’d skip this bit.


    Following this you should have a methodology section. This explains why you have carried out the research and where it fits in the current literature. It should link to a method of analysis used in other papers. This section is often missing in educational research. It is not because the research isn’t valid; it is because education often does not have many universally recognised tools of analysis. It is however, a weakness and a symptom of the lack of repeat studies.


    Next comes the research design/method section. This explains how you have carried out your research project. If it is a survey paper, it will present the terms of the survey and what is being looked for. If it is stats, it will have a sample size and an indication of where that data came from. In education research often this section is inadequate. As a general rule, the larger the sample size, the better the research. In some forms of stats analysis there is a magic number that you can draw conclusions from, around 1000. This is where the confidence interval it at its smallest point (around +/- 3%). The smaller the sample, the larger the confidence interval, which is bad for drawing conclusions. In a qualitative paper, this is a complicated section to put together, but again, the more people that have been interviewed/observed/questioned the better.


    After this a data section, often called ‘data collection’ should be present. It will give you the raw data gained from the project. For stats projects, you can look at whether they have got their data from a fair amount of sources, or whether they have failed. In a qualitative paper this section may include quotes or statements, which address the key findings of the research. If a class has been observed, details of its composition and the research undertaken will be included. This section is absolutely vital to find out whether the research is relevant to you. If you are looking at TA impact and this section does not address a point you have in your school, it is pointless to consult. If you insist that TA’s work with a different group every day, while the study only has TA’s who stay with the same group, whether or they make an impact or not is of no relevance to you. You will need to search for the paper where they look at TA’s working in different groups to assess their impact. This is the issue with meta-analyses, they do not often address the same point, but can come up with a general conclusion. If you take this conclusion and make changes to your school as a result, you may be making a large mistake.


    Next comes the analysis, where the data should have been taken notice of and conclusions drawn. The author will be looking for ways to make a point and in reading this section you must make sure the conclusions drawn are actually backed up by the data. One mistake education papers often make is overreaching from their findings. The researchers will carry out a very small-scale research project involving 2/3 classes, then attempt to say that this could have a national impact. What they should be saying is the following: “more research is needed in this area to find out if these results are valid.”  What they are likely saying is more like: “our findings show this intervention/thing works and we expect that this will continue as the project expands.” If these conclusions are not backed up by the raw data, then you have a problem.


    Finally you should have a conclusion, where the main findings are summarised and conclusions drawn. This should give anyone who is wishing to build on your paper, points to consider when carrying out their own research. Again, the conclusions should be backed up by the data and the analysis section.


    In sum, if the paper you are reading does not have these sections in then it is possibly not worth reading. The fact that a huge amount of educational research misses out one or more of these sections is problematic, and leaves us with a problem. This is where I would always urge you to focus on the data section. Assuming the people who carried out the research are competent researchers, the data should be useful. You are capable of analysing this type of thing yourself and I would urge you to do it.


    Specific advice for school leaders looking to move staff towards a research based model of school improvement:

    Join NTEN

    Get involved in researchED and related activities

    Make links with local universities who have educational research departments

    Join existing projects through making contacts via the above

    Make sure you have the time to embed this culture in your school

    Be enthusiastic, it will be difficult to drive this forward if you are not committed.


    Any questions get me on twitter @farrowmr