Spreading Grit

Jen WillisJen Willis writes for Teacher Toolkit from a primary perspective. She is currently an assistant head in a primary school in Bolton, Lancashire. She has taught all three key stages in primary with a particular love of year six. She leads EYFS / KS1 and… Read more about Jen WillisIs it possible to grow a resilient mindset in our students before doubt sets in?I like data.There, I’ve said it …… but not necessarily the percentages, charts and graphs that are picked apart and twisted during ‘accountability’ conversations, but the information that can reveal what most needs addressing.Missing Something?I like the analysis that can inform, specific next steps and impact on quality of teaching and learning. Over the course of data analysis, a familiar group of ‘fragile learners’ continues to emerge: characteristically non-risk taking, rule-following children that seek to get whatever it is they are doing perfectly right. Or a small group, that often sit at the top of the middle attainers, who never quite push through to a ‘greater depth.’Tracking back through provision maps and intervention records, it was clear that it wasn’t through lack of additional support or gap plugging. These students we identified can rattle-off their favourite children’s classics, identify split digraphs at a thousand paces and subitise until the cows come home! But still, they were missing something.We were missing something.Of course – the answer was obvious and was plain to see, even before learning behaviours were monitored or the pupils were interviewed.  These were classic examples of what is now labelled, ‘a fixed mindset.’Mindset:Our ideas to support children are well-researched and creative, yet with older children, the trickier it became. We also know there is a bigger picture to address and for cohorts of the future, we want to minimise this issue before it evolves into becoming overwhelming barrier.It was about this time the ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’ became more of a focus in EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage).Underpinning these characteristics is the understanding that during their earliest years, children form attitudes about learning that will last a lifetime and with the correct support, teaching and environment, children will grow to have initiative and be resilient learners for the rest of their lives.That may be what is needed further up into key-stage 2?  But, how can we harness these characteristics for all our students?And so the beginnings of a project was born in our Foundation Stage.Image: ShutterstockHow can we ensure students are developed and nurtured to be resilient beyond EYFS?Fragile Learners:Is prevention better than cure?We decided to attempt to identify those future fragile learners and provide a series of structured (but age appropriate) interventions developing key characteristics such as:‘having a go’‘taking a risk’perseverance and resilience.We tracked students using Leuven’s scale of active engagement and worked with parents, inviting them to workshops where we taught the children to leave the safety of the colouring-in table and ride (and fall off!) two-wheel bikes.  We planned different activities to give this group of children the opportunity and confidence to be the leader, the coach, the teacher, and backed all of this up through our classroom ethos.Sheer Joy!Our favourite books soon became ‘The Dot’ and ‘The Most Magnificent Thing’ and our class song ‘You can do it’ soon became our mantra.And it worked!Our focus group made better than expected progress, impacting on both well-being and engagement. The focus even had a slight impact on good level of development and now, ‘the most magnificent thing’ is watching our year one graduates coaching our reception children, giving encouragement and specific feedback in the spirit of Austin’s Butterfly.Believe me, there is no better way of spending a dark afternoon in November, than witnessing the sheer joy of 4-year olds championing their fears and declaring,“I knew I could do it. I tried and I tried and I fell off.… And then I peddled faster and now I can do it!”But, we are not there yet. Far from it!Accepting Mistakes:Yes, we’re much happier that the children entering key stage 1 have enough grit to stay outside the winter. We are growing in confidence that our whole school focus on specific feedback, accepting mistakes and embracing challenge is providing a solid foundation upon which we can spread the grit.What we now need to do, is have a continued focus on potential fragile learners throughout key stage 2 so if and when their doubts grow, self-esteem wavers or their comfort zones grow, we again can help them sprinkle some salt and try to ensure they don’t fall over.We’re not there yet, but we are spreading the grit.I’d love to hear what you do …End.Jenni Willis writes for Teacher ToolkitWriter: Jenni Willis writes for Teacher Toolkit from a primary perspective.She is currently an assistant head in a primary school in Bolton, Lancashire.  She has taught all three key stages in primary with a particular love of year six.  She currently leads EYFS / KS1 and has responsibility for whole school assessment.   Previously, she coordinated Literacy for 14 years and was a Key Stage Two writing moderator for the LA.  She is currently part of the team responsible for planning and delivering the NQT extended programme for Salford diocese. In 2014/15, Jenni led an EYFS research hub on developing school readiness through a focus on the characteristics of effective learning, contributing into a national project accredited by National College.  She is a firm believer that the keys to successful learning lie in curiosity, taking risks, determination and resilience – characteristics needed by both the children of today and their teachers.  Read more about Jenni and follow her at @JenWillis1 Contact her here.Jen Willis Related

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