The project aim was to raise attainment by using Retrieval Practice and growth mindset strategies to boost confidence among pupils. This was to be achieved by embedding a mistake-making culture within the class and by incorporating growth mindset beliefs and behaviours into the classroom routine, teaching practice and feedback. The hope was that this would give pupils the confidence to try more difficult tasks and help them build life skills that were transferable. We realised that embedding Retrieval Practice into lessons, would also help to build confidence and reduce the pressure of pupils making a mistake in front of the class.
Given the small window allocated to the project, it was difficult to change pupils full mindset. However, there have been positive steps towards achieving the aim. We found that pupils were eager to try different tasks and were more engaged in the learning environment, attempting to answer out loud in class and share their thoughts with others. This indicated growing confidence in their own ability and that pupils were not afraid to make a mistake. Overall, the project surpassed expectations, as we did not anticipate the pupils getting as involved in the activities as much as they did. Pupils feedback on the project told us that “they felt more organised” and “more confident” and that it had a positive impact overall.
If we repeated this project, we would run it for longer to give more time to change pupil’s mindsets. We would also target a full class, as opposed to a small group of pupils. That said, doing the project as a class with target pupils in mind, kept the focus of the project quite narrow which was a good starting point.
We were able to stay within the timeline of the project, albeit some pupils missed some inputs due to absences and Covid. This caused a slight delay overall, but the project milestones were still met. The pupils continued to work online, and they still submitted their work. This allowed us to plan coherently and focus on the next steps for the project.
There were minimal changes made to the project plan. The order of some activities was changed to suit pupils who were absent, but this had no overall impact on the project aims. The start date coincided with senior pupils going on exam leave, such that there was a short window of opportunity to run the project.
This project had a positive impact upon pupils. They seemed more engaged with their work and willing to try different types of questions. Pupils had more confidence in their work and a sense of pride. The mistake-making culture built in the class created a buffer for pupils, so they were not afraid to participate. By incorporating different strategies and giving pupils a choice of activities, such as to work collaboratively (e.g., cops and robbers) or individually (e.g., brain dump), pupils had more ownership of their work and tended to put more effort in.
The Google questionnaire and the Olympic style questions formed our baseline data. After reviewing all the activities, pupils completed another questionnaire. The results showed that more pupils (especially the target pupils) answered the gold questions after the project, showing an increase in confidence and resilience. This highlighted that the mistake-making culture in the classroom had been successful, encouraging the pupils to attempt more challenging questions using skills they had learned.
The pre-survey showed that pupils were most worried about making a mistake in front of their peers and did not feel confident in class. We believed that “errors invite opportunities. They should not be seen as embarrassments, signs of failure, or something to be avoided. They are exciting, because they indicate a tension between what we now know and what we could know; they are signs of opportunities to learn and they are to be embraced”. (J Hattie, 2011). We felt that if pupils were at ease making mistakes in class, then they would naturally feel more confident. We used the Retrieval Practice strategies to help with this; “the act of recalling learned information from memory (with little or no support) and every time that information is retrieved, or an answer is generated, it changes the original memory to make it stronger” (K. Jones 2019).
The project has had a positive impact. The pre-assessment showed that pupils were less inclined to attempt the gold questions and did not understand the benefits of Retrieval Practice. The post-questionnaire showed pupils had a better understanding of Retrieval Practice and had the confidence to attempt gold style questions. The graphs below show this and the difference in pupils attempting the different level of questions, with bronze less challenging and gold the most. More pupils attempted the more challenging questions after the project, with the pupil who still opted for the bronze question having missed a considerable amount of the project sessions due to Covid. Pupils were also more confident in attempting the harder questions, as they were aware that making mistakes was not a failure and there were processes in place (like the revision clocks and other Retrieval Practice strategies) to ensure they did not make the same mistake twice. Pupils responded well, and felt most confident, using the revision clock (one of the strategies) as it helped them organise their notes and made it easier to recall information.
Post-survey, pupils also felt more empowered and understood the benefits of using Retrieval Practice. Pupils saw these activities used throughout the school and this supported pupils to feel more confident sharing answers with their peers. Those pupils who were not as confident answering in class, were absent during the project due to Covid. By continuing to build this mistake-making culture in class after the project, we hope that these pupils will also build their confidence in time.
Overall, pupil’s feedback from our questionnaires stated that they were “feeling more organised” and “having more confidence” in their classwork. Having the different Retrieval Practice strategies built into the lessons (see the range used below) has increased confidence in pupils.
Pupils got to choose which of the Retrieval Practice activities they would complete. Examples of some of the strategies is shown below. The picture prompt allowed pupils to describe the picture that linked to an exam question. The revision clock was used to gather all the main points for the topic. The third strategy was the brain dump, which was a good lesson starter where pupils wrote as much of the topic they remembered. This built a good foundation of knowledge and allowed pupils to access their knowledge quickly. The fourth strategy was trivial pursuit which condensed pupil's knowledge and gave them the confidence to answer all the Olympic style questions.
Colleagues fed back that the activities used in the project were very varied and could be adapted to different subjects. Other departments have started to use Retrieval Practice. The biology department observed one of our lessons to explore the different ways you can incorporate mistake-making culture into class. One strategy, the rubix cube, gets pupils to unjumble keywords from a topic and transfer them to the correct heading. The example below is from the music department, after they had observed the project class.
We also had a classroom visit from the history department, to showcase the project in action. During the lesson, we used a roadmap activity to allow the students to build on the mistakes they had made in the previous lesson. This let pupils identify which knowledge points lost them marks and helped them avoid making the same mistake twice. Below is an example where the history department tried to incorporate this strategy into their own lesson.
Next, we are going to showcase the project to the whole school during a CPD session. We have built an interactive poster (see below), breaking down the project and highlighting how straightforward embedding growth mindset in a classroom can be. Growth mindset is also now part of the whole school development plan which supports us to run this project with a different class in the new session, as well as ensuring the learnings are embedded within our department.
This project has also impacted teaching practice, encouraging more reflection and evidence gathering. The resources built during the project can also be used in future for all different learners, as pupils are able to work collaboratively and support each other, feel supported and formulate next steps in learning.