Trying to be a ‘Growth-Mindset’ teacher in a Fixed-Mindset education system

Throughout my fledgling teaching career so far, one question has always been at the back of my mind; what kind of teacher do I want to be? While it is easy to say that my teaching adapts to meet the needs of all my learners, in reality, we all fall into certain routines, patterns and habits of teaching that perhaps don’t fully represent that philosophy 100% of the time.
For me personally, I am very much of the school of Hymer, Gershon and Dweck, in that I would like to consider myself not only to be Growth-Mindset teacher, but also a Growth-Mindset person. I fully embrace the idea that to fail at something is simply the ‘First Attempt In Learning’ and that to not be able to do something, is simply not to be able to do it ‘yet’. I’m under no illusion that it is impossible to be fully Growth-Mindsetted, (for example, I am more than acutely aware that I will never master the delicacy and grace of ballet or understand the intricacies of neurological science). I do believe that if we think about the Growth-Mindset on a smaller scale; in focussing on the daily challenges we face and being reflective on the unsuccessful attempts at facing those challenges, then our pupils will become people who say “I will get this eventually” rather than spouting out the same excuses of “I don’t get it” when facing a challenge.
If we focus on these short term ends, rather than focus on the end goal of mastering something then learning to children wont seem so daunting. I believe this almost fear of learning is what hold most children back. It was Illeris who stated that for children to push their mind beyond simple assimilation in to true transformative learning, they have to go through a painful process. Learning is painful. As a result, as humans, it is only natural that we choose the easier route of giving up too easily or sticking with the things that we already know. This is why I think that it is important to focus teaching to promote risk in classrooms and to promote the idea of learning being a rewarding and exciting process rather than a painful one. I firmly believe that this has to be done on a step by step basis. We have to focus on the next stable foothold rather than focussing on the summit of the mountain.

However, as idealist as this sounds, (perhaps somewhat naive in my inexperience), can we truly achieve this in the current education system that we find ourselves in? Yes, a lot of Ofsted and DfE rhetoric often talks about pupils be self-reflective, be independent learners and have a positive attitude towards their own learning, but does the government truly want this? They say they do evidently, and Ofsted lambasts schools for not promoting it, and yet from the way in which our pupils are measured it would indicate that what they want us as teachers to produce contradicts the way in which they want us to produce it.
At the end of their 5 years in school, we do not measure our pupils on their ability to reflect, or their ability to earn independently; we measure them on what they have learned. Therefore it begs the question, why do we need to promote all these ideals when all that is measured and graded and that is taken into account for the rest of these childrens’ lives is what they score they get in an exam. We are not assessing their ability to learn, we are assessing their ability to jump through hoops. It was Biesta to said that ‘we value what we measure rather than measure what we value’, and I think this rings true. Teachers and schools are under so much pressure from Ofsted, data collections, league tables, performance related pay, that I find it hard to see how schools can focus on anything but their results rather than the learning of their pupils.

Unless a school embraces the idea of the Growth-Mindset, I think teachers can be ostracised, or told ‘it won’t work’, or called mavericks because of the fact that really all teachers should be doing is training pupils to get through exams. I am very lucky to have been employed at a school that fully embraces the Growth-Mindset, (so much so, the mantra has been incorporated into the school’s motto), and that I able to promote the idea of risk and independence in my classroom. I fully believe that if we teach in away that promotes the Growth-Minset, that results will come naturally and that we won’t be any worse of than where we are now, but there will be one marked difference; we will be producing students who can learn with resilience, independence and confidence to take risks.
In the current system there obviously needs to be a balance. we need to try and teach in such a way that we are promoting these ideas of reflection and independent learning while still having that end goal.

I think that until the system changes – until we start to ‘measure what we value’ – and judge our pupils on not only what they learn, but the way in which they approach it; then I believe that teachers will forever be in a circle of contradictions when trying to approach teaching in a Growth-Mindset way. It is the idea of the ‘Semmelweis Effect’, (talked about by Frank Coffield), in that the people in power are often stuck in their ways and any new ideas are considered radical and have no place. From what I can see so far in my career, the current people in power of education only seem to focus on data and results rather than the kinds of people we are farming out of this system, and that I believe is why our country is falling rapidly behind in this rapidly advancing world.
I hope I am wrong, and that my nativity on this topic becomes apparent over the next few years, but I will continue to teach in a Growth-Mindset way, always having in the back of my mind that niggling thought; ‘I need to get results’.

-Mr. H-B.


But Sir, What About Me?

By now, I think everyone in and out of the education world has started to get to grips with the changes to GCSEs. Certainly, as an English teacher I have been grappling with them since the summer of 2015. I’ve been working hard, almost as hard as my poor Y10 students, at understanding the new tasks, AOs, sections of the exams and everything else that goes along with it.

In essence, the bottom line is this: the new GCSEs (particularly English) are hard. REALLY hard. They require skills and contents they must be pre-taught from Y7. I am now teaching my Y7 students basic skills they will come to rely on in Y10 and 11. My Y10s don’t have that luxury, they were trained for a different, easier exam.

Another niggle with the new line up is the sheer level of content. 2 novels need to be studied and essentially rote-learned a modern, and 19th C. Tricky for most us, even harder when you also need to know a Shakespeare play backwards and the ins and outs of 15 anthology poems from 1789 to present day. This is, of course, along side the skills that are required for analysing unseen texts and poems, and creating Non fictions texts of their own plus comparing and contrasting non fiction texts from the 19th and 21st centuries. Phew.

But no sweat, we have two years. The nail in the educational coffin, so to speak, for me, is the very foundation of this new GCSE format. As a leader of a course described it to me, (a course entitled Outstanding Results in English GCSE) “these GCSEs are simply not designed for everyone to pass.” Hmmm…

So not only is the new 9-1 grading system a real headache to get your head round, and the new “pass grade” (used to be a C) is now much closer to a B but this has an impact that society is possibly not ready for. Students are going to fail, what’s more, teachers will know this, from when students start studying the GCSE. And if they don’t get their 5 9-5 grade GCSEs they will probably not be able to attend their choice of college and study A-Levels, ergo University.

This isn’t necessarily an issue in itself, it is good that we have a variety of people who do a variety of jobs, we can’t all be pop stars and DJs. BUT these students need to go somewhere… I imagine it will be vocational options which can be extremely useful for both job and life skills. However I can’t help but wonder, those students who we know, deep down, haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell, would be better off doing another qualification. Something like a functional skills unit, purely based on the key literacy skills needed to get a job and earn. SURELY this would be more beneficial to lower ability students than battling with learning Shakespearean insults or the conspiracy of silence within the plot of The Woman in Black. But no, it doesn’t hit any of the Progress 8 buckets… therefore we a limited as teachers in what we can really do for students. This is a very really wall stopping us doing what is best for the students we have. Is this right? Is this fair? All student have a right to education, we accept this as a basic human right. But shouldn’t this be an education that benefits them? Not frustrates and limits their potential? Or one that teaches skills that will not be useful?

Reading for pleasure is all good and well, but there’s not much point teaching that to students when they may end up working 3 jobs and spare time is a distant memory to them. As teachers we OWE these students better, the DESERVE better. I strive to be better and model this for my students. I go above and quite frankly way beyond my colleagues at times. But I do know at the end of the day, school year and Results Day there will be students left behind asking this question: “What about me?” As of yet, I have no answer I can provide.


Resource #7: Poetry Analysis Model Answer

a) How is the theme of love presented in Carol Ann Duffy’s Valentine? (15)

Carol Ann Duffy wrote the poem Valentine following a request form a radio producer in 1993, asking her to write a poem for Valentines Day. She was already well known for her controversial poetry work therefore this untraditional take on love and Valentines was not a surprise.

The structure of the poem is really interesting, although it is in free verse, that is, there is no rhyming pattern or apparent rhythm pattern; it could be argued that this is a deliberate act from the poet. Some consider the inconsistency of the stanzas and line length as a visual representation on the page of the unpredictability and unevenness of true realistic love. The short lines are just one word “here” and the longest are using a technique called enjambment where a lines runs on to the next without any punctuation: “It will make your reflection/a wobbling photo of grief.” It could also be argued that the unevenness of the stanzas and line length also contribute to the visual aspect of the overall metaphor in the poem – an onion. The structure of the poem could reflect the uneven layers of the onion.

The tone of the poem is unusual for a love poem. Straight away she starts by using the word “Not” this immediately tells the reader that this is a not a normal poem. She goes on to dismiss cliche Valentine presents such as “red rose or satin heart.” This is a short sentence and has impact on the reader. It is explicit in setting the tone for the poem, almost that  the gift she talks about later in poem is neither of these things but that the poem and love is in fact not cliche either. The other strong tone is honesty, Duffy/the speaker is trying to express truthful, pragmatic real love, as opposed to the cliche we are exposed to in the movies and on TV. She repeatedly refers to this truthfulness and honesty “I am trying to be truthful” is a explicit example, whereas other references through the poem are more implicit such as “for as long as we are.” The latter suggests that is a realistic about love not lasting for forever in some circumstances.

As I mentioned previously, Duffy is famous for her controversial takes on ideas and conventions. She wrote a series of poems from the point of view of the wives of famous men, for example “Mrs Midas”.  In the early 90s, I can assume that it was still the norm to marry and settle down for a family, she deliberately contrasts this when she says “if you like” this suggests that they can remain partners outside the institution of marriage, as opposed to potentially feeling pressure from society to marry as that is what was expected from straight couples.

Imagery is rife throughout this poem, the main form being the metaphor for love which is the onion. We are introduced to this continued metaphor on line two, where the speaker presents it to her lover, “I give you an onion.” She then uses a metaphor to describe the metaphor of the onion for love “it is the moon wrapped in brown paper” this not only creates the idea of a gift in the reader’s minds with use of the word “wrapped”. However it also links to the idea of unconventional as it is “brown paper” which gives the reader an idea of a parcel, more than a present. The reference to the moon, could be linked to the Roman Goddess Diana, who as the goddess of love, and also in charge of the moon. The moon has a powerful pull on the earth, dictating monthly cycles and the tides.

Duffy uses many other poetic techniques throughout the poem to help continue the metaphor and created a clear picture in the reader’s mind. She uses a smilies when describing the unwrapping of a present “ like careful undressing of love”, this again has connotation that links to onion as well as love.  She creates very clear imagery with the line “it will make your reflection/a wobbling photo of grief.” As readers we are unsure as to weather the “it”: refers to the onion or love and this ambiguity continues throughout the poem. The use of the word “blind” may be a reference to love-blind and mention of “tears” and “grief” reiterate the negative side of love.

Duffy has a theme of violence running through the poem which becomes more obvious through her language choices at the end of the poem. She uses words such as “fierce”, “lethal” and “knife”. These words can be considered negative, and violent, almost reflecting the negative, pragmatic approach the speaker has to love. It again, becomes unclear as to whether Duffy is referring to the onion or love when she uses these words. They have been cleverly selected so they could apply to either. When Duffy uses the term “lethal” it could be a reference to the smell of the onions “its scent will cling to your fingers” or to marriage, which the speaker has offered in an offhand way likening the wedding ring to the platinum loops of an onion.

Duffy has created a very definite sense of truthful, honest love that hurts, so much that it your “tears will create a wobbling photo of grief” and that it is “lethal”. She is brutal in her honesty and pragmatic in her approach to love “for as long as we are”; she also squashes the notion of “cute cards” and “kissogram” along with other typical valentine cliches. It is, in essence, an anti-valentine poem, one that stands up against the commercialism of love, the love presented to us in fairytales and films. It is a statement about the reality of love.

Resource #6: Jazz Up Your Language Display

I am desperately fighting a battle in my classroom – the battle on boring words. I’m sick to the back teeth of writing – whether it be descriptive, travel, creative, for purpose… being full of boring schmoring words! So I came up with this nifty little display… full of words students are unlikely to have heard of with a challenge – look up, use up, word up. Please do feel free to download and use.

jazz up lang display

Resource #5: Change your Words, Change your Mindset Display

A new display I put up last week in an attempt to change the mindset not just in my classroom (where the words “I can’t” result in a break time detention) but in the whole school. I am trying to build a PB (personal best) culture, where students want to beat their targets and motivate themselves and each other. Please do feel free to download the display below. I merely printed it on coloured paper. (and laminated it, I love laminating…)

Change mindset display

Resource #2: Group Roles

I dread group work as a teacher. This is an awful, possibly heretical offence to admit it, however I have to be honest, I really do.

And I can tell you exactly why – I do not find it is an effective way of learning for my students. It turns out, having had my nose in a few good pedagogical books lately, that this is really all my fault. I was keen to solve this issue to not only spice up my lessons, but also to create a collaborative culture as well as respond to a resounding response to my learning survey of “we want more group work!”

Therefore I started thinking, seriously about how to go about it. Previously I had tried, and failed miserably, to use roles such as “Scribe” and “Leader”,  however, it the kids just didn’t seem to get it. Everyone in the teaching world says group work is amazing, it produces fantastic, collaborative, original, student lead work. But I was a bit stuck about how I get that.

De Bono’s little Hats have always worked well for me, so I figured I would magpie his millinery obsession for myself. I created a whole host of roles I thought I would need to have effective group work at different stages throughout the school and also for  different tasks. English is very broad, therefore the same 4 roles just weren’t going to cut it.

I printed out little laminate cards with these roles and with explicit details of what each role was expected to do. Now when we do group work, I explain how big the group is and what roles are needed. Students are learning what each role encompasses. This technique is not perfect, and I know for a fact group work effectiveness across my school is patchy at best. I am training students to work in groups in a  specific way for me, and hopefully, if I start this in September next year, I will have great group work fairly shortly thereafter.

The key is, finding a way that works well for you, and for the students. I really don’t believe there’s any point in doing anything that is not effective learning for the students. So I changed my mindset and found a solution. I just need to be patient, as I said, it does take time to train students.

If you are interested in this resource, please contact me for a PDF file of all the cards.

Resource #4: Unseen Prose Model Answer

SECTION A: 40 marks
Read carefully the passage below. Then answer all the questions which follow it. The novel from which this passage is taken is set in America, on a beach.

She backed up a few steps, then ran at the water. At first her strides were long and graceful, but then a small wave crashed into her knees. She faltered, regained her footing, and flung herself over the next waist-high wave. The water was only up to her hips, so she stood, pushed the hair out of her eyes, and continued walking until the water covered her shoulder. There she began to swim – with the jerky, head-above-water stroke of the untutored.

A hundred yards offshore, the fish sensed a change in the sea’s rhythm. It did not see the woman, nor yet did it smell her. Running with the length of its body were a series of thin canals, filled with mucus and dotted with nerve endings, and these nerves detected vibrations and signalled the brain. The fish turned towards shore.

The woman continued to swim away from the beach, stopping now and then to check her position by the lights shining from the house. The tide was slack, so she had not moved up or down the beach. But she was tiring, so she rested for a moment, treading water, and then started for shore.

The vibrations were stronger now, and the fish recognised prey. The sweeps of its tail quickened, thrusting the giant body forward with speed that agitated the tiny phosphorescent animals in the water and caused them to glow, casting a mantle of sparks over the fish.

The fish closed on the woman and hurtled past a dozen feet to the side and six feet below the surface. The woman felt only a wave of pressure that seemed to lift her up in the water and ease her down again. She stopped swimming and held her breath. Feeling nothing further, she resumed her lurching stroke.

The fish smelled her now, and the vibrations – erratic and sharp – signalled distress. The fish began to circle close to the surface. Its dorsal fin broke water, and its tail, thrashing back and forth, cut the glassy surface with a hiss. A series of tremors shook its body.

For the first time, the woman felt fear, though she did not know why. Adrenalin shot through her trunk and her limbs, generating a tingling heat and urging her to swim faster. She guessed that she was fifty yards from shore. She could see the line of white foam where the waves broke on the beach. She saw the lights in the house, and for a comforting moment she thought she saw someone pass by one of the windows.

The fish was about forty feet away from the woman, off to the side, when it turned suddenly to the left, dropped entirely below the surface, and with two quick thrusts of its tail, was upon her.

At first, the woman thought she had snagged her leg on a rock of piece of floating wood. There was no initial pain, only one violent tug on her right leg. She reached down to touch her foot, treading water with her left leg to keep her head up, feeling in the blackness with her left hand. She could not find her foot. She reached higher on her leg, and then she was overcome by a rush of nausea and dizziness. Her groping fingers had found a nub of bone and tattered flesh. She knew that the warm, pushing flow over her fingers in the chill water was her own blood.

Pain and panic struck together. The woman threw her head back and screamed a guttural cry of terror.

The fish had moved away. It swallowed the woman’s limb without chewing. Bones and meat passed down the massive gullet in a single spasm. Now the fish turned again, homing on the

stream of blood flushing from the woman’s femoral artery, a beacon as clear and true as a lighthouse on a cloud-less night. This time, the fish attacked from below. It hurtled up under the woman, jaws agape. The great conical head struck her like a locomotive, knocking her up out of the water. The jaws snapped shut around her torso, crushing bones and flesh and organs into jelly. The fish, with the woman’s body in its mouth, smashed down on the water with a thunderous splash, spewing foam and blood and phosphorescence in a gaudy shower.

Below the surface, the fish shook its head from side to side, its serrated triangular teeth sawing through what little sinew still resisted. The corpse fell apart.


Read Paragraph 1
A1. List five adjectives that describe the woman and her actions. [5] 

We learn from the use if adjectives that the woman have “long” legs which allow her to make “graceful” strides. Her hair is long enough for it to be needed to be “pushed” out of her eyes. She is confident in water, as she “flung” herself in however she is not a smooth swimmer as her stroke is described as “jerky” and “untutored”.

Read Paragraphs 2-4
A2. How does the writer show the fish is a predator? [5]
You must refer to the language used in the text to support your answer. 

The writer describes the fish in an interesting way, small hints allows the reader to realise that the fish is a predator and he sees the woman as prey. The fish is introduced a an animal who might be a predator as the fish “sensed a changed in the sea’s rhythm.” This could mean that it is finely attuned to it’s surroundings in order to survive, or in order to attack potential prey. The reader soon understands the fish is a predator as the writer explains that the fish is“yet.. [to] smell her.” This adds to the impression that the  the animal is a predator as opposed to s victim. This is reiterated even further when the writer explains “the fish turned towards the shore.” We, as readers, know that the woman is towards the shore and tiring, therefore the decision of the fish to turn towards her indicates that he is predatory, rather than running away, like a victim.

This notion of the fish being a predator is confirmed, “the fish recognised prey.” In response to this recognition the fish “quickened” and it’s body was “thrusting” forward, so much so that it is “agitating” other sea life. This indicates to the reader that the fish is a primal creature, programmed to hunt and this is a natural primal response to sensing prey.

Read Paragraphs 5-8
A3. What impressions do you get of the fish in these lines? You must refer to the text to support your answer. [10] 

These lines add to the impression created of the fish earlier in the text, that of a predator. The writer initially reiterates this with the term “closed on” which generally indicated that someone or something is closing in on prey. The fish had started moving quicker earlier in the text, it has gone from “thrusting” it’s body forwards, to “hurtling” this a predator that is keen is go in for the kill and doesn’t want it’s prey to escape.

The fish then positions itself below and off to the side of the woman, in order to monitor her before attacking, it began to “circle” which is traditionally an act of a attacking animal. The writer also reveals that the fish “smelled her now” which again indicates that he is close enough to attack, but also to be sure that the woman is prey.

The fish is getting quicker through out these paragraphs, as closer to the woman, he is truly “closing in” on his prey. The fish interprets, as a hunter, the woman’s “jerky…untutored” stroke as distress signals. The fish then acts on this information, and is so excited that tremors are running through it’s body as it prepares to attack, it’s tail “thrashing” back and forth. The use of this powerful verb strikes terror in the ready, as there is a slight note of onomatopoeia when reading it in the context of the sea. The fact that this is following by the use of “hiss” could remind the reader of a snake, another creature that can be deadly.

Finally, the fish moves at the fastest yet, going was 40 feet away to upon her in “two quick thrusts” of it’s tail. This not only indicates the pure speed but also the size of the animal in order to travel that far in the that time, with so little effort. The fish was soon “upon her”, which could create the image in the reader’s mind of it literally being on top of her, which creates tension although we know she stands little chance of survival.

Read Paragraphs 9-10
A4. How does the writer make these lines tense and dramatic? [10] You should write about:
what happens to build tension and drama;
the writer’s use of language to create tension and drama;
the effects on the reader.

The writer uses several techniques in a short space to create tension, whilst also building on tension created earlier in the extract. “At first,” this indicates that something else will happen, by using a time stamp which create tension as the reader does not know what, however they are already fairly sure it will not be good, due to the build up and impression created of the shark.

“Snagged” means caught on, like you might with a piece of clothing on wire, the word does not indicate a serious injury. This create tension as the reader then may think that the shark has in fact not attacked. However it soon becomes apparent in the next few sentences that the shark has eaten the woman right leg. “There was no initial pain” indicates that great pain would follow shortly, “only one violent tug” shows us that the shark has ripped her leg of in one bite. Leaving some mystery to the description allows a picture to be built up in the mind of the reader which creates greater tension as they cannot be sure what has happened.

Then follows an extremely vivid and gory description about the woman realising her leg has been eaten off by a predator. The use of the short sentence “she could not find her foot” creates impact upon the reader and forms an unsavoury image in their mind. “Feeling in the blackness” brings to mind associations of evil and darkness, or monsters which creates further tension or it could be argued that it is foreshadowing, letting the reader know something awful will happen.

“She was overcome with a rush of nausea and dizziness” these feeling reflect what the reader may be feeling about the situation, and if they are not at that point they will at the gory description of “nub of bone and tattered flesh”. This powerful imagery will make the reader the feel disgusted and also make then appreciate how powerful the shark is, especially the sharpness of the teeth – so sharp that they leave the flesh “tattered.” This is not only dramatic, but also add to the high level of tension in these lines.

Finally, the uses of words such as “groping” “pain and panic” and “guttural cry” really emphasise the primal hunt that is going on in the scene. The reader does not yet know whether the fish has finished it’s attack.

Read Paragraphs 11-12
A5. “In the last part of the text the writer presents the fish as a majestic beast” [10] To what extent do you agree with this view?
You should write about:
your own impressions of the fish as it is presented here and in the passage as a whole;
how the writer has created these impressions.
You must refer to the text to support your answer. 

The word “majestic” tends to indicate something that is great and regal, as it has links with “majesty” however it can also be used to describe animals such a Lions who are considered King of the animal world but are also deadly predators. Therefore it could be possible to use the word in association with a shark.

I do not think that the writer is presenting the fish as a majestic beast, I believe that throughout the text he uses several techniques to create a monstrous yet natural image of this predator. The use of scientifically accurate description and anatomical names for the fish’s body parts help to create a natural image of the predator.  The use of terms such a “dorsal fin” “mucus” “nerve endings” “gullet” “femoral artery” “conical”. The impact of this scientific terminology allows the reader to see the animal as a natural predator, not just a mythical monster.

The fish is very clearly presented as a predator ready for attack, the description of the fish’s body “a series of long canals” “dotted with nerve endings” show that this animal to built for the hunt. The fact it can move 40 feet in “two sharp thrusts of his tail” and swallow a leg in one bite shows the sheer power and ferocity of this beast.

Furthermore the final stages of the text highlight the real savage nature of this natural beast. “bones and meat passed down the massive gullet in a single spasm” this not only shows that the fish eats humans, but that a leg capable of a “long and graceful side” can be swallowed whole therefore indicating to the reader again the true size of the creature.

The creature is described as clearly knowing how to find and attack prey, from sensing vibrations in the water, to circling 40 feet away. It also sweeps past to eat the woman’s leg and follows this by homing in the on the “stream of blood flushing from the woman’s femoral artery” showing that it is focused and driven to complete the kill. The fish is compared to a locomotive, and several adjectives are used in this section of the text to reiterate the size of this beast – “massive” “great”. It also uses very strong description to describe the end of the attack, the fact that with “jaws agape” the fish can fit the woman’s remaining body in its mouth. These jaws then “snap shut” around the torso, using their “serrated” edges to “saw” through the corpse.

Considering the way the author represents this creature I would argue that it comes across as a beast, however not majestic in the way that a Lion may come across. The reason for this is that it is shown as a cold blooded killer which is the reality of nature, whereas something that maybe be consider as majestic might have been portrayed in a more positive way.