This Will Improve Academic Performance – But Our Schools Are Getting It Wrong.

An abundance of research has consistently demonstrated that a growth mindset – the belief that intelligence, ability and performance can all be improved with effort – will improve academic performance. The research is compelling.

Increasingly however, our schools are streaming students based on academic ability, a practiced steeped in the idea that ability and intelligence are fixed, and one that has been proven to undermine academic achievement.

Research has clearly demonstrated the plasticity of the brain and the capacity of students to become smarter through hard word and challenge.

The communication to students that learning comes with effort and is a process that takes time is critical in facilitating a growth mindset. Just as important is the message that neither ability nor intelligence are fixed and can be altered with time and effort.

The most successful countries in the world have growth mindset beliefs at the core of their schooling, communicating to students that learning takes time, and that effort and application will eventually improve academic performance.

The ranking of education systems is based upon international tests and education data, including the OECD’s Pisa tests and two major studies, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and Progess in International Reading Literacy Study.

In 2014 the top five education systems were (1) South Korea; (2) Japan; (3) Singapore; (4) Hong Kong; and (5) Finland. The UK was 6th, Canada 7th, with the US, Australia and New Zealand coming in at 14th, 15th and 16th respectively out of the 40 ranked.

Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor of Pearson who publish The Learning Curve (an internationally respected quantitative and qualitative analysis of educational systems), writes,

‘… some conclusions from The Learning Curve can clearly be reached. One is the continuing rise of a number of Pacific Asian countries, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, which combine effective education systems with a culture that prizes effort above inherited ‘smartness.’ (The Learning Curve, 2014 Report)

Many Asian countries base their education on the idea that learning and achievement are determined by effort, as opposed to the idea that ability and intelligence are fixed. In line with this, the process of streaming students according to their academic ability is considered undesirable, even unacceptable. In Japan, the practice of streaming is seen as promoting inequality, and raises concerns that grouping students according to ability undermines children’s self-image, socialisation and academic performance.

However, schools in other countries that score lower on international tests, such as the US and Australia, base their schooling practices around ideas that ability is fixed. Despite extensive research demonstrating the plasticity of the brain, many countries persist with streaming students based on ability and achievement, communicating to students the message that their ability is fixed. The resulting fixed mindset beliefs have been consistently shown to undermine opportunities and performance.

Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University, writes, ‘In one primary school I attended in England that placed students into different groups for mathematics in Year 1, one of the students simply told me that ‘all the clever students had gone into a different class now’.

Students are very much aware of academic streaming practices at whatever age they are and the message they draw is clear – some students are clever and some are not.

Which Students Are Most At Risk?

Dweck has found that the students who are most at risk of being damaged by fixed ability beliefs are high-achieving girls.

From an early age, these students have generally been praised for their work, with attention drawn to how clever or smart they are – messages that promote a fixed mindset. The problem is that as soon as these students fail at something, the conclusion they are at risk of reaching is that they are not so smart after all.

High achieving girls with the mindset that people are either smart or not, when placed in a high academic stream group or an extension group, often suffer from the idea that they need to maintain the image of being clever. This mindset can undermine their ability to cope with failure and make them challenge aversive.

There are a number of studies which have shown that when schools move away from academic streaming to mixed or heterogeneous grouping, achievement and participation improves significantly.

A study by the University of Oxford of 14,000 children in England from years 4 through to 6 compared those taught in groups according to academic ability, with those grouped heterogeneously over the period of a year. They found that academic grouping undermined the progress of students, and that those taught in the mixed group performed significantly better on tests of mathematical reasoning.

According to Boaler the abundance of evidence internationally indicates clearly that academic streaming impedes the achievement of students in low and middle groups and does not improve the achievement of students in the higher groups.

A growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, has repeatedly been demonstrated to enhance academic performance. Currently, the subtle messages that are descending from an education system which streams according to academic ability at the time of testing, serve to reinforce a fixed idea of intelligence and ability. The undeniable effect of this is to undermine academic learning, effort and performance.

In order to ensure our children and adolescents are provided with every opportunity possible to reach their fullest potential, the message that needs to be delivered with unwavering confidence is that achievement and intelligence depend on effort, and that students have the capacity to influence the outcome and improve academic performance.  

For information on how to develop and nurture a growth mindset in children and adolescents, see here.

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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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