Putting it simply, it is maximising opportunities for children to learn, through a rich diet of challenging and engaging learning experiences, with aware adults spotting and intervening when there are signs that a child needs some help or guidance.
In another post on practical science, I offered the following, as ideas that I used to challenge children, in this case, year 2 infants.
Science from the Postman…. Materials…
I looked out some ideas that I used in the classroom, to develop science related activities.
Get the children to make a collection of as many different types of paper that they can from within the school (and from home) Use a magnifier, microscope or visualiser to look even more closely at the papers. Sort, classify, display. Explain similarities and differences, as well as uses.
Devise a fair test to find the best paper to send a parcel through the post. (Think of the journey of the parcel)
Devise a fair test to find the best writing tool to write the label. (What will happen to the parcel)
Design an envelope or a parcel to send a delicate article through the post.
Devise a fair test to find which is the best material for a bag to keep the letters dry.
Devise a fair test to find the best materials to keep the post-person, cool, warm or dry.
The post-person often starts work in the dark. What is the best colour for a coat to be seen?
Fair testing is possible, guided, with very young children, who have an idea of what fair means, so this can be translated into the practical activity.
There was challenge, appropriate to the age and experiences of the children. So there was something to think about.
There was interest, it fitted with the post theme.
There was quality talk, within the remit of the challenge. This was sometimes checked with a tape recorder in the group.
There was specific purpose, with writing on different surfaces with different mark-making implements providing writing practice as well as the science activity.
There was decision making, as children had to decide what to do at each stage.
There was measuring, of length, of temperatures, of capacity; drops of water. So skills from other areas were used and applied.
There was recording, as lists, of things needed, of step by step instructions, notes of on-going outcomes and final reports of what they did and discovered. Maths records were also kept, as were drawings to help note making.
There was evaluation, as they got to a particular stage and took stock, as infants do, making appropriate changes during their working.
Another level of evaluation occurred at the end, when the children were challenged to articulate what they had learned and what they’d change if they did it again.
Growth mind-set thrives on broad, balanced and relevant experiences from which a great deal can be extracted, so, is that where it starts to go wrong in classrooms? It is, after all, in the teacher hands, if it is to become a reality.
Tasking is the essential aspect, to my mind and I have written more about tasking for challenge. It is very easy to underplay the challenge in activity, so that it remains totally in teacher control. If this is the case, then children can only demonstrate skills and knowledge within the task parameters. The death knell for some approaches came with the QCA schemes, the National Strategies and the over-application of sub-levels when deciding about next steps. Too often, children were under-challenged, and, I’d argue, still are, in many classrooms where “following the recipe” would summarise the approach; every step dictated by the teacher, so that child decision making is very limited.
Growth mind-set does not mean just getting better at doing, it means getting better at thinking, deciding, selecting, acting more and more independently, keeping ongoing notes and records, sharing thoughts with others appropriately and listening to them, using and applying skills and knowledge to the limits of current abilities, then identifying the skill and knowledge gap that needs to be filled in order to progress further.
In other words, it is the learner taking responsibility for the production of an outcome that summarises where they have got to in their learning.
The challenge for the teacher is coming up with the challenge in the first place. Growth mind-set in children requires a growth mind-set philosophy from the teacher.
What have they to think about, to talk about, to decide, to record, to evaluate at key points, to report (multi-media) to others on completion?
PS. Growth mind-set is not just for home tasks…