Higher Ground

After my last post, it looks like I have a question, ‘How do we make every student high performing?’. I don’t know the answer to this question, but I like a challenge. I am going to put forward some ideas and connect them with the research and work of others. By doing this, I hope I can start to establish a way forward.

Firstly, I think I need to clarify what I mean by making every student ‘high performing’. What I don’t mean is making every student achieve straight A’s, no matter what their level of achievement. Using standardised evaluation of student achievement is problematic. It often serves only to widen the gap between high and low achievers. Making all students high performing is about making all students feel that they are progressing:

They need to feel that they are challenged

Their strengths should be acknowledged and valued

They need to feel that they can improve further. Which conditions need to be in place for this to happen?

It is important to note that we use assessment as a developmental tool to inform teaching and learning. Its prime function is not to inform external bodies of a student’s ability or competency. So, how do we approach assessment to ensure that we nurture student achievement?

As a student, when I started ‘failing’ in particular subjects, my motivation dropped. I felt like my teachers had given up on me, and therefore gave up myself. As my motivation dropped, my failure was compounded and became cyclical. A more positive and personalised approach to assessment would bring about a virtuous cycle. Students can be assessed not via ‘normalised’ standards, but by measuring against ‘their normal’. This is an approach used by Dr Tempest van Schaik and the team at Ctrl Group when devising assessments for people with mental health problems. Assessment is personal, developmental and focuses on success and progress rather than deficiency.

I believe that Students with a growth mindset will achieve more. They need to embrace challenge and feel that they can change things. Most of my experiences of education were fixed, and I was rarely challenged. I was labelled as a high achiever, then labelled to be ‘arty’ and to be weak in maths and sciences. I was never encouraged to think about:

How I might grow as a high achiever

How I should build on my ‘artiness’

How I could succeed in maths and sciences (or overcome the challenges they presented to me)

I strongly believe that at each of these stages a growth mindset would have propelled me. Growth mindset guru Carol Dweck says. ‘Even Geniuses Work Hard’ (great article on growth mindset). Dweck also points out that we’re probably a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets here. She also suggests that we need to understand out fixed mindset to grow our growth mindset.

Further to developing a growth mindset is nurturing a LOVE of learning. I wrote about this here a couple of years ago. I keep returning to the idea that great teaching strategies will change the way that people learn by creating FUN, MEMORABLE learning moments. Now how do we do that again?