We faced a persistent problem in the classroom, where children stated that they had met the success criteria at the end of a lesson but struggled to articulate the skills used to achieve success or to talk about their learning in detail. The main aim of this project was to address this by creating a powerful learning environment with an ethos of deeper thinking and discussion. We would use a learning journey wall to achieve this, using growth mindset language to also develop children’s resilience toward learning. The wall would be utilised during a specific group of lessons in one curricular area (science), to help assess the impact. However, the hope was that the wall would increase engagement and attainment across all curricular areas, as children’s attitude to the learning process would have improved.
The project was successful in meeting some of the intended aims. Students still struggled to communicate clearly any understanding they had obtained from a lesson. However, they were able to articulate the skills used in their learning and have deeper discussion within the classroom about the process of learning, rather than the end goal.
The project centred on the use of a learning journey wall. This wall had two main components; emoji check in and questions (framed in growth mindset language). Whilst aspects of the wall worked extremely well, there were aspects that, if repeated, we would adjust. The wall ended up serving a different purpose than originally intended, which made it tricky to ensure the aim and impact of the project were adequately measured.
Growth mindset questions
At the beginning, middle and end of the series of science lessons, the children were asked specific questions which were intended to reinforce prior learning and promote deeper thinking. This is one area where the project thrived. Originally, it was intended that the wall would reflect the children’s learning journey. However, as the project unfolded, it became clear that the wall was more of a discussion tool which enabled teacher and pupils to engage in rich, meaningful dialogue about the process of their learning and the skills used. By using growth mindset questions, this language became a regular feature within the classroom and the children showed greater understanding of the concept and were more resilient when faced with problems or challenging new learning.
Originally, it was hoped that the emoji responses would reflect children’s’ feelings toward the learning that had taken place that week. Throughout the project, some children were able to record their feelings about their learning using the emojis, but others used the emoji check in to highlight other issues that were bothering them in the classroom. In this respect, the project did not fully meet its original aim. However, this was an enlightening outcome and children did show an improved attitude to their learning.
The project was intended to run for five weeks and was structured to avoid any clashes with external events. Weeks one and two went to plan, and adequate pre-evidence was gathered as lessons started. As the project entered week three, we hit the festive period and this meant that some of the lessons were either completed over several days rather than the one day, or not completed at all. As such, the children were not exposed to the language of growth mindset as much as originally intended and they were not as familiar with the learning journey wall as hoped. Whilst the project was still completed within the five weeks, additional time might have led to different results. As Groundwater-Smith and Dodds (2005) state, time restrictions placed on enquiries can mean that evidence gathering is sped up and this may not result in the practitioner gathering the best or most reliable evidence.
Whilst most of the project went as planned, we decided not to use one aspect of the learning journey wall in the form of ‘unstuck prompts’. These were intended to encourage independence and resilience when facing new tasks, and to make ‘ask the teacher’ a last-ditch strategy for the children. As this project was aimed at a group of primary one children, the prompts were found to be too advanced and were taken off the learning journey wall. They were, however, used to good effect in other curricular areas such as literacy and numeracy.
Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) claim that in order for teachers to gain expertise they have to use research, inquiry and reflection as part of their everyday skill. Completing this project has had many benefits, including strengthening teacher confidence when teaching science. The project has also impacted on the children and overall ethos of the classroom as follows.
As a result of this project, the children were able to articulate skills used in their learning with confidence. Despite being in P1, they were able to successfully demonstrate inquiry and investigative skills such as predicting, observing and working together to carry out practical activities or to present information. The children were becoming confident when communicating their findings to others and were able to self and peer assess using the success criteria given at the start of the lesson. The range of answers given were vastly improved upon as the project progressed and the children were aware that it was not only the end product of the lesson that mattered, but also how they got to that point. These improvements have transferred to several other curricular areas, such as literacy and numeracy, where children are challenging themselves in their learning. After the project, the children showed increased independence in their learning and took greater ownership and responsibility for tasks completed.
Throughout this project, the children were exposed to the idea of growth mindset, and it has become part of our classroom ethos. Children understand that it is great to make a mistake and learn from it. They are willing to take on new learning and challenges, to have a go at something that might have previously scared them. Furthermore, the children were able to support each other in their learning and were encouraging their peers to succeed, often helping them if need be.
This project also led to increased teacher confidence, not only in teaching science but in developing an engaging and inclusive classroom. By using the learning journey wall as a focus and discussion point for the lessons, they all had the same structure and captured the children’s thoughts and ideas. We learned that it was possible to have a classroom that felt inclusive for all children, where their individual needs were met, and they all received rich learning experiences. Using the learning journey wall supported us to enable all children to experience appropriate support and challenge, and allowed the teacher to model the use of growth mindset language and how skills used to complete learning could be discussed and used in all curricular areas.
This project has had a profound impact on the students who took part. Whilst we didn’t fully meet the original intention of helping students clearly communicate the skills and understanding they have obtained from a lesson, it was successful in creating an ethos of growth mindset within the classroom.
At the outset, we conducted an attitude lesson where all students were invited to discuss what ‘being stuck’ meant to them and to describe how they felt when they were struggling with a task in the classroom. From this lesson, it was evident that the children associated being stuck with negative feelings such as anger, sadness, or shame. As a class, the children decided on strategies and unstuck prompts they could use to help them when the learning was challenging. Pre-project observations of children completing tasks or engaging with activities during free play, also showed that the majority of children stayed away from activities they found too difficult or required additional support from their peers or teacher.
During the project
The learning journey wall was a fantastic visual prompt for all lessons within the project. Not only did it include prior learning which enhanced starter and plenary discussions, it also included thought-provoking questions which furthered children’s thinking and understanding of concepts covered.
The emoji check in at the end of each lesson was an aspect of the project that did not work as intended. Some children could identify how they felt about the learning. For example, one child identified as ‘amber’ because she could not remember the word ‘friction’ and was aware that she required further teaching on the issue. However, other children used the emoji check in to discuss with the teacher an incident that happened at playtime. This might have been due to the age of the children who were only four and five years old.
The attitude lesson was repeated at the end of the project, and it was interesting to note the slight difference in the children’s answers. Whilst some still associated being stuck with negative attitudes, there were more children who knew that being stuck was a good thing and it meant that they were learning and improving on their skills.
The main change came in the use of growth mindset language within the classroom. Children were eager to work on personal goals, knowing that whilst they can’t do something yet, it does not mean they will never be able to. The students in the class are willing to take on new challenges and show an eagerness to learn and push themselves.
Overall, this project has been invaluable to changing children’s attitudes towards learning and their independence. As such, the use of the learning journey wall will be rolled out across the school to ensure coherence of growth mindset language and encouragement of independent learners at all stages within the school.
The learning journey wall, including emoji check in, is shown below.
On completion, the project was shared with all Early Level colleagues at a staff meeting. This presentation allowed all staff to share their views on the project and review the findings. The overall feedback was that the project had a good, intended aim but this was perhaps hard to measure with a Primary 1 class. This feedback was welcomed and appreciated, and it was acknowledged that the emoji check-in in particular did not work as well with these pupils. All staff agreed that the use of the unstuck prompts was a good idea to encourage independent learning within Early Years as often children can become reliant on one-to-one adult support to complete tasks or attempt new activities. Some staff commented on the effectiveness of the wall as the basis of starter and plenary discussions, as it gave a visual reminder to the children of what they had learned in previous lessons. All staff were keen to implement the learning journey wall into their own classroom.
As this project has been successful in meeting some of the intended aims, the next step is to continue with the project over a longer period to see if the results differ. The learning journey wall proved to be such a success and provided an excellent discussion point for the whole of the science topic. This approach will be used for further topics across the curriculum, giving children a visual reminder of the work already completed and encouraging rich discussion about skills and prior learning experiences.
Whilst the unstuck prompts were removed from the wall during this project, they proved to be a vital tool in promoting independent learning within curricular areas such as literacy and numeracy. Once the children have used the unstuck prompts for longer within these curricular areas, it would be beneficial to incorporate them across the curriculum.
Overall, the results of the project have been shared widely with colleagues across the school and the learning journey walls are to be adapted and used in each classroom. This will allow consistent mindset language throughout the school as each class will be using the same question templates. We hope this supports children to be aware of expectations and encouraged to be resilient and independent learners at all times.