Developing Teachers with a Growth Mindset

ELT-Resourceful-growth-mindset

This is a guest post by Gabriella Lawson, Teacher Developer for Monash College English Language Centre. Gaby is responsible for helping to develop teachers’ classroom delivery through designing and running professional development and observing and feeding back on teaching practice.

Our main focus is always on teaching and helping our students, so it is sometimes easy to forget that in order to get the best out of our students, we need to get the best out of ourselves. Professor John Hattie has said that one of the reasons Growth Mindset may not have made an impact on student results was a lack of teacher training. It becomes a bit like ‘do as I say but not as I do’ if the school has a Growth Mindset policy, but the teacher hasn’t fully understood how that works in practice yet.

Growth Mindset could give us some much needed answers about why our students are not motivated. In English language teaching, we see some students giving up who believe they are not good at English. We see students avoiding speaking in class due to a fear of mistakes. Other examples are students who avoid going to free extra workshops even though they need help. That’s why we need to train teachers to develop a growth mindset about their own teaching. After all, what teachers believe about learning has a big influence on what students believe about learning.

Mistakes are how we learn. Brain plasticity means that as we form new neural pathways there will be misfires; recent research tells us that our brains are more likely to remember and correct a mistake if we have positive feelings about the lesson. Similarly, teachers are more likely to take feedback if they have positive feelings about their observation. If teachers aren’t worried about losing face, they are more likely to take risks in the classroom or ask for help when they face a challenge instead of suffering in silence until the complaints roll in.

The first step is to see observations as professional development, so the aim is for teachers to choose something they’d like to get better at. The second is to stop thinking of observations as ‘teacher observations’ but to think of them as ‘lesson observations’. If teachers feel they are being evaluated as a person, research supporting Growth Mindset suggests that any negative feedback could result in a crisis of confidence. I think a lesson is a piece of work, like an essay draft, we often teach the same lesson again and again, course after course: it is in a constant process of refinement and development. When the lesson is observed, it is under construction, so there will be parts that are working well and parts that could work better. Observation feedback needs to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson not the teacher.

Debate about what is good or bad teaching is very subjective, you can avoid this by looking at strengths and weaknesses against a set of criteria. This is why it is important to use something like the BALEAP Competency Framework for Teachers of Academic English to give feedback with e.g. No.7. Student autonomy – has the lesson demonstrated that the teacher has integrated tasks which develop learner autonomy? To what extent did it work? How could it have worked better?

Lesson observations are a great opportunity for learning what growth mindset means in practice. When teachers can separate their sense of self from their teaching, they can reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson more objectively. If we apply Growth Mindset to the process of developing teachers, it is more likely that ‘sticky’ Growth Mindset behaviours will be passed on to our students, also as a bonus, observations will be much less stressful and more productive for everyone.

Gabriella Lawson

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Is it true that growth mindset ‘doesn’t actually work’?

Elt-Resourceful- growth mindset

Growth mindset has become something of a buzzword over the last few years. While you would have to have been living under a rock not to have heard the term, you may well not be entirely sure what it means (and you wouldn’t be the only one, as we shall see).

What exactly is growth mindset?

It all started to hit the public consciousness with a piece of research done in 1998 by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller, who divided a group of 10-12 year olds into two groups. Both groups were told that they had done well on a test, but the first group were praised for their intelligence, while the second group were praised for the effort they had put in. Dweck and Mueller subsequently found that the first group didn’t want to take any risks that might make them look less intelligent, while the second group kept trying hard and therefore actually did better. The second group had more of a growth mindset.

If you decide that you are naturally bad at something, you may feel this is fixed, and therefore not even try, whereas in most cases you could improve through effort. Equally, if you are told you are naturally bright, you may shy away from trying anything difficult in case you show yourself up by failing. Therefore it is important to praise students for effort rather than for intelligence.

For a more in depth explanation, take a look at this video of Carol Dweck. 

I think most teachers would recognise the truth in this, and the idea has been pretty enthusiastically received. However, more recently there have been a number of articles and research studies stating that growth mindset ‘doesn’t actually work.’

Why might people think it doesn’t work?

First of all, the key ideas are not always very well understood. Sometimes teachers have interpreted it as ‘ if you believe you can do it, you can’- which is self-evidently nonsense. Or ‘everyone can do everything brilliantly if they just try hard enough’- also rubbish. Everyone can get better at something through practice, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily ever be great at it. Growth mindset isn’t about wishful thinking.

Secondly, telling students about growth mindset or that they should have a growth mindset, is not the same as actually changing their mindset. Read this great article about that (thanks Gaby Lawson for sharing it with me). People can definitely change, but not because someone else tells them to. Beliefs about ourselves are usually very deeply engrained, even in children, and they don’t change overnight or because other people want them to. We also have to take into account the messages our students are likely to be getting at home, such as the parent who says, ‘Oh, you get being bad at maths from me.’

And a recent survey of teachers in the USA found that while 98% of teachers felt that growth mindset was a good thing, only 50% knew any strategies aimed at encouraging it. So, clearly we need to think more about how to help students (and teachers) develop it, rather than just exhorting them to put in more effort or think positive.

For the next blog post on ELT Resourceful I have invited Gaby Lawson, Teacher Developer at Monash College, to talk about her work on applying Carol Dweck’s research to teacher development.

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Filed under mental set, motivation, Teaching methodology, Working with groups

Creativity and innovation

In this lesson plan designed for the British Council Teaching English site, we explore the topic of  creativity and innovation. This lesson was devised to mark World Creativity and Innovation Day on 21st April. However, it could be used at any time of year as this is not specifically mentioned.

The lesson begins by looking at what is involved in being creative, trying to expand this beyond the usual areas of art or creative writing.

The students then do a reading activity where they match the headings to each section. They then identify the synonyms which will have enabled them to do this task and focus on the idea of avoiding repetition. They read the text again and discuss which ideas they personally find most useful.

The lesson finishes with a creativity task, followed up by a final discussion.

Aims:

  • Encourage students to think about their own creativity and how they could develop it further
  • Expand students’ vocabulary and ability to avoid repetition using a range of synonyms
  • Provide reading and speaking practice around the topic of creativity and innovation

Age/Level:

Teenage learners at CEF level B2

Time:

50-60 minutes

Materials:

The lesson plan and student worksheets can be downloaded here

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Sophie Scholl and the White Rose: a free downloadable lesson

Sophie Scholl lesson plan

A free downloadable lesson about Sophie Scholl, a young German girl who took the brave decision to stand up to the Nazis, during World War II. The lesson could be used to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th, or at any other time of the year.

The lesson starts with a couple of lead-in discussion questions and then students watch a short trailer for a film about Sophie Scholl. Note that the film is in German with English subtitles. In this lesson the video is only used as a lead-in, the main input is in a reading text.

After watching the video, the students read the text to check their ideas. They then carry out an exam style note completion task, before matching some possibly unknown words in the text with their definitions.

The lesson is aimed at B2/C1 students.

To round up there is a final discussion task.

sophie scholl lesson plan

Download lesson plan PDF here: elt resourceful – Sophie Scholl and The White Rose

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What not to say to someone who stammers

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In this lesson plan designed for the British Council Teaching English site, students read a  first-person account by a person who stammers, about how he would prefer people to respond when he does so. After some discussion about the topic, the lesson goes on to focus on some different grammatical structures to express preference and sometimes annoyance: would rather/sooner, would prefer, wish. There is some practice using sentence transformation (as found in FCE) and then some more personalised practice.

Aims:

  • To help students understand more about stammering and how (not) to respond when someone stammers
  • To practise reading for specific information
  • To be able to use a range of structures for expressing preference and/or annoyance: would prefer, would sooner, would rather, wish.

Age:

Adults and older teenagers

Level:

CEF level B1+/B2 (especially useful for Cambridge First Certificate preparation)

Time:

45 minutes

Materials:

The lesson plan and student worksheets can be found and downloaded here

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Using your brain: what neuroscience can teach us about learning

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Considering that our brains are the key tool for learning, it is surprising how rarely teacher education focuses on neuroscience. Education is full of vague statements about only using 10% of our brains, or using the right or left brain, or being a kinaesthetic learner, but are these really based in science?

Friday 5th October 2018 is World Teacher’s Day and to celebrate I presented a free webinar as part of the British Council’s 5 on 5. In my session we looked at what recent research has to tell us about learning, looking specifically at motivation and memory, and how to apply these findings in the classroom to help students learn more easily and effectively.

You can watch a recording of the webinar here

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Filed under classroom ideas, memory, motivation, neuroscience, Working with groups

Changing ideas of beauty

Winnie_Harlow_Cannes_2018

In this lesson plan designed for the British Council Teaching English site, we explore the topic of vitiligo, an autoimmune condition which causes some people to lose pigment in their skin, and look at how attitudes are changing towards what does or does not make someone attractive.

This lesson was devised to mark World Vitiligo Day on 25 June. However, it could be used at any time of year as this is not specifically mentioned.

The lesson begins with students looking at a photo of a young woman with vitiligo and discussing their reactions to the photo. They then go on to read about a model with vitiligo, Chantelle Brown-Young (also known as Winnie Harlow- pictured above), and discover what makes her special. The lesson reviews a range of tenses that might be used in a biography of a living person and looks at how to organise such a text, before the students go on to write their own.

Aims:

  • To encourage students to question their perception of what is beautiful and become more tolerant of difference
  • To practise reading for specific information (true/false)
  • To revise a range of tenses that students should know at B1 level
  • To help students structure and write a biography-type text

Age:

Adults/older teenagers

Level:

CEF Level B1 (intermediate) or strong A2 (pre-intermediate)

Time:

45-60 minutes

Materials:

Teachers notes and student worksheets can be downloaded here.

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Filed under Downloadable lesson materials, Reading, Writing