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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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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