Task 8 – Better ways of doing things ?

Posted by Ray on May 27, 2016

The talk by Angela Duckworth, on the topic of grit, continued the theme from task 7 that success is directly related to the focus and effort of training. She makes the point that children who understand that the brain changes and grows in response to challenges are more likely to persevere when they fail at a task because they don’t see failure as a permanent condition.

The article by Jo Boaler documents concerns about teaching practices in England and some of the findings were fascinating. She starts with a summary of the research that Carol Dweck published in 2006, which showed that when students develop what she has called a ‘growth mindset’ then they believe that intelligence and ‘smartness’ can be learned and that the brain can grow from exercise. She contrasts the growth mindset with the fixed ability model used in schools in England. What was surprising, to me, was the finding that mixed ability classes result in better overall results than same ability classes. Many studies have shown that for mixed ability classes, the lower and middle ability students achieve higher results but the higher ability students achieve the same results as those that are taught in same ability classes. The reasons behind this include the fact that some ‘talented’ students struggle with being in a top set, and maintaining the appearance of not failing, and some ‘low ability’ students are given work that is too easy for them. When you understand that making mistakes is a crucial part of the learning process then the challenge is to provide a classroom environment that views mistakes as learning opportunities rather than indicating low ability. Jo also mentions that attainment improves when students are taught about the principles of the growth mindset.

When observing lessons, I have seen pupils given long lists of repetitive calculations and their diminishing motivation as they either get things wrong or become bored with the repetitive nature of the task. Jo mentions that it is hard to justify that achievement is possible with effort if students are frequently getting incorrect answers. She argues that the challenge is to provide more open tasks so that pupils can see the possibility of higher achievement even whilst making mistakes in some of the steps of the problem.

Another important message from the article is on how feedback is given to a student and this was also covered in the bonus video. A Carol Dweck study gave half the participants feedback that they were intelligent and the other half feedback about their good effort. The group that had been praised for effort was more willing to take on a more challenging task, even though they knew that they would be more likely to make mistakes. This demonstrates the importance of maintaining a focus on the effort and good aspects of the work rather than giving feedback that someone is clever.

Overall there’s a lot to think about. The main question, for me, is why schools group pupils based on ability when there is proof that mixed ability classes get better overall results.


  1. jat32
    2 June 2016

    I enjoyed your article Ray., I too have paused about why schools still set and, atter reading Boaler’s article,. wonder if – in part – it is parents trying to make sure that their children are given as good and challenging teaching as possible in the system that they are presented with. Sure that this will be a fascinating discussion.,

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 June 2016

    An enduring question. Why do schools continue to set when the evidence suggests it doesn’t help them. It’s certainly a complex one. Good to see you take on board the ideas presented by Boaler and Duckworth so fully.

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