3rd July 2015 at 01:00

We can't let growing pains put us off mindsets

A few months ago, I told staff at my school that it was time to stop talking about "fixed" and "growth" mindsets and instead use language that showed we valued effort and learning from mistakes - that learning was a process. But when we began two years ago to embed Carol Dweck's theories, we needed those dichotomous terms to start a conversation and to clarify different attitudes (" `The whole idea of growth mindset is to say yes they can' ", News; "Why mindsets aren't a magic wand", Feature, 26 June).

We have experienced a real shift in how our students view struggle, mistakes and effort. To get there, we had to engage on all levels - students, staff, parents and leadership. This takes time. Some positive effects are quick: teaching students about the brain helps them to understand that they can become smarter. But getting staff to change their language and routines in the classroom takes more than just two teacher workshops.

I fear that articles focus too much on the negative rather than reminding you to keep at it because it will work if you do.

Tricia Taylor

Lead practitioner, Dunraven School, South London

"Why mindsets aren't a magic wand" did not highlight Carol Dweck's main advice to teachers. She nowhere suggests that teachers should "measure" their pupils' mindset: she stresses that children are sensitive to, and can be changed by, the messages that adults send out about them as learners.

Teachers can and should encourage the growth mindset. If, for example, they give pupils marks for their homework, they foster the fixed mindset. If they give comments that praise effort and suggest how pupils could improve, they foster the growth mindset. Studies show that if pupils are given both, they focus on the marks and ignore the comments.

Our work at King's College London, and research by others, shows that if teachers give comments instead of marks, pupils come to regard the feedback as a helpful challenge. Marks or grades as an overall summary of a year's work are needed when long-term decisions have to be made about each learner's future, but they are unhelpful in the week-by-week task of helping pupils to become more confident and effective learners.

Paul Black

Emeritus professor of science education, King's College London

It came as no surprise to me that an overly simplistic approach to Carol Dweck's theory of learning has its risks. As with all educational theories - such as Building Learning Power, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK) learning styles and multiple intelligences - the sound research behind it is too narrow to apply to the myriad circumstances of a classroom in the expectation that it will work every time. At best, these theories are tools, and we need to learn how and when to use them. Ultimately, the only magic wand is the teacher.

Stuart Lloyd

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Carol Dweck rightly warns against using mindset theory to label students. In fact, her work over many years shows the error of this, demonstrating that with appropriate teaching, a "fixed" mindset can be developed into a "growth" one.

This requires teachers to believe that capability increases with confidence and opportunity, and then to promote this development. As so often, teaching and learning reinforce each other. As students gain confidence, their self-belief and creativity rise, and so does teachers' belief in their students' capability. Teachers become more willing to take risks, asking open-ended questions and allowing more time for students to explore issues - a virtuous circle that leads to higher attainment.

Laurie Smith

Let's Think in English, King's College London

Sixth-form academies? It's too soon to say

The TES report "Where do we stand? With schools, not FE" (Further, 26 June) gives a somewhat inaccurate account of the sixth-form college sector's position after the recent Sixth Form Colleges' Association summer conference.

It is true that a majority of those who voted favoured closer links with schools, in spite of clear indications from the senior government official present that there was no prospect of a conversion to academy status in the near future. But a significant number of colleges were not present, were present but didn't vote, or voted and spoke against the move.

The association's policy-making body has yet to consider the matter. In any case, it will be for individual college corporations to decide whether to revert to being, in effect, direct grant schools. Certainly for a large college such as mine, the advantages of autonomy as a free-standing corporation outweigh any financial benefits from being brought into a closer relationship with the Department for Education.

Any indication that academisation is the direction in which the sixth-form college sector will be moving is at least premature, if not positively misleading.

Professor Roger Brown

Chair, Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, Eastleigh

Is primary assessment on the level?

And God said, "Let there be no more levels." And lo there were no more levels. Then someone else said, "How are we going to measure progress without any levels?" And God said: "Could you leave that with me? I'm sure I'll think of something." ("National tests could return for infant pupils", News, 26 June.)

Stephanie Gibson

Headteacher, St Catherine's Primary School, Surrey

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