“I’ll never be able to do this” or “I’m no good at this” are two phrases that can lead even the most patient teachers to despair.
Most of us will agree that having confidence in academic ability can have a beneficial impact on learning. Yet trying to instil self-belief into a pupil who has none can be one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of classroom teaching.
The education profession has recognised the importance of developing these attributes, with character and resilience pushed to the fore of the education agenda by the current government. The think-tank Demos even placed them on a par with academic abilities in a report published last week.
But how can we go about developing these skills and behaviours in children when there is a distinct lack of evidence available for what really works in this area?
Today, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the results of a trial of Changing Mindsets, an intervention for primary school pupils that aims to teach pupils that intelligence is not a fixed characteristic and can be increased through effort.
Changing Mindsets comes from the idea of growth mindsets, a principle developed by Professor Carol Dweck in the late-1990s. Dweck argued that academic attainment could be increased by supporting pupils to develop a growth mindset: the belief that they could increase their own attainment through effort.
Previous research has suggested that holding this belief enables pupils to work harder and achieve better results, but much less is known about the best ways to do this.
The EEF intervention, led by Dr Sherria Hoskins and her team at the University of Portsmouth, was delivered to Year 5 pupils in 30 schools and independently evaluated by a team at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
We tested two different approaches. One taught pupils directly about the malleability of intelligence through six workshops, which were delivered by undergraduates from the University of Portsmouth, and four further sessions delivered by two local organisations, the Education Business Partnership and Pompey Study Centre (now called Portsmouth in the Community).
The second intervention consisted of a professional development course that trained teachers on approaches to developing and reinforcing growth mindsets through their teaching. The course consisted of two half-days of instruction.
The results make for interesting reading. The pupils who received the workshops made an average of two additional months’ progress in English and maths. While the findings were not statistically significant, the results for English are close to statistical significance, giving us some evidence that this approach shows promise.
However, the pupils whose teachers received the professional development intervention made no additional progress in maths compared to pupils in the control group. The pupil workshops are likely to be more effective in increasing attainment than the development training for teachers.
These findings highlight the importance of implementation. An approach like growth mindsets that has promising evidence from international research can often be delivered in many different ways in English schools. As we see in this report, different delivery can deliver different results and should each be tested.
Changing Mindsets is one of ten new reports we’ve published today, all of which can be viewed on the EEF website. At the EEF we’ll continue to test ways to instil character in pupils through a £1m fund where we hope to find the most effective ways to develop children’s social, emotional and communication skills.
Undoubtedly we’ll find that some of these trials will have no impact on attainment, such is the nature of educational research, but each nugget of evidence we do obtain is equally valuable in helping us to better understand how research can inform our approach to teaching and learning.