Blog post by Margret Smith, English Teacher.
Late last year (2014), Education Secretary Nicky Morgan announced that England was to become a ‘global leader’ in teaching character, resilience and grit to students across the country. So what is so magical about these characteristics?
How students overcome setbacks and deal with failure is almost as important as how much homework they do. Equally, how students deal with others – things like tolerance, empathy and co-operation – also affects how they learn.
These characteristics have been labelled ‘non-cognitive factors’ and recently much research has been devoted to how they relate to both academic and personal success.
Think of the Olympic runner Mo Farrah. He didn’t get his Olympic medals without grit, determination and the ability to reflect on and learn from failure and these non-cognitive factors also apply to academic learning. The student who is determined to crack quadratic equations, or analyse poetry, or understand mechanics, uses the same grit and determination that athletes, dancers and musicians do. And it is these students who tend to be the most successful.
In fact, psychologist Carol Dweck believes that non-cognitive factors are actually more important than the traditional cognitive factors (otherwise known as intelligence to non-experts like me). Although researchers differ in how they group the various non-cognitive factors, there is general agreement that their importance in academic success has been overlooked.
Searching for a Growth Mindset
Some of these non-cognitive factors – like honesty for example – cannot be taught, but the good news is that many can be developed in the classroom (and at home). Good ways to do this are to raise their importance by asking students to rate how well they demonstrated determination (or grit, or co-operation, or empathy…) in a plenary question. Another good way is to name and praise the non-cognitive factor being demonstrated by the student – “Joanna, you have shown great determination in improving this piece of writing.”
I have tried this – it led to much greater effort, better progress and a really positive, supportive classroom environment. It led, in fact, to that nirvana that teachers always hope for – the Growth Mindset.
Find out more
Coursera cover this topic in detail through their course, Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms . It is directed at teachers, parents and anyone who deals with children and teenagers. It’s also completely free and only lasts for three weeks. Internal staff can find more reading on the VLE under ‘Teaching’.
(Image source – EU Women, WordPress)