Category Archives: Teaching methodology

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

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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Filed under classroom management, motivation, neuroscience, Speaking, Teaching methodology

Mindfulness, mental set and classroom management

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Most spiders have four pairs of eyes, which enable them to see what is happening all around them. And most teachers can only wish they had the same ability.

Good teachers do appear to have ‘eyes in the back of their heads’ though. They seem able to sense not just when a student is confused or off task, but even the moment before they are about to go off-task. This ability is sometimes referred to as ‘with-it-ness’, a term coined by the educationalist, Jacob Kounin (1977). Through observing many different classes, Kounin came to the conclusion that the most effective teachers were able to pick up on quite subtle changes in their students’ emotions and behaviour and respond quickly and effectively.

More recently, Robert Marzano (2003) wrote a summary of more than 100 experiments designed to find out which classroom management techniques caused the biggest decrease in disruptions. He looked at explaining and negotiating rules, relationships between teachers and students, rewards and punishments and what he called ‘mental set’. This last was a combination of awareness, or with-it-ness, and a conscious control over how the teacher responded to a disruption.

He found that, by quite some margin, mental set had the biggest positive effect, reducing the number of disruptions by 40%.

What Marzano refers to as mental set could equally well be called mindful awareness, meaning that a more mindful teacher can expect a considerably less disruptive classroom, and by extension, his or her students can expect to do better overall.

Kounin, Jacob S. (1977) Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. Huntington, N. Y
Marzano, R (2003) What works in schools: translating research into action, ASCD

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

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Filed under classroom management, mental set, mindfulness, Teaching methodology, Uncategorized, Working with groups

Climbing above the teaching plateau

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How can we continue to challenge ourselves and grow as teachers? In my latest post for the British Council Teaching English site, I suggest ten questions that could help you climb above the teaching plateau.

Read the article here.

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Tips and techniques for CELTA teaching practice

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I’m an advocate for CELTA. It isn’t perfect, and you certainly can’t consider the job finished when you pass, but in my experience it’s an excellent way to pick up a lot of skills quickly.

The intensive course is just that- intensive. In fact, I once had a trainee who’d been in the SAS, who said CELTA was harder. But whether you’re doing the intensive course, an online or blended or part-time course, there are a lot of things to learn. In fact,

‘Being a new teacher is like trying to fly an airplane while building it.’
Rick Smith, Conscious Classroom Management, 2004, p.44

With this in mind, I’ve just produced my first self-published book, with the-round.com . It’s called the CELTA Teaching Compendium. A compendium is ‘a detailed collection of information on a particular subject, especially in a short book’ (Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners) and in this particular compendium, I’ve set out to provide a quick, easy reference to all the key practical teaching skills taught in CELTA.

If you’re a trainee, you could think of it as being like having your CELTA teaching practice tutor available for questions any time of the day or night. If you’re a CELTA tutor, you could recommend sections to read, either as follow-up to your feedback, or in preparation for teaching practice.

The contents are listed alphabetically, so that the reader can dip in and out. Whenever another key skill is cross-referenced, there’s a link to take you to that section.

Clearly there’s in fact no ‘right’ way to teach. However, the suggestions and tips in this book are based on years of teaching and training teachers. I was also lucky enough to get feedback and further suggestions from a very kind group of CELTA tutors: Ricardo Barros, Viacheslav Kushnir, Anthony Gaughan, Natalia Ladygina, Marie Pettigrew and Zach Pinson.

You can see it on the round here, and the book is available for purchase at $4.99/£4.19 on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Smashwords. I hope you find it useful, and I’d be delighted to get any feedback or the offer of a review.

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21st Century skills

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21st century skills is a term that everyone seems to be talking about, yet no-one seems entirely sure what exactly it means. Or rather, everyone interprets it slightly differently. In my latest blog post for the British Council, I look at the skills the World Economic Forum predicts are/will soon be needed in the workplace, and how we can help our students to develop these skills, without completely changing what we are doing already.

 

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