Encouraging learners to achieve more than they expect of themselves

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Staff at Oakleigh House School have encouraged learners to be more resilient when faced with challenges, to learn from their mistakes and to become more independent in all aspects of their learning.

Number of learners: 220
Age range: 2 1/2 - 11
Date of inspection: March 2017

Information about the school

Oakleigh House School was established in 1919 and has been owned by the international schools group, Cognita, since 2007.  Oakleigh House is situated in the Uplands area of Swansea and offers independent education to boys and girls from the age of 2½ to 11 years.

Context and background to sector-leading practice

As a non-selective school, Oakleigh House recognises that they have children of a wide ability range but the school expects all pupils to aim high and achieve their very best.  The school believes that all children should aim to achieve things that they never expected.  Whatever their starting point, children are encouraged to reach their targets and ‘a little bit more’.  The school has adopted, and adapted, a growth mindset approach, based on the belief that intelligence can grow and develop over time.

The school aims to ensure that the strategies they employ to support their pupils’ learning are appropriate for all children regardless of their ability.  These strategies are designed to develop children’s learning skills, including reasoning, risk taking, resilience and perseverance, as well as widening their use and understanding of vocabulary and general knowledge of the world around them.  The school offers the same support and encouragement to all pupils and works to ensure that ‘our practice and provision is suited to the needs of all’.

Description of nature of strategy or activity

As part of the school’s work towards achieving the ‘NACE Cymru Challenge Award’, the staff were introduced to the work of Carol Dweck (2012) and the concept of the growth mindset.  They explored the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset and were encouraged to consider how they could influence the way the pupils thought of themselves; in particular, to think about how to open pupils’ minds to believe in themselves and be prepared always to ‘have a go’.  The aim was to help staff to identify ways in which they could encourage the pupils to become more resilient when faced with a challenge, to understand that we learn from our mistakes, and to become more independent in all aspects of their learning. 

The school wanted pupils to realise that each step in their learning was part of a bigger goal and not the goal itself.  Rather than focusing challenge activities only towards the more able pupils, the school ethos changed to promote ‘challenge for all’ – the belief that with a growth mindset all pupils can achieve more than they expect of themselves.

The pupils were taught to be flexible when they approached a task or an aspect that they found challenging, by staff encouraging them to find a solution independently before asking the teacher for help.  Often, staff use the ‘6Bs’ approach created in different forms, founded on Dweck’s work,  such as:
• Be Brave: don’t let a lack of confidence hold you back
• Be Still: stop and have a think, sometimes the solution will come to you
• Ask a Buddy, can a buddy explain it to you more clearly?
• Backtrack: have a look at the learning intention or success criteria, or look back at previous work
• Bits and Bobs: remember to use the resources or tools in the classroom to help you
• Ask the Boss: if you have explored all the other options and you are still stuck, then it is time to ask an adult for help’

Pupils were encouraged to use the positive language of growth mindset in all activities in class, around school and in everyday life, and the younger pupils were encouraged to say ‘I can do it’ before an activity.  Staff reinforced this philosophy through the developmental language they used when marking and giving feedback, praising pupils for showing initiative, seeing a tricky task through and acting on advice and suggestions on how they could improve.

What impact has this work had on provision and learners’ standards?

As part of regular feedback from pupils on the quality of teaching, pupils have reported a change in their attitudes to school and themselves.  Pupils have reported that they have been allowed to take control of their own learning and are less concerned about making mistakes.  They enjoy exploring open-ended tasks and thrive when they show their peers and the teacher what they are capable of, what they know and how they know.  During lessons, pupils remind each other of the 6Bs and other strategies that they can employ to help themselves succeed.  They believe that they take on challenges more, and are open to taking on responsibilities and lead roles in group activities, which they may not have considered before.

Staff report that they have become more ‘flexible and agile’ in their teaching and in their expectations of pupils’ outcomes: ‘there is no limit to what any pupil can achieve’.  Staff have developed their own practice to provide pupils with valuable opportunities to apply and develop their independent learning skills.  For example, in addition to challenge activities in the curriculum, staff have actively sought other opportunities for pupils that open their minds to challenge, such as puzzle days and an Olympic torch challenge workshop.  Often, in these activities, pupils who were normally reserved or reluctant to participate are now demonstrating the confidence to become involved and take on leadership roles.  Staff have then been able to encourage these pupils to apply the same confidence to their classroom learning.

The school achieved its ‘NACE Cymru Challenge Award’ in September 2016.  The Award report acknowledged that the school provided “learning experiences which have a strong focus on thinking and problem solving”.  The report recognised that the teachers employ “well developed open ended questioning techniques which challenge and stimulate thinking and curiosity” and that “learners are valued and feel safe to take risk without the fear of failure”.

How have you shared your good practice?

The school has shared its practice with other schools within the Cognita group both nationally and in Europe.

Links: https://www.oakleighhouseschool.co.uk/

Dweck Carol (2012) Mindset: how you can fulfil your potential. London, Robinson