I was raised within both a home and education where right and wrong existed. There was very little room in either setting for a grey area; what was, simply was and what wasn’t- well, you follow. My secondary school was terrifying; my option choices were honestly made on the basis of avoiding certain circles (hence my complete inability to sew) and I lacked confidence to take on an additional GCSE, selecting supported studies because ‘you get a free hour for homework). The curriculum was not an invitation for exploration, but rather an A+B+C formula to the grades that were on my target report. I remember rather vividly, my English teacher correcting me on an interpretation of Browning’s Sonnet and being shot down in an instant (this is the same woman who laughed in my face at the outrageous notion that I could study Literature A level, so without digressing too much, her putdown may not be representative here).
Did I require the extra hour? To step outside my prior self for a moment and look upon 90’s kid Katherine from a teaching perspective, no. I walked out of school with an A* (English, smugly), two As, five Bs and 2 Cs (graphics- textiles would have definitely been my bag. I’ll give you a moment for that one). This was accomplished as a result of zero revision and my speedy completion of Tomb Raider – that four week break in school timetabling to sit at home really paid off. To put it in a nutshell, it could have been better.
It is only now, nearly twenty years on that I can peruse over the situation as a professional and consider the possiblities here. My academic potential? As much of a muchness to any other student at such a fine establishment. So what kept me from success? To toss aside the black/white approach, there was a lot going on outside the classroom, behaviour in the classroom of some subjects was verging on the ridiculous but above all else, I did not develop the confidence to believe that I would cope or could experience success at GCSE. Why? Because failure was not an option.
I’ve spent the last week or so mulling over the concept of failure after discovering the counterargument to Dweck’s growth mindset via Dr Tim O’Brien thanks to Paul Dix. The realisation that growth mindset was flawed shook up my thinking a little until a colleague put it rather eloquently that, ‘anything that takes an approach that is as binary as “you are or you are not” is subject to being flawed.’ I believe in the act of learning as opposed to an end point but yet this is not necessarily the train of thought here; by adopting an adherence to growth mindset within schools, are we then rejecting all those who dare to voice that there IS black and white and there IS a sense of failure as rejection and not simply put, a circumstance that requires us to dust ourselves off and ‘have a think on it’?
Flash forward to my classroom now and the jury is currently out. I very much reward effort over achievement; progress, in my opinion is a result of hard work and the ability to recover from what psychologically the individual may view as a setback. This is not only essential to an academic setting but to the world beyond the walls; coping mechanisms are built through small, repeated actions and experiences of such an emotion as failure- the small shortcomings are received in the same way as the larger and are just in valuable in developing resilience. And so with all of this in mind, how do I accommodate for students that need specific skills to pass a linear examination with a binary grading but that I would ideally like to approach the curriculum with them in a holistic way that defies all of the above? Big breath. Dr Tim O’Brien put it nicely in his article:’Yet in this new mindset environment, a teacher trying to establish which mindset learners possess will naturally place them as learners on the fixed pole or the growth pole. Instead of the teacher having multiple lenses through which to understand individuality and commonality, they now have only two.’ One size, as we all know, is not possible. Looking for the quick win is not what will save the educational format as we have or now know it and whilst my mind boggles at the thought (all multi-faceted sides of it), it is slightly refreshing to observe with children that they can possess a sense of peace by knowing that there isn’t a formula to crack.