The aim of the project was to ascertain the understanding that both pupils and staff had towards the concept of learning and performance in school environments. We wanted to facilitate discussion with an S3 English class on when pupils viewed their work as ‘purely learning’ and when they should be ‘performing’. This discussion would lead onto teaching pupils more about growth mindset, neural pathways, how to face challenge and make mistakes part of their learning. We wanted to gather some data from staff to present to pupils as part of the project, and feedback on the project to the collegiate learning group (CLG). The overall aim was to continue to develop learning resilience in pupils and to establish if this was a development area for the whole school.
The project was delivered as a series of tasks and lessons where growth mindset concepts were introduced, and specific tasks were created to ascertain pupils’ understanding of learning and performance zones. The first step was to ask pupils to pick from a set of tasks, those that they considered to be ‘demonstrating their learning,’ which could include time in or outwith school (e.g., sports clubs). The class produced a list of about 80 tasks that they considered ‘showing learning’ or classroom tasks, for example, giving group presentations, completing practice questions, using show me boards etc. Next, pupils categorised these tasks as ‘learning’ or ‘performing’ tasks, after only a brief discussion on what this might mean. They were also asked to share what they knew of learning and performance zones and growth mindset. We then used this information to create four distinct lessons – 1. Introduction to growth mindset, 2. Learning zones versus performance zones, 3. Challenge and 4. Mistakes. Starter tasks were used in between these lessons, to encourage pupils to scrutinise the concept of learning versus performance. The final stage was to re-do the initial step of dividing tasks into learning or performance, using their new knowledge of growth mindset.
We had anticipated that pupils would categorise most of their learning tasks as ‘performance zones’, and they did. Staff data, however, showed that staff did not view most learning tasks in the same way as the pupils, with a stronger focus on learning as opposed to performing. We presented the staff data to pupils. After the growth mindset lessons had taken place, the pupils re-did the sorting task. This second set of data showed a shift in pupil thinking, with most changing their view of the initial tasks as now falling into the learning zone. Staff perception may have partly influenced this, but it was clear from survey comments that the ideas of challenge and mistake making influenced their thinking.
Overall, we believe the main aims of the project were achieved. We wanted pupils to understand the difference between learning and performance, and to be able to apply this to their own learning. We also wanted pupils to be more aware of growth mindset concepts and to apply these to their learning in class. We had hoped that a shift in thinking would take place as pupils considered what it really meant to be ‘learning’ in class. We saw evidence for all of this.
Due to staff absence and student teachers taking the class, the timeline of the project had to change dramatically. The project, although completed, felt rushed towards the end and some genuine opportunities for further discussion and class engagement were lost. The timelines for the work of the staff collegiate groups went beyond the project deadline, which constrained our ability to fully incorporate their inputs. Overall, we would have preferred to do more work on this over a longer period (especially around challenge and making mistakes), to see sustained change or progress.
There were two main changes made to the project plan after it started. First, the project was planned to initially take place between October and March, but a month was lost at the start due to staff absence. Secondly, fewer targeted growth mindset lessons took place because a student teacher took the group for a few weeks. This mean that most of the project content was pushed out until late February and March.
The main impacts of the project, and captured in the data gathered, were:
The quantitative data gathered through the initial staff and pupil task showed that out of around 80 tasks, staff mostly agreed that 66 of them were learning tasks (where feedback was expected, and pupils were developing their understanding and skills). This included tasks such as worksheets, peer assessment, projects, or essay writing. Staff identified about 12 tasks that they mostly agreed were purely performance (tasks with final scores and little feedback). These included exams, prelims, end of unit tests or portfolios. Between 12 to 30 tasks, raised disagreement among staff over their purpose, as learning or performance tasks, e.g., vocabulary tests or topic tests.
From the same task list, groups of pupils identified only 10 tasks that were purely performance tasks (where it was about showing the teacher what you knew and getting it correct). They only agreed on 3 tasks that were purely learning. Most other tasks were disputed between groups of pupils, but the majority of groups viewed most tasks as performance. Based on a majority, there were 57 tasks out of 80 where most pupils thought they were performing rather than learning.
The final set of data from the pupils following the growth mindset work, showed a shift in thinking. Pupils completed the same task as above, but now most tasks were identified as being in the learning zone (66 tasks out of approximately 80). The number of tasks which were viewed as unanimously ‘learning’ went from 3 to 18, and only 5 tasks were seen as purely performance. Based on the overall majority, around 20 tasks were mostly seen as performance tasks.
Pupils were also asked to define growth mindset at the beginning of the project and at the end. The responses suggested that pupils had already been introduced to the idea of growth mindset and had a good awareness of the key concepts. Several pupils described it as knowing that you should ‘never give up’ and ‘keep trying’ or that you ‘can’t do it yet’ which are all key growth mindset values. Many pupils linked growth mindset with the positivity or negativity of your thinking, but not necessarily learning. After the project, pupils were better able to articulate how growth mindset works in relation to learning, specifically in the areas targeted such as challenge and mistake making. They have a firmer grasp of growth mindset concepts, stating:
“Overcoming your challenges and facing them and learning from mistakes."
“It’s a positive thinking of I can do it and also attempting challenges."
"It is when even if you don’t feel comfortable doing something more challenging you still try it and give it your best shot."
A summary of how pupils classified tasks pre and post the project, along with the staff classification, is shown below:
The categorisation of tasks into performance zone and learner zone by the pupils after the project, is shown below, and highlights that most of the tasks moved across to the learner zone.
Some of the project findings shared with colleagues in our In-service training day are shown below:
At a meeting of our CLG group, we had a great discussion about the initial task list and how these tasks were approached in class. The discussion helped to identify staff attitudes towards performance and learning and allowed them to challenge their own practice and make changes. Feedback suggested that this discussion was useful, and it formed part of the whole staff training. After discussing the project with the Head Teacher, we intend to undertake further training for all staff around the concept of learning and performance zones. This was seen as supporting our aim to build learner resilience. When presenting the project to the CLG, we agreed that the considered use of language in the classroom by staff, was a way to fully facilitate true growth mindset development in pupils.
The school currently has growth mindset as part of its improvement plan. Next steps will include: