Katikati Primary School (TLIF 2-046) - The power of ‘yet’ Publications
Katikati Primary school has found a way to make their students more successful by giving them challenges where failure was an inevitable part of the learning process. The solution for the students was to be more strategic about the way they invested their effort.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Sarah Trethewey, Jayne Harray, Dan Priest, Hannah Devery, Marlene Dyer, Megan McDougall, Jennie McKeown, Steph Dekker, Emma Hone and Ann Townsend
Date Published: March 2019
The power of 'yet'
Katikati Primary School had a high number of priority learners who were working below National Standards and who teachers saw had poor self-esteem and lacked motivation. The teachers had been investigating how to develop the students as learners and wondered how they could use research by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck around ‘growth mindsets’ — the understanding that everyone can develop their intelligence and abilities to design teaching practices that support this development. This investigation led them to explore how raising children’s self-esteem, willingness to take risks, and resilience could enable them to become autonomous learners who could meet the expectation set in the National Standards and use their knowledge and skills in a range of practical situations. They theorised that if students were more aware of the malleability of their intelligence and more skilled at approaching challenging situations, they could achieve improved outcomes.
The results from the memory game highlighted that students were using their effort more intelligently, as they were able to identify the number of items using less lives. They were able to voice that they had collaboratively come up with strategies to use. When we gained student voice, many groups discussed that they were able to ‘work smarter’ because they came up with a strategy and used this for the different rounds.
Teacher observation on a memory game
The experience gave the teachers new insights into how they could support students who were challenged. Collaboration appears to be a strong factor in reducing the risk of failure individuals perceive in competition. Reducing this risk encourages students to try activities they might otherwise have resisted. Students also seem more likely to think strategically and reflect when working with others.
The project lead was Sarah Trethewey. The other members of the team were:
- Jayne Harray
- Dan Priest
- Hannah Devery
- Marlene Dyer
- Megan McDougall
- Jennie McKeown
- Steph Dekker
- Emma Hone
- Ann Townsend.
They were supported by Chris Clay, from Education Unleashed Ltd.
The inquiry story
The inquiry involved ten teachers who taught across the full range of year levels in the school, from new entrants to year 6. They worked as a whole group to develop their interventions but worked independently in pairs to teach the students. All the teachers at the school engaged with Carol Dweck’s work at the start of the project.
What was the focus?
This inquiry was focussed on the school’s priority learners — Māori and Pacific students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The inquiry question was “How might levels of achievement for our priority learners increase through the development of a growth mindset?”
The team developed a range of interventions designed to:
- raise student’s awareness of the malleability of their intelligence;
- maximise the potential of competition to motivate students and use it to make them collaborate; and
- shift students’ endeavours from ‘blind persistence’ towards ‘intelligent effort’.
What did the teachers try?
The first stage in the inquiry saw the teachers immerse themselves in learning about growth and fixed mindsets. Students with fixed mindsets believe their traits are fixed and they can’t alter their intelligence, while students with a growth mindset believe they can develop their intelligence. As teachers learned more about this, they realised they needed to focus on helping their students become more aware of ideas around mindset. Each pair of teachers worked together to teach their students about a growth mindset using ideas that were developed collaboratively with other teams of teachers. They also engaged with their Māori community to be sure they were responsive to the cultural perspectives of the school community. This engagement helped shape some of their early interventions by suggesting different challenges they could present to the students.
In the second phase, the teachers wanted to develop a deeper understanding of the way their students dealt with challenging situations in the classroom. They used a STEM resource that involved the students building and launching small rockets using old film canisters. This activity was designed to ensure that all students experienced failure (and hence challenge). Two important observations that came from this — the impact of unexpected competition and blind persistence — became the focus of their subsequent interventions.
The rest of the inquiry was carried out in a series of five innovation cycles. The teachers implemented their ideas over 3–4 weeks, gathering data that they reviewed with their external advisor, and then shared with the rest of the team. Subsequent iterations built on the previous ones and the teachers would identify the smallest possible version of an intervention to test and build on that.
The data the team used to assess the impact of their innovations included: a questionnaire focused on students’ views related to theories of intelligence, reading age assessments, and National Standards data related to overall teacher judgements (OTJs) on reading, writing and mathematics.
The new interventions were a mixture of individual activities and challenges or ones that could only be completed when collaborating. For example, one pair of teachers designed a series of games to encourage intelligent effort. Their students would normally rush to attempt to solve a problem without thinking strategically. They failed to recognise the benefits of collaboration in their eagerness to be competitive. The teachers designed the games so that groups had to discuss how they would work together before they began, encouraging them to be more intelligent in the way they invested their time and effort. They began by creating a simple memory game — memorising 20 items on a list in 30 seconds, which was impossible for one person to do — and then gathered data on how the students changed the way they approached the task over subsequent attempts. They also gathered student voice and reflected on how the intervention worked before developing the next version of the game. By the end of Term 1 2018, this pair had developed a suite of games that focused on providing a range of challenges including pattern-seeking, classification and reading comprehension.
Examples of other problems and innovations include:
- Developing group narrative writing plans. Students would pay little attention to the narrative plans they created, so they wrote without strategy and had little in terms of criteria against which to reflect. In this innovation, students would plan their narratives collaboratively, and teachers encouraged them to use their plans as a kind of social contract. Students created success criteria, essential vocabulary and a plan for the narrative. They wrote their narratives independently before returning to the group to critique each other’s work against the plan they created together.
- Increasing inclusion during question-and-answer sessions. Students would compete to answer questions in class discussions as if it were a race, which alienated less competitive students and focussed students on finding an answer rather than developing strategies to allow them to find answers. Initially, teachers used strategies such as ‘no-hands up’, targeted questioning, and increased levels of wait time until answers were required. As the team progressed with the challenge, they began focussing on the types of questions they posed and shifted from asking for answers towards asking students to first explain the thinking that led to their answer. This fostered metacognition, focussing the students’ attention on how they were thinking and developing their ideas rather than simply the outputs of these processes.
- Helping young students become more independent when they became stuck. New entrant and year 1 students are highly dependent on guidance and support from their teacher to overcome challenges and have little awareness of how to proceed other than trying whatever comes to mind first. The team set up challenges using Tangrams, which were designed to become more difficult and ensure all the students would be puzzled. The team hoped that this would allow students to experience being ‘stuck’ and that through guided teaching, they would be able to identify opportunities and develop and articulate basic strategies.
Over the course of the project, the theory of intelligence survey showed a shift away from an entity theory of intelligence (that an individual’s intelligence is fixed — a ‘fixed mindset’) towards an incremental theory (that intelligence grows as a result of an individual’s experience — a ‘growth mindset’). Unfortunately, problems with collecting the data meant they were not able to determine the statistical significance of the differences between pre- and post-intervention responses.
The data suggested a 12 per cent higher rate of increase in reading age, and a small shift towards higher levels of achievement in the OTJs made about mathematics for the priority students. However, the number of students was too small to determine whether these shifts were statistically significant.
What did they learn?
It appears that student collaboration is central to both managing competitiveness and increasing intelligent effort. Some examples exist where collaboration promoted students to develop plans and strategies together. The social contract between group members also appeared to raise the status of any resulting plan or strategy, meaning that individuals were more likely to consider it.
Some collaborative initiatives had students working on tasks with multiple solutions or answers. This appears to have supported better discussions between learners and is possibly related to enhanced opportunities for creative work that are possible in situations where solutions are not necessarily ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’. This suggests students were learning to invest their effort intelligently by building on each other’s ideas to develop strategies for finding solutions.
Collaboration also appears to have important impacts on the way that teachers manage competitiveness in the classroom. While collaboration may reduce competition between individuals, it can be fostered between groups. This means that students can continue to be motivated by the prospect of winning (or losing) while not having to bear the risk of failure entirely on their shoulders. This shift in risk appears to increase students’ participation.
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Yeager, D. S., Hanselman, P., Paunesku, D., Hulleman, C., Dweck, C., Muller, … C., Duckworth, A. (2018, March 9). MANUSCRIPT UNDER REVISION: Where and For Whom Can a Brief, Scalable Mindset Intervention Improve Adolescents’ Educational Trajectories?. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/md2qa
For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader Sarah Trethewey at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Telling students they are ‘not there yet’ gives them a way forward, and lets them understand they are learning and developing their abilities.
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