Growth Mindset Part 2

Viney Hill predictably inspired yet more thoughts concerning growth mindsets. I spent my days helping children overcome their fears as we put them through one challenging situation after another and I spent my nights reading an account of Shackleton’s Great Antarctic Rescue by the captain of the Endurance. The week was all about mindsets which is partly what makes these residential weeks so valuable and why they can have such a profound impact on children’s confidence. It is not every day that you scale rock faces, squeeze through caves, cycle down rutted, slippery paths or canoe across freezing cold lakes without an adult. I’m sure we’ve all said, “I can’t” at some point or points in our lives and we’ve all been told, “There’s no such thing as can’t” by our parents or teachers. I lost count of the number of times I heard the words, “I can’t at Viney Hill but then again, I also lost count of the number of times I saw the same children’s faces beaming with pride and deep satisfaction at having overcome another fearful challenge.

Our mantra has to be either “I can’t” or as has caught on in school recently, “I can’t do it yet”, A school should be about learning and not necessarily results; about a willingness to keep trying and not necessarily getting there; about doing one’s best but not necessarily being the best. We have to want our children to want to go on learning when they leave school; to be willing to learn from their mistakes, to embrace the challenges they will inevitably encounter with confidence and determination.

I related the story of Shackleton’s extraordinary tale of survival to the children in assembly last Monday. If you don’t know this story- I urge you to find out more. As an example of a growth mindset; of keeping your spirits up and keeping on going; of keeping on looking for the way out in the face of huge challenges, I can think of none to equal it. That said there are very many other real life and fictional stories out there that can be used with the children to illustrate the point. Please keep an eye out for them and share them with your children.

Maths week will start on Monday November 2nd 2015.  The purpose of the week is to reinforce with  the children just how fun and fascinating maths can be, as well as how important it is in their daily lives!

To help us, renowned author, Kjartan Poskitt (author of the fantastic Murderous Maths series) will be coming to visit. He will be speaking to pupils throughout the day on Friday 12th November (Friday after maths week) and will be hosting a family maths evening on Thursday 11th November.  You can find out more about Kjartan through visiting his website or viewing clips on Youtube – see the school website or Facebook page for more information.  The Thursday evening event will be open to all and further details will be available soon from the PTA. We will not be selling his books in school, however, if children want to bring in one of his books they will be able to get it signed.

To keep you entertained over the half term, please find attached to this newsletter, a family maths challenge! This can be entered into a school competition.  If your child would like to enter, they need to return it to school with their name and class written on by Wednesday 4th November.  The first KS1 and KS2 names drawn out will win prizes!

Life After Levels

As of this September, levels have been removed from primary education. An expert panel that reviewed the National Curriculum between 2010 and 2013, studied many high performing jurisdictions or education systems across the world and found a common theme among them: that primary school age children studied fewer things in greater depth. Tim Oates (Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment) says, They secured deep learning in central concepts and ideas, Assessment should focus on whether children have understood these key concepts rather than achieved a particular level.

There are a number of compelling reasons for levels being dropped. While the original idea of levels was that children worked their way up the levels, they have become overly influenced by other factors. Children are labelling themselves and comparing themselves to others in an adverse way, and they are encouraged to move at an undue pace through the levels. We need to switch to a different conception of children’s ability. Every child needs to be capable of doing anything dependent on the effort they put in and how it’s presented to them. Levels get in the way of this.

This of course echoes all we have been saying about growth mindsets since the beginning of term. We have to approach education and learning from the starting assumption that anyone can do anything. Of course some of us will need to work harder to achieve say a Physics A level than others but the assumption has to be that we can all get there.

In the meantime, please recognise that the information you receive on reports regarding progress will have to change. The first report card will come out at the end of the second week back and will have grades for learning attitudes alone. This will be followed by parent meetings the week after. The most valuable substance for this conversation is yours and the teacher’s ongoing formative knowledge of your child’s specific strengths, needs and next steps as opposed to a random level or how they compare to other children in the year group. Given the new National Curriculum is organised into year specific descriptors of knowledge, understanding and skills as opposed to level specific descriptors, it is assumed that all children in that year group will be working their way through the curriculum appropriate to them. We are refraining therefore from publishing attainment information at this point in the year because the year has just begun. Of course within each year group, children’s needs will vary as much as they have ever done and it is the class teacher’s job to provide input, experiences and support to cater for these needs. Don’t, for one second, imagine that this is about lowering expectations or aspirations or treating everyone the same. Instead of imagining this, hold onto the key concept behind this change- that we must encourage pupils to learn more deeply before they move onto the next stage, if we are to give them the best possible education. This expects plenty from our teachers- it’s all too easy to move children rapidly onto the next thing or next level; it’s quite another to creatively stretch the learning sideways and strengthen their understanding. To do this teachers will be getting children to rehearse and apply their understanding in different purposeful contexts and in ever more challenging and stimulating ways.

Please recognise that there is a steep learning curve here for all of us; particularly in how we need to conceive of children’s learning and progress and what this means practically for how we respond to pupils and help them. We at school are feeling our way gradually and pragmatically towards a way of working that will fit this new assessment landscape and in turn the best interests of the children and their learning. Please bear with us on this journey, be rest assured that it is an improvement on what came before and know that I will be providing you with more information at the outset of the next term. There will also be an open meeting in the school hall with parents and myself and Miss Tonner after school on Wednesday 11th November. We will be providing a creche for this event.