When new COVID-19 measures at her school led to a 20% reduction in contact time with her pupils, A mindset champion from Banff Academy worried that her pupils’ passion for science might suffer. So she employed growth mindset techniques, in tandem with an approach called flipped learning, to maintain their interest. Rather than teaching her pupils all together in the classroom, Chris encouraged them to do the initial subject learning at home. The principles of growth mindset proved essential for making sure they stayed on track when learning independently. And soon after implementing her new strategy, the mindset champion noticed a clear difference in their willingness to learn unassisted.
The overall aim of the project was to increase participation and engagement by building pupil confidence in and responsibility for their own learning through a flipped approach that encourages creativity, curiosity and challenging yourself through a digital platform.
Following their return from a second lockdown in August 2020, the pupils faced a significant change to their regular timetables.
“The school decided to reduce the traditional six periods each day to three much longer periods. There’s 950 pupils at Banff, so the idea of longer periods was to reduce the amount of potential contact time in the hallways in-between periods, and so limit infection. In a normal school week I would have my senior classes for the five periods lasting 50 minutes, or 250 minutes, but under the new system, I only had them for two periods of 100 minutes each - that’s 50 minutes less each week. Biology is a particularly knowledge-heavy subject - there’s a lot to get through. So I was worried that losing that 50 minutes a week just wouldn’t work.
But there was a potential upside of having pupils for longer class durations. A 50 minute period is not a long time to drill down into a subject, which is a frustration for many teachers - you really want more concerted time to get into a topic, so you’re not always getting caught by the bell."
The normal teaching method is to relay the information to your pupils together in the classroom, before using homework to consolidate this learning. In flipped learning, this is reversed: the pupils approach the learning at home on their own, or in class. Getting pupils to discover the material by themselves at home would also be really key if we had to lock-down again, which was a concern.
The principles of growth mindset are crucial if you’re asking pupils to prepare for classes at home. They have to learn how to manage setbacks when they don’t understand things. It’s about encouraging people to take responsibility for their own learning, and to move away from the idea of ‘Well I’m not in school so I’m not going to work’. Learning independently across your lifetime is such a vital skill.
The project utilised videos online for pupils to delve into the subject matter with the mindset champion embracing this by linking them into her own teaching notes. For example, S3 pupils were asked to read the notes their teacher (mindset champion) had provided, before answering questions on an online portal to make sure they understood the material.
“Next we encourage them to get creative. So for example, if they’re learning about the eye, we might get them to make a pinhole camera. If some pupils are really getting the material, there are lots of additional resources for them to fuel their curiosity. If they’re done learning about normal DNA, they can go on to learn about three strand or four-stranded DNA. They can present their learning in an essay, PowerPoint, video or song, even an interpretative dance if they like, although no one has done the dance yet! If they’re really getting the material and want more stimulation, there are harder problem-solving questions - they can learn as deeply as they want, at their own pace. Growth mindset is really important for stimulating that curiosity and helping them deal with setbacks.”
I feel that I have achieved the aim of my project. In general, pupils are more confident in their learning, more open to being curious about other areas of the subject and more responsible for their own learning. They are also much more open to trying something, even if they think they might fail - treating this as an opportunity to learn.
Although some were hesitant at first, most pupils have come to appreciate the benefits of this classroom model and are able to describe the skills and attributes that they have been able to develop as a result.
If I were starting again, I would possibly create more opportunities to let pupils learn independently, and self-sufficiently. As a result of some learning conversations with pupils, I added a direct instruction portion to my lessons that I hadn't planned to because they asked me to - this meant that the pupils still had a degree of reliance on me that I had hoped to reduce as part of this project. If I could go back in time I would have done this differently, possibly by trying to support my pupils in finding other ways of learning that worked for them.
I was able to stick to my timelines.
Due to the nature of the learning model I was using and the digital platform that was hosting the lesson materials, we were able to transition to remote learning seamlessly as the way pupils were actually working had changed very little (apart from their location).
Pupils accessed materials at home rather than in class during remote learning due to the national lockdown in early 2021.
Correspondence with pupils was carried out over email or teams rather than face to face - this made ad hoc learning conversations difficult to achieve during the period of remote learning.
The biggest winners of this approach appeared to be the lower-achieving pupils “Those pupils actually loved it, because they felt they weren’t holding the rest of the class back. They could go at their own pace. The growth mindset techniques teach them that their learning is fluid and they can evolve over time.”
The results also highlighted a surprise, with some pupils at the top of the class struggling
“The pupils whose comprehension was high liked being spoon fed, they had a need for the teacher to be the gatekeeper, and being able to access this stuff on their own was harder work for them. ‘I learn better when you teach it,’ was a common sentiment. My response was to start giving them mini-lectures in the classroom again, scribbling on the white board and talking to them, to show they were being listened to.”
But pupils learning at their own pace was certainly more challenging for the mindset champion in the classroom.
“In previous years, I would come to class knowing I was teaching cell-structure. But because everyone is at different places, I can be talking about cell structure, then evolution, then DNA. So my knowledge base has to be excellent. I am seven years into my career, so I’m confident in my ability to teach the syllabus. So I thought it was a good time to try something new.”
The pupils have to regularly answer questions about the source material with the mindset champion making sure they answer at least 90% correctly, even if that means returning to the questions multiple times.
“This means there is a lot more marking for me to do, but it helps the development of a growth mindset, because they have to keep returning to the material again and again until they truly understand it. But I do my utmost not to do any of that marking in class. During class time, you always want to be walking around, giving support, seeing where they’re at, talking through things, being present, so they feel supported.”
A survey of pupils that took part in Chris’s new system has been overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of pupils feeling they benefited from the new independent learning techniques.
“Some of my colleagues told me they saw a clear improvement in their own classrooms from many of my pupils who had been schooled in growth mindset, particularly those who had previously been reluctant to get out their textbooks and start the class. It has really given so many pupils a renewed vigour for learning.”
As a result of this intervention, students feel more able to take on responsibility for their learning:
These results are from the survey carried out in February. Comments from students are mainly positive.
Pupils in S3 show the greatest increase in their confidence and sense or responsibility, as well as their opinion of how well they did in Biology. I think part of this is connected to the fact that they are still in the BGE at this stage, and haven't yet got used to being spoon fed content by a teacher so were more open to doing things for them selves.
These responses show that pupils are starting to develop a self-directed learning culture and will be able to build on this as they progress through the school.
Pupils involved in this project have become more confident and responsible for their learning, not just in Biology, but across the school.
Discussions with colleagues in other faculties have shown that pupils that are taught by me are more likely to be prepared for class, get started on tasks without prompt from the teacher, more likely to ask for support and attempt challenging questions than they would have been in the past.
These pupils are more prepared for the self-directed learning culture that is being promoted in the school and are more able to reflect on their own learning and make steps to improve it.
Across the project the number of pupils that would say they had a growth mindset increased from 57% in August to 79% in February in the S3 classes, and from 30% to 69% in the senior phase classes.
By developing a growth mindset, these pupils are better equipped for all of their learning in future, positively impacting the school.
Feedback from pupils included:
Senior Phase Impact
Feedback from pupils included:
I would like to take this model further by moving to an asynchronous flipped learning model, where pupils are able to progress at their own pace, showing mastery before moving on to the next topic. To complement this, I would like to add a journaling element to support pupils in monitoring, reflecting on and motivating their learning.
I am also scheduled to lead staff CLPL sessions to share my experiences with flipped learning, and support colleagues in implementing it in their own classrooms to help promote a growth mindset across the school.
“We have over 60 teachers at Banff, and my approach isn’t common, but I’m hopeful that will change. This approach does put a lot of onus on the teacher to prepare the online materials for the pupils to do at home. But the good news is that once it’s up there, you can use it year after year, and the results speak for themselves. Ultimately we want to produce pupils who are confident and curious in their learning - and that’s what
growth mindset does.”