Thursday, October 28, 2010

Authentic Assessment.

Students in school I loved to visit have found a wasps nest in the school grounds. After local expertise was used to destroy the nest, and with the teachers help, the students set about to study wasps and how they organise themselves. They sorted out their questions , worked out what they already knew and involved themselves in , as the revised curriculum says, 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge'. They took the nest a part , drew what they saw, completed drawing of the various stages in the wasps life cycle and read all about wasp 'culture' to answer their questions in their own words. All their research work was presented using charts each one representing individual children's thoughts and drawings. They also painted what they felt interesting,and wrote their creative thoughts.

The quality of their presentations were really impressive having been taught how to layout their work artistically.

This is what learning is all about. Shame it is not so common these days. These students easily applied what skills they had gained to undertake individually chosen studies which the teacher used to assess progress and to determine what extra help was required

It seems strange to use the term authentic assessment. It implies that much of the assessment used in schools is inauthentic. Which, of course, I believe it is.

If I wanted to see how well students can apply what they have been taught is to ask them to undertake an independent study with no help from the teachers -except for the normal bit of advice as required.

This form of assessment would tell me all about the children's attitudes, independence, research reading skills, writing skills, design and presentation skills and their ability to present their ideas making use of their own 'voice' or individuality. To me this would be more valuable that all the current 'evidence based' data collecting teaching that consumes teachers today.

It would also tell me how good the teaching had been prior to the task - this is why the best time for such a challenge is in Term Four, after all the skills had been 'scaffolded' into place. Students need to be able to transfer what they have learnt , by exhibiting, demonstrating, or applying. Any other sort of assessment may result in paper achievement only.

Most of such an authentic assessment task would demonstrate if students had learnt the lesson of doing something well rather than the more common, and faster, 'cutting and pasting' approach.

By term four students should have internalised the criteria for completing such a study but teachers could clarify, or renegotiate, them before the task.

Suitability of the study chosen.
Quality of the key questions.
Indication of their prior knowledge.
Quality of observation and written descriptions as required.
Depth of understanding seen through written research
Use of diagrams and focused illustrations
Quality of s design and presentation.

Teachers who enter their students into science or maths fairs will be aware of such criteria. Students need to have understood that assessment will focus on depth of their understanding - quality of thought not quantity.

Be interesting to see how students would handle such a task. I have my doubts many students could achieve what some of us used to use as our main form of assessing our teaching?

I certainly see little evidence of real student authentic research.

Such a task could begin as early as year three -even earlier.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jamie Oliver - educator!

Jamie Oliver, the enthusiastic TV chef is a man on a mission. He is on a crusade to encourage young people to eat healthy food. After trying to improve UK school dinners he is now in the heart of the US, the centre of fast foods eating, trying to encourage schools to provide healthy school dinners.

I just happened to switch on to watching Jamie Oliver last night and it was an enlightening experience.
Jamie had evidently upset a town in Virginia but suggesting that the local were eating unhealthily. I think he must have inferred that they were eating the wrong foods and putting their lives,and the lives of their children, at risk.All to do with obesity. Pretty brave for a pom ,and a cockney at that, telling the Americans how to eat!

In the programme Jamie was working in an elementary school for a week to see if he could tempt the students with some healthy food.

I enjoyed the programme for two reasons.One was an opportunity to look into elementary classrooms and, of course, the food eating experiment. As for the classrooms over the years I have visited thousand of rooms and feel I am a pretty good judge of what makes a child-centred learning environment. All I can say that if NZ is determined to follow the American idea of standardized testing and standards it wasn't a good advertisement for inspiring education. Any New Zealand junior classroom would look like paradise in comparison but maybe I am biased. Standardised teaching and little to see of students 'voice' and authentic inquiry work. All bland like their school meals.

But that wasn't what the programme was all about.

Jamie's first effort to provide his idea of healthy food was a giant flop. All the young students lined up to empty most of his food into the bin.

Jamie was stunned. Evidently the UK primary kids had enjoyed the variety he offered.

Jamie's next move was to work with some young six year olds to show them how a chicken can be cut into various parts and then he , with a kitchen whiz, minced up all the body , bones, and skin ( also a few other ingredients) and then made the results into chicken nuggets. All the way through he emphasized that what he was using was all the left over bits. The kids were impressed with Jamie's lesson ( he was using a big knife to cut up the chicken) but when he cooked up the off cuts as patties he asked the children if they would like to eat them. To his surprise ,and disappointment, they all were enthusiastic about the opportunity. Evidently a similar experiment in the UK turned the kids off such processed food!

Undaunted he decided to see how much the children new about common vegetables. He brought into a junior room a collection of supermarket fresh vegetables. I guess he was after their 'prior knowledge'. Well the results surprised him as it did myself. I am aware modern children seem to have lost touch about the realities of where their food comes from but the young Americans had no idea at all .Couldn't recognise tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower -any of the vegetables Jamie showed them.

When the young students were shown pictures of common fast foods they all knew every possible offering! Real experts in this area.

At the end of the week, as the result of the teacher setting up a display of vegetables, the children when 'tested' by Jamie, could recognise them all.

Another big experiment involved parents and their children. Using a big tarpaulin he put in a weeks worth of chocolate milk, all the school processed food, and all the fat involved- this shocked the parents who expressed a change of heart about school meals. Real education.

With his last attempt to provide healthy school meals Jamie provided another school meal and this time he had more success gaining permission from the school principal and the superintendent to continue with the experiment - but he had to keep an eye on expenses!

Obesity is a real problem worldwide and Jamie is working against a populist tide.
Jamie also worked with one family that all seemed to have serious weight problems. He arranged for them all to visit a doctor for a check up and they all learned the possible future dire scenarios for their health - including diabetes.

This family have agreed to try to change their eating habits and Jamie is teaching the fourteen year old overweight boy how to cook and, in the process, lose weight nad feel better for it.

Next week he is going to try to change high school students eating habits - one thing he learnt was that the school dinner providers see french fries as vegetables!

Finding out about food knowledge and preferences and how much fast food is eaten by children in our classes would make a great integrated authentic study? I am aware that many children have lost any real knowledge of their natural world but are they losing knowledge about where their food comes from?

Worth a study?
Maybe more important than National Standards as I would bet the children in the so called 'achievement tail' ( really a socio economic tail) eat more than their fair share of fast food?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Creative emergence or planning studies

Can life be planned or, in an ever evolving world, do we need to be equipped with the confidence and the dispositions to learn from whatever experiences we encounter? Traditional school people seem to believe that, without teacher planning, their students would learn little. In contrast creative educators believe that it is all about creating the conditions necessary for students to develop their innate talents. The teachers who hold the second view, of course, do need to have considerable knowledge ( or know where to point their students ) to ensure their students potential is realized.

The very young and adult artists and scientists have the attributes of 'life long learners' - to be 'seekers, users and creators of the own knowledge' as the NZC states. As Professor Brian Cox , the UK Governments Science Adviser, says , ' the point of science is to be comfortable with the unknown'. Explorers of all ages, to ' fly' like an eagle, need to be both open to new ideas and skeptical of authority.

The other day I was asked by a principal a of a small school if I had 'any links to research or examples of institutions delivering a school curriculum over a set number of years? By that I mean a policy of integrated studies areas being comprehensively covered over maybe 2-3 years rather than attempting to cover everything in one school year.I would love to see any examples of such a programme or even have links to any research you may know of'.

I guess I was the wrong person to ask because I believe such planning does more harm than good because it discounts the questions and concerns that emerge from any group of curious children. As a result students see school as something that is done to them rather than something they learn to do for themselves.

The teaching profession has always been full of 'experts', in the various subject areas, who determine what content young people should learn. Recently we have had imposed on schools the idea of national standards that all students have to achieve. As yet they have not 'morphed' into national tests but one doesn't have to have crystal ball to see what will evolve. National Standards withstanding current education is already infected by pre-planned intentional thinking. Even the most child centred classroom is really students having fun doing what teachers think they need to do. Literacy and numeracy the two worst offenders. No student, it seems, would ever learn to read or do maths if teachers didn't set about testing and teaching them .

Socrates, two thousand years ago, worked our what teaching was all about about; listening to his students , their question, and asking questions of them. He believed his peasant boy Memo already had all the geometry in his head - his role was to help him clarify his ideas. Even his 'mate' Plato wrote that 'the task of the teacher is not to place knowledge in where it does not exist, but rather to lead the minds eye that it might be see for itself'.

And for two thousand years we have ignored their advice. Experts, who know better than creative teacher, have no faith in students innate ability to make sense of their own experiences. They have pushed their lists of content , or learning objectives, or standards, on teachers. And too many teachers, believing in planning, have gone along with them.

So back to the query from the teacher.

All I could do was share a few (diconfirming) ideas with him.

I wrote: 'I have never believed it is important to define an integrated inquiry program over a number of years. Just too complicated and inflexible. The important thing is to develop in students the dispositions, attitudes and competences they will need to continue their life long learning quest. These key competencies are outlined in the NZC and are similar to the 'habits of mind' of Art Costa , or the 'powerful learning ' of Guy Claxton.

With this in mind it is vitally important to develop the 'seeking, using and creating knowledge' asked for in the NZC in the literacy block and, where possible, in the numeracy block. All too often these are developed as stand alone areas of learning. And worse still take up much of the whole day!

So the challenge is to ensure all students 'learn' through a series of experiences how to 'seek' knowledge ( using their own questions) to 'use' it ( not just cutting and pasting but showing students 'voice' and opinions) and to 'create' ( products of originality in writing, art and project work).

To achieve such self motivated resourceful learners requires them being involved in rich, real, relevant and rigorous challenges. Some of these challenges might be part of self contained language or maths topics but the best are integrated and generative inquiry studies that spin out into all sorts of curriculum areas'.

My advice to him was to, 'each year to cover ( two a term usually) a range of content area studies. These can be developed by looking the various strands in the learning areas ( excluding maths and language) and developing eight or so themes to cover each year. The next step is to ask the students themselves what they would like to learn more about and the issues and concerns that worry them? From such a process a teacher could co-develop a curriculum involving their students. Any topics or questions that 'emerge' ('teachable moments') should be also be taken advantage if - it is the dispositions that teachers need to always keep in mind and the talents their students are developing'.

'As for the themes that need to be covered the ones that come to mind are:

Environmental studies ( mainly natural science); heritage study - European history; Maoritanga; Science technology - physical science; a creative arts theme ( visual art, drams or music in-depth study) etc. Make up your own list by combining strands from various areas. Another thought is a Communication ICT theme. A great idea is in term four, for year 3 and above, for students to select and do their own individual research study. This is a great way to assess if students can use all the various skills you have hopefully taught them during the year'.

'Three points to keep in mind'.

'At the beginning of the year plan out the eight or so studies. Leave room for studies that just emerge. At the end of the year make a record of what studies were actually undertaken -as plans might have changed during the year. Use these to see what areas have been missed to plan for the next year and to ensure that students do not get involved in repetition.

It is important to cover a range of themes to give every learner a chance to find out what they like - their own particular set of interests or talents ( multiple intelligences)

For each study plan three or for major outcomes to encourage depth of thinking and to encourage students to do fewer things well. Each outcome will indicate skills that will need to in place or to be taught to achieve quality results in literacy time.

Outcomes could be: a research presentation where students answer three or four open questions (this might be a PowerPoint but usually involves research language work); a piece creative or expressive writing based on the theme; and a piece of creative art work'.


'The studies selected must become the driving motivation for the whole day as much as is possible - and the reason to teach reading and comprehension and presentation skills in the literacy time (and as much as possible numeracy time as well)'.

The teacher thanked me for my advice and said he would think about it. I think it was probably both the wrong question and the wrong answer.

Most teachers these days are avid planners and data collectors - to concerned with proving achievement to really trust themselves or their students. Technicians teaching by numbers - imposing their intentions on their students

Teachers in such a formulaic and dysfunctional system are no longer creative.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Plant a native garden

I have just been helping plan and plant a small native garden.

The idea of developing small native garden in the school grounds makes an ideal integrated inquiry study. And the time and weather is right for the task.

The ideal garden could feature mainly smaller alpine natives as there are a wonderful range of plants to choose from.

If you are interested first find a suitable site - open and sunny is the best. Measure it up to work out how many square metres you have.

Then start your research.

What plants might be suitable? Who could help you? There are a a number of suitable books with good photos and information to get ideas from. Another idea is to look around your environment to see similar gardens and capture their ideas with a digital camera. Note how close they are planted and maybe you will see that often plants are planted in groups. Maybe there is a parent or local who can help you select plants

Draw up a list of suitable plants ( with digital photos) and display on class wall. Do some research on selected plants.

Now to involved in some more mathematics. When you find your source of plants you will get an idea of the costs involved. How will you go about finding the money? Maybe the BOT can help you or you could get involved in some fundraising?

Possibly it is a good idea to start small and restrict yourselves to fifteen or twenty plants. With small natives look for ones with interesting shapes as well as flowers.

When you have you plants the fun begins.

By now you will have begun to develop some real knowledge about your plants -mainly how big they grow or spread.

Place then out and move them around until you are happy. This might be a good time to have a little local expertise to call on.

Learn how to plant them properly and finish the job.

Over the next months ( or years) watch them grow.You will soon find out which ones really like where you have planted them and you might have to replace the odd one.

It is fun watching how gardens turn out and by now you will have learnt a lot about plants. Maybe some of you might like to become botanists or landscape artists?

The class might even like to begin to propagate some plants of their own -many grow from cuttings but you will need to do your own research. This is real learning.

Maybe you could make study of a local piece of bush and even begin to care for it?

Environmental Awareness

A collection of rewarewa leaves and flowers -and a ceramic tui. Tuis feed off the rewarewa, commonly called for this very reason honeysuckle . From such collection an interesting painting could evolve.

As I wander around my garden, or as I walk down the driveway to a school, I am always on the lookout for ideas to share with young people - trouble is these days I don't have a class or a school to share such ideas with.

I was pleased, while visiting a local school, when a teacher on seeing me, rushed over to ask me to visit her classroom. She wanted to show me the results of a kowhai study that she had based on one of my recent blogs.

This time of the year the Rewarewa ( or Honeysuckle) is in flower and around their base you can pick up flowers , last years seed 'pods' and of course leaves.

Rewarewa are a common native tree and are well worth a study. It maybe possible to visit a tree or at least bring a few flowers and seed 'pods' along for children to wonder about, to observe and to draw.

Students need to be encouraged to look carefully, use their senses and, if drawn, to take their time, to go slow, so as to produce work of quality. It is important for students to learn to do things well. As they draw children can be encouraged to note their thought and their questions.

Following this books can be used to 'research' and develop their knowledge.

All this might lead into bush study or at least looking for native trees in the school grounds, or even buying a rewarewa tree to plant in the school.

Personally I believe that such small scale studies are vital to develop environmental awareness and will lead students to develop a love of their environment and then onto the more adult idea of sustainability.

The great thing is teachers can learn alongside their students and get away from the idea that teachers need to know first and then teach which seems to underpin much of what passes as teaching these days. This is demeaning for learners.

Children are born learners and are equipped with ways to learn that schools need to encourage. Adults are at best resources students can call on but their main role is to create the conditions for children to want to learn. It was Jerome Bruner who wrote that 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation'.

And a long time a go that wonderful teacher Socrates simply asked questions of his students believing that the knowledge was within.

Another Greek Plato wisely wrote that the 'task of the teacher is not to place knowledge where it does not exist but to lead the minds eye that it might see for itself'.

So my advice to to keep you eyes open for ideas to 'tempt' children and then help them learn for themselves. Spring is the time to develop this awareness.Such a lot of things to notice if you keep you eyes open. November is the best time for a harakeke, or NZ flax, study.

It is time to stop teaching and become co-learners.

It is about ensuring students become ' seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge ' as it says in the revised New Zealand Curriculum.

More fun and easier.

Monday, October 04, 2010

What messages does your school pass on to students?

This students' mural of going to school in the 'olden days' gives pretty clear 'message' about what was important in such times. The green lipped backboards is central and, along the walls, the olden days equivalent of laptops . The clock stands front centre representing the importance of the timetable and a 'special needs ' corner complete with dunces hat. I am not sure that they were ever used in New Zealand? Spot the mistakes. The students are facing away from the board .In earlier days desks were screwed to the floor - no moving around allowed. And the teacher ought to be immense as she, or he, ruled supreme. In her hand is a cane or, in my time a length of supplejack, or leather strap. Note the ceramic ink wells in the desks.

What school was all about was clear. Obedience, conformity, no talking and the 'three Rs'. In those times classes were called standards - maybe this is where Mrs Tolley is taking us. This approach to education lasted up until the late 1950s -and in many ways is still the standard village dance in many secondary school classrooms

The other day I had occasion to look at a teachers timetable for the coming term and I considered the 'message' it was giving to both the teacher and their students. All the morning were to be spent on literacy and numeracy with the afternoons given to art, te reo, technology and sports. The afternoons only went from 1.30 to 3.00. An inquiry topic seemed absent. Little emphasis was placed on students 'voice', cultures, or the various aspects of the local environment. It seems that nothing much has changed in this school?

The following are some clues to determine the 'messages' of a school?

The use of time is a major clue.

The first thing to look for in a primary school is how time is apportioned out during the day.

In a secondary school note how all students are timetabled, sorted, and graded. If learning is fragmented as if a factory it results in a ‘hardening of the categories’. Another clue is in primary schools if literacy and numeracy take up all the prime time and the other Learning Areas are virtually light entertainment in the limited time remaining. This will be exaggerated even more in such schools by National Standards, giving off more than a whiff of a Victorian mentality.

Once inside the school, look for evidence of student ‘voice’.

Does the learning centre around students’ questions and concerns or are students busy following teachers’ pre-conceived plans? Can you see, or read, their personal thoughts about their lived experiences, their responses to their environment, and their critical thoughts about whatever study has caught the class’s attention? Look for individuality in the way children’s work is presented and particularly in their art which ought to be as diverse as the students. Do classrooms have an aesthetic quality? If in primary classroom, students’ ‘voice’ is overwhelmed by literacy and numeracy demands and in inquiry studies student ‘voice’ is often missing with children happy to simply present information, this too is a clue.

To solve these problems teachers need to reframe both literacy and numeracy as vital ways for children to express personal, critical, or interpretive points of view in their inquiry studies.

In such classrooms literacy is used to ‘frontload’ content by developing comprehension and information inquiry skills to contribute to current inquiry studies. Such an integrated approach makes literacy and numeracy more important and more meaningful.

It is important if students are to become active learners for them to tell their own stories, to pose their own questions and to make their own interpretations of what they experience. If their ‘voices’ are not recognised there will be many who will continue to disengage from their learning. That is the problem that standards are meant to solve!

Learning is essentially personal. How personalised is learning?

We all invent ourselves in response to experiences we have. It is obvious that it is impossible for every student to have their own programme but it is possible to value each learner’s interpretations and creativity. Teachers, who believe in a constructivist approach to learning, who respect learner’s prior knowledge and skills, and who give whatever help is necessary, are well on the way to personalising learning.

There are also teachers who follow James Beane’s model and negotiate a curriculum based on asking students for the problems, issues and concerns they would like to study. From such an emergent process curriculum themes are democratically arrived at and then students individually, or in groups, become personally involved in purposeful research. The ideas behind science, mathematics, or science fairs can be extended to part of normal teaching. The Reggio Emilio early education schools of Milan are excellent models of true community schools whose curriculums ‘emerge from their students’ interests. This approach was common in New Zealand primary classrooms of the 70s and is equally relevant today.

Does the school value students’ gifts and talents?

All students are different and ‘one size’ never fitted all. As students progress through school their innate differences ought to become more diverse. Current pressures for standardisation and focusing measurement on a narrow range of academic abilities repress such diversity. Schools must celebrate diversity.

Howard Gardner tells us that children can exhibit intelligences in a range of areas – the visual arts, music, sport and dance, mathematical and logical thinking, natural history, linguistics, and inter personal and intrapersonal skills. Do schools recognise and value these or do linguistic and mathematics ‘intelligences’ dominate? And if this is the case what happens to those students whose talents lie elsewhere?

Imagine if schools made developing students’ creativity their central focus and then introduced appropriate skills to help then realise their gifts? Such teaching would move teachers well beyond predictable ‘best practices’, or standards, and asks them instead to accept the ‘unknowability’ of what might evolve. Personal excellence based on a comparison with previous achievements would be the criteria for success.

Does the school assess values and dispositions?

Schools in past decades have been encouraged to demonstrate achievement in literacy and numeracy and no doubt this will be exaggerated by National Standards. Some schools however are also recording students ‘feelings for’ the various learning areas and are able to demonstrate how their students’ attitudes have improved through the year. As well, other schools are making efforts to assess students’ dispositions towards learning - the competencies that contribute towards ensuring all students become confident life long learners.

How central is inquiry in the school?

In schools that believe in inquiry classrooms reflect students’ questions, prior ideas, theories and evolving ideas being gained as they learn. There are a number of inquiry models but the base of all ought to be the realisation that inquiry is the ‘default mode’ of all learners from birth. Just as students were born to create they were born to inquire and search for personal meaning. That this desire to learn, this love of learning, often dulled by schooling ought to a concern of all. There are those who see process as the new content but the revised curriculum is clear, both content and process are to be seen as complimentary. Learning how to learn is the shadow of in-depth inquiry. A study without real content is a study at risk.

If inquiry was truly central to learning then the results would be plain for all to see. The room would be full of the results of authentic studies covering a range of learning areas. The walls would be covered with study questions, research findings and processes - not just de Bono’s hats or an outline of an agreed inquiry process. The visual environment ought to be seen as the teacher’s main message system and the importance of aesthetic expression in all forms ought to be an integral part of such a message system

Authentic assessment ought to be based on what students can do - particularly in a new situation. ‘It is what children do when they do not know what to do’, that is the key to future success according to Piaget. Innovative schools are requiring their students to undertake a self-chosen inquiry challenge towards the end of each year as an assessment task. Such tasks clearly demonstrate how well students are able to use the critical seeking, using and creating skills required for such learning.

The hardware of information technology is often shown off to visitors as an indication of up to date thinking but all too it often over promises and under delivers. However, if used wisely, it contributes to in-depth inquiry and could eventually transform education, as we know it. Used unwisely it can result in shallow learning. Nothing should be researched that can be answered with one click of Google! A quick look at students’ presentations and bookwork will show, through the language used, if inquiry is robust or if ‘cut and paste’ and shallow thinking is the order of the day.

What is the role of the teacher in the school?

In such a democratic environment the role of the teachers is vital. No longer to be seen a transmitter of predetermined content and chief judge the teacher is now much more of a creative learning coach providing help, negotiating tasks and criteria for student self assessment. And that help should always be given with a light hand.

Creative teachers understand the need to do fewer things well, appreciating that something done well can be a transformational experience for a learner. Not only do creative teachers help students see connections between learning areas they also appreciate the importance of enriched sensory experiences gained through first hand learning.

Most of all creative teachers work hard to establish a democratic, trusting relationship to allow students to take the necessary risks to learn.
As part of such an environment teachers need to negotiate benign classroom organisations, often defining group tasks, to provide their students with a sense of structure and predictability. All too often primary classrooms are too heavily structured in literacy and numeracy and then too open for the rest of the day. And secondary schools too timetabled, fragmented and disconnected. Successful learning depends on organisational patterns that allow students to work independently (often in groups) and also allow teachers to focus on helping those in need.

What is the 'message' given of a future learner?

Teachers, in all their interactions, need to keep in mind the vision of the learner they want to develop. Guy Claxton suggests that students need to be encouraged to be curious and to ask questions; to be resilient and to stick at things; to be willing to ask for help and accept feedback; and to step back and think things through. He asks of teachers to envision their students as ‘brave and confident explorers, tough enough in spirit, and flexible in mind, to pursue their dreams and ambitions’.

The revised curriculum is premised on a vision of all students being ‘confident lifelong learners’ and sees students as able to 'seek , use and create their own kowedge'.

This is not what I see when I visit schools and, heading towards National Standards, is heading in the wrong direction.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Dweck's book a must for all teachers and leaders.


It is hard to avoid reading about Carol Dweck's work on the power of mindsets in learning. Business leaders and sports coaches use her ideas and so ought schools. It will be the most influential book on motivation. A book that with ideas to change the lives of students and their teachers.

I am writing this blog before I have fully absorbed the message of the book as I want to loan it to a young teacher . As a result of reading the book I have decided to start something I have been meaning to do for years. I now have the right mindset. Watch this space.

My advice - buy the book pronto. My copy cost NZ $29. Not bad for a mind changing book. 'Mindset The New Psychology Of Success' Published by Ballantine Books NY ISBN 978-0-345-47232-8

Carol Dweck is a Stanford University Psychologist and in her book Mindset she shares the ideas about learning she has been working on for decades. In her book she shows the power of people's beliefs that strongly effect what we want and whether we succeed. Beliefs ( 'mindsets') we are unaware of but which have a profound effects on our lives. An understanding of these beliefs have the power to unleash your potential and that of your students.

Dweck has written this book in a popular style which makes it available to anyone who picks it up.

Schools worldwide have problems with students who fail to learn and this book provides some real answers.

Dweck outlines the two mindsets.One she calls 'fixed' where students believe that their talent is 'fixed' from birth ( natural talents) and the 'growth mindset' which sees learning as a result of effort and practice. Dweck does not suggest that those with a 'growth' mindset can be anything but they do believe that a person's potential is unknown and that to develop it requires 'passion , toil and training'.

The real problem is that many people feel that those who succeed in any field do so because of natural talent. This is the 'fixed mindset'. The problem is that such people do not believe in effort and even see the need for it as weakness. And those who believe they cant do something see no point in trying.

My bet is that such people make up our so called 'achievement tail'. Helping struggling children change their limiting mindsets may be more profitable than obsessively focusing on literacy and numeracy standards.

Dweck writes that the 'fixed' mindsets can be changed and replaced with the more positive 'growth' mindset. Her book is full of practical ways to do just this.

'When you enter a mindset', she writes, 'you enter a new world'.

Dweck believes all students are born with an intense drive to learn and worries about what puts an end to this exuberant learning and why some children develop a limiting 'fixed' mindset.

It begins, she says, when students begin to evaluate themselves and, as a result, some become afraid of challenges - and this is further developed by parent who want their children to succeed. Such children end up by wanting to make sure they succeed and don't like taking risks; don't like to expose their deficiencies. And they don't like asking for help.

'Growth' mindset children, in contrast, see success in learning as stretching themselves, about becoming smarter, and are happy to ask for help.

'Fixed' mindset people do well when things are within their grasp. If 'fixed' mindset people think they cant do anything they don't try, avoid situations, find endless excuses, blame others, and don't ask for help. They don't want to to risk their identity. Perfectionist girls seem specially at risk in this respect.

It makes a big difference which mindset develops.

And the positive 'growth' mindset can be taught.

Dweck lists accomplished people who were considered to have little future potential including Charles Darwin and Elvis Presley. People with a 'growth' mindset know it takes time and effort for potential to flower. She also describes people who many think had a natural talent ( 'fixed') but whose success was determined by a 'growth' mindset including - Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordan.

Dweck suggests teachers do a simple survey of their students to see what mindset they hold and then to introduce ideas to change those with the limiting 'fixed' mindsets. Do they believe their intelligence was a fixed trait or or something they could develop?

She also describes a number of research situations where she demonstrates such changes. Students with the 'growth' mindsets allows people to love what they are doing and motivates them to try harder, practice and ask for help. Mistakes, or failures, are seen as learning opportunities not the end of the world. A 'growth' mindsets allows abilities to be cultivated.

Talent, or drive, with the right mindset, can help any learner produce amazing things. It is all about continually improving on ones personal best.

Talented or failing 'fixed ' mindset students fail when placed in new learning situations - 'growth' students enjoy the challenge. Even prodigies with gifts feed the gift with constant endless curiosity, practice effort and challenge seeking. All children , Dweck writes, have interests that can blossom into abilities and this includes those currently seen as 'low ability' or failing. No one know about negative ability labels like Maori and Pacifica group or woman when it comes to maths and science.

All students need teachers who preach and practice the 'growth' mindset. Such teachers focus on the idea that all children can develop their skills. 'Growth' orientated teachers and parents praise effort rather than ability or talent. Praising talent teaches students the 'fixed' mindset. Ability grouping and praising ability can have negative effects on learning.

We need to give all students the gift of the 'growth' mindset and in the process put students in charge of their own learning.

Many students will enjoy the stories in the book about the difference between the natural and effort orientated sports people. Their stories will help students appreciate the positive growth mindset and how sports people learn to cope with setbacks. Teachers will enjoy the differences between the 'fixed' and growth orientated coaches.

School leaders will enjoy the differences between the heroic talented leaders ( 'fixed') and the 'growth' orientated leaders and how they handle failure and staff development.

The most important chapters focus on teachers and parents and where do mindsets come from?

These chapters focus on the messages we give children - and that every word and action sends a message. Students are extremely sensitive to such messages. What we praise, or give feedback about, is vital and it needs to be focused on effort and future strategies to consider.

Consider also how children develop their attitudes towards maths, or art, or sport. Do they see it as a 'fixed' gift or something they can all do to some degree with effort and practice as they ought to? Consider how you would set about to change students' attitude towards maths, or art, or anything thay have closed their mind to.

'Dont judge. Teach.It's a learning process', Dweck writes.

All the stories Dweck shares are about how parents and teachers want the best for their children in the right way - by fostering their interests, growth and learning.

If teachers make explicit the importance of a 'growth ' mindset and encourage it in their students all students will succeed. The teacher's stance is all important. 'Growth' mindset teacher tell the truth and set about to help their students close the gap. Dweck's research shows it can be done even with students who at first don't seem to care.

Most interesting for teachers are the mindset lectures she gives her graduate students and the brain, or mindset workshops she gives younger students where students learn about positive mindsets and how to use them.

In just eight one hour sessions children's' minds, she shows, can be changed.

And she makes the point that change is not easy. It is hard to give up a 'fixed' mindset. Concrete plans are required not just good intentions. 'Will power', Dweck writes, 'is not just a thing you have or don't have. Will power needs help.'

It is all about seeing things in new way.

Every day presents you with chance to grow and to help the people you care about grow. Learners who take on board a 'growth' mindset become more alive, courageous and open.

Buy the book to really get Dweck's powerful message. The ideas in the book will resonate with the many creative teachers who really value developing in their students a positive learning identity. Students who are able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'. Students who will become 'confident life long learners'.

Get it now and share her ideas.