Category Archives: motivation

Developing Teachers with a Growth Mindset

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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’?

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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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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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A little bit of pressure does you good?

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Speaking in English is something that many students find stressful or anxiety provoking. They can fear making mistakes, failing to understand the person they’re speaking too, or simply drying up. So shouldn’t we try to make speaking activities as stress free as possible?

There are certainly benefits to making sure students are well prepared, that they have the necessary language, that they have a clear idea of what the task demands. However, there are also some good arguments for not trying to remove all stress, and even adding some pressure at times

Read the rest of the article here

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Motivating your students to go beyond the intermediate plateau

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Every teacher recognises the concept of the intermediate plateau.

Students at intermediate, or upper intermediate level start to feel that they aren’t making real progress anymore. They just don’t feel as if they’re getting significantly better, despite putting in plenty of hard work.

Feeling this way can be pretty de-motivating and it’s one of the key reasons why learners often give up at this stage.

In this post for the British Council Teaching English site, I explore how recent findings in neuroscience can help us motivate our learners to go beyond the plateau.

Click here to read more.

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Motivating adults with truly grown-up content

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Our approach to adult learners needs to be quite different from teaching younger learners, and even teenagers. In my post for OUPELTGlobalblog.com, here, I look at how we can use the life experience of adults to provide more motivating and engaging lessons.

I also recently presented at BESIG in Munich on how the principles of adult learning, or andragogy, can be applied to teaching Business English, especially as the skills required in the workplace change so rapidly.

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Mindfulness and Classroom Management

A link has been doing the rounds on Facebook, entitled ‘This school replaced detention with meditation- the results are stunning’. According to the article, there have been zero suspensions since they started the programme. There’s no hard proof the two things are connected of course, but I strongly suspect they are.

Meditation is a form of mindfulness, and being mindful makes it pretty much impossible for situations to escalate and get out of hand. This video does a very good job, I think, of explaining exactly what mindfulness is.(Also see my post here https://wordpress.com/post/elt-resourceful.com/1361)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6T02g5hnT4&w=560&h=315]

Mindfulness is not about not feeling emotions, but about being aware of what we’re feeling, and noticing it, rather than being dragged along by our emotions. I’d suggest that the students described in the article above became more aware of their emotions and thus less likely to get into situations which would ultimately lead to suspensions. And it’s just as important for teachers to develop mindfulness if they want to avoid problems and confrontations in the classroom.

Don’t sleepwalk into trouble.

The opposite of mindfulness is a kind of sleepwalking. We’re not really awake to what is happening, pre-occupied with other concerns. Sometimes we set ourselves up for classroom management problems by sleepwalking our way through the planning process. (This is understandable when many of us are planning at 9pm the night before!). But it is important to be mindful about certain key aspects of planning:

1 How are you going to group the students? Are there students that you think would work better (not) in particular groups? Think about how to re-arrange them quickly and easily.

2 What are you going to do to grab the students’ attention right from the start?

3 What will you do about early finishers? Will you stop everyone once the first few have finished, or do you have some extra activities up your sleeve? (These can usually be simple variations on the task, rather than having to plan lots of extra things to do)

4 If you have any complicated, multi-step activities, think about how you are going to set them up in advance.

Once you are teaching the lesson, you also need to stay ‘awake’. Good teachers (or at least teachers that don’t have chaotic stressful classes) are fully conscious and aware of what is going on in all corners of the classroom. As soon as you sense that some students are starting to lose concentration (perhaps the noise level is starting to rise), you need to change something. You might, for example, move onto the next activity if appropriate, or change partners, or get students to compare their answers.

Mindfulness traditions sometimes talk about the ‘monkey mind’. This is the part of our mind which chatters away non-stop. Try to notice and catch yourself when you start thinking about what to cook for dinner, or what the head teacher said to you before the lesson, or how worried you are that the students aren’t learning anything/are finding it boring etc. You don’t need to try and get the monkey to shut up (it won’t), but just notice it and detach from it so that you can focus on what is happening in your class right now.

This is particularly important when a student does or says something that upsets you, and you start to feel angry or panicked.  Just as in the video above, our first instinct is probably to go with the emotion, and start shouting, or throw the student out of class. But if a student makes us angry, it has to be because what they are saying or doing is hooking into something deep down inside ourselves. For example, that we aren’t good enough.

Some incidents of misbehaviour will just make us roll our eyes, or even laugh (inwardly), while others will really upset us. And even quite serious misbehaviour won’t necessarily make us angry, though we might well respond with a punishment.  But when our emotions are triggered, that’s a clear sign that this is setting off something negative that we believe about ourselves. Once you’ve recognised that, it’s easier to let the emotion go, and deal with the situation rationally and mindfully. You don’t have a choice about what emotions you feel, they just happen, like sneezing or blushing, but you do have a choice about what you do or say when you feel an emotion.

Reams have been written about classroom management, and good tips are always useful, but the very best overall advice we can all take, I think, is to ‘wake up’ and be more mindful.

 

Other posts about mindfulness:

Mindfulness for students (with no tibetan bells or yoga)

Mindfulness for teachers

If you’re interested in mindfulness, check out my new website, www.life-resourceful.com

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In praise of praise?

How much do you praise students? Are you one of those teachers who automatically responds ‘good’ to any utterance, even if it’s actually hopelessly wrong or impossible to follow? Or do you believe in only praising very infrequently if at all, so that any praise is really valued? Probably, like me, you’re somewhere in the middle.

But have you actually made conscious decisions about how much praise to give, what kind of praise to give and when?

Most people are aware that praise which is perceived as not really having been earned, could have a negative effect.  If it’s just a reflex, students will cease to really listen to it. There is also some evidence that  too much praise can ‘convey a message of low expectations’ for low achievers, and even make stronger students less willing to take risks

So praise does have to be genuine, and it’s also important to think about what and how we praise. General praise (e.g. good job, well done) is, according to many researchers (Brophy, 1981; Gable et al. 2009; Hattie & Timperley 2007; Kalis, Vannest, & Parker 2007; Lannie, & McCurdy, 2007; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2005- cited in Burnett and Mandel) not very effective. That makes sense to me because I think we all need to know what exactly we have done well, if we are to learn from the praise.

Most researchers agree that praise aimed at the students’ work is likely to be more effective than praise aimed at the student’s ability. So, saying ‘you are very good at spelling’ is not as effective as saying, ‘You worked hard and learnt all ten spellings really well,’  One reason for this is because students may come to believe that they cannot change what they are naturally good (or not good) at. It also means that those students who are not naturally good at something are unlikely to receive much praise, which is demotivating. (That said, if a student is actually very capable but lacks self-confidence, it can be helpful to praise their ability.)

The important thing, I would suggest, is that praise is specific, and a form of feedback, rather than a way of being ‘nice’.  Geoff Petty, a UK based teacher trainer in mainstream education (not ELT) talks about ‘medal and mission’ feedback.

A ‘medal’ is specific information about what a student has done well. So, in a writing task, for example, you might say ‘You have a very clear introduction and conclusion.’. A ‘mission’  is a specific piece of feedback about something that the student needs to improve. For example, ‘you need to make sure that each paragraph has one main idea’

There is, of course, much more to ‘medal and mission’ than just praise, but thinking of praise in terms of medals for specific achievements is helpful I think.

However, and it’s a big however, some researchers have found that praise of any sort can have at best a neutral effect, and at worst a negative effect.  Various pieces of research quoted in this article concluded that praise had very little positive effect and Skipper and Douglas found that praising ability actually had a negative effect (while praising effort had no effect at all).

My gut feeling and experience (as a learner and teacher) still tells me that specific and carefully thought out praise does have a positive effect on most students. So, what do you think? Is it different for different students? Does it make a difference what kind of praise it is, or when or how it is given? Comments very welcome.

 

Further reading

http://www.learningspy.co.uk/behaviour/praise-counterproductive/

http://geoffpetty.com/for-teachers/feedback-and-questions/

http://www.interventioncentral.org/behavioral-interventions/motivation/teacher-praise-efficient-tool-motivate-students

 

 

 

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Motivation

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How can we motivate our students, and ourselves? In my latest blog post for British Council Teaching English, I look at what motivates me, and how that might relate to more general theories of motivation.

Read the post here.

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/23743320@N03/5799251814/”>Sangudo</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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