As the barrage of standardised testing continues and we maintain a regime of assessment in schools that is often content-driven, we must ensure that learning encompasses a range of social, emotional and academic capacities, not just the ability to recall the right answer at the right time.
Interestingly, research identifies that in order to facilitate a higher degree of intrinsic motivation we need to be aware of the downfalls of ongoing rewards for work completed. Motivational expert, Daniel Pink, notes in Drive. The surprising truth about what motivate us: “Mechanisms designed to increase motivation can dampen it. Tactics aimed at boosting creativity can reduce it”. The best teachers continually assess the landscape in the commercial world outside their classroom, looking to develop realistic capacities in their disciplines so that their students have a sense of reality embedded in their learning. They look to promote respect for student thinking, inquiry and wonder while fostering social capacity that includes empathy and collaboration. In Five minds for the Future, Howard Gardner of Harvard University challenges educators when he talks of “the respectful mind”. He states: “If we are to fashion persons who respect differences, we need to provide models and offer lessons that encourage such a sympathetic stance.”
Combined with consideration for these influential external drivers in education, we also need to embrace scholarship that examines the psychological attributes of successful learners, as opposed to those who stagnate and often do not achieve their potential. According to Carol Dweck, common assumptions that the reason human beings differ often include factors such as genes, physical differences, backgrounds and ways of learning. In her book, Mindset. The new psychology of success, she asks: “Who’s right? Today, most experts agree that it’s not either – or. It’s not nature or nurture, genes or environment”. Her research identifies that, “the view that you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way that you lead your life.” She further distinguishes between two distinct mindsets that exist: fixed (individual believes that their qualities and level of expertise are carved in stone) and growth (individual believes that their basic qualities can be grown through their own application and experience). Educators need to ensure that using marks and grades does not create a pool of students who see their intelligence as a fixed entity. We do not want classrooms where students only compare their success with others. The real challenge is to develop students who believe in their own capacities, are not fearful of taking risks, and have a real passion for learning. Dweck emphasises the importance of providing feedback that focuses on the effort applied rather than the outcome of the work itself. Students must further develop the desire to practise and refine knowledge and skill relative to the feedback received.
At Barker, we encourage teachers to find the balance in their own classrooms, trying to extend the capacities of students, rather than fixing their perceptions of their own ability. Importantly, there is a need to align our strategies with those of the real world, outside the classroom, to develop independent learners who are capable of working alongside others, sharing and contributing effectively in all tasks. These considerations will be paramount as we chart the direction for our students in the coming years. Receiving feedback via a mark is not the only way a student can assess their progress. Developing students with a growth mindset needs to be at the core of all we do, both now and into the future.