Monday 5 December 2016

What Anime Has Taught Me about Growth Mindset

I watch a lot of sports anime (Japanese cartoons about basketball teams, volleyball teams, swimmers, figure skaters, you get the idea). In watching these cartoons, I have noticed that there is a distinct difference between the Japanese approach to exams, competitions and events, compared with the British or American approach.

The idea for this blog post hit me in the face when I was watching Free! Iwatobi Swim Club in Japanese with English subtitles, and I noticed what I thought was an odd translation. If you are familiar with anime you might have heard the Japanese expression "Ganbatte!" which literally means "try your best" and is used often before exams, competitions, and fighting evil pirates (OK that one wasn't a sports anime). However, in the anime I was watching, ganbatte was translated as "Good luck" in the subtitles which struck me as weird, because I knew the correct translation. That's when it hit me: before exams and competitions, British people say "good luck", whereas Japanese people say "try your best". Could this very simple habit be the reason Japanese students outperform British students in education?

Think about what "good luck" really means. It implies that the recipient can only do well in the exam by some fluke. It implies that their own knowledge and skills are not good enough, and that the only way for them to succeed is if they luckily manage to get easy questions, or they luckily guess how to answer the questions. They are implying that you don't really have any influence on your success in the exam, and it is all in the hands of fate. This is a very fixed mindset way of thinking.

Consider the Japanese mindset instead: by saying "ganbatte" you are simply encouraging that person to try their best, implying that the harder you try, the better your result will be and the greater your success. This is very growth mindset.

People of Britain: please stop saying "good luck" to students before exams, to performers before performances, and to teams before competitions. Let's start saying "try your best" instead. Maybe this subtle shift in focus is enough to encourage more of a growth mindset in this country.

And for more motivational tips, you really should check out some Japanese anime or manga. Assassination Classroom, in particular, is a good one for teachers wanting to inspire their students.

Emma x x x

Thursday 1 December 2016

Why UCAS Grades Are Anti-Growth Mindset

I hate doing UCAS predicted grades.

In September, us year 13 teachers are asked to predict what grade we think the students will realistically achieve at the end of the year, and these are put on their university application form (the UCAS form). These have to be realistic and not inflated, because that's the only way that the system would be fair. As these predictions are made so early on in the year, we generally base them on their AS grade and maybe the first couple of assessments of year 13.

But here's the problem: many students are disappointed with their AS grade and aim to improve on it in year 13. They work twice as hard, now that they realise how difficult it is, and as a result many of them often do improve on their grade. But as a teacher, you can't necessarily predict this, and even if you think this might be the case, you can't really justify putting the UCAS grade higher if you have no evidence that they will improve.

I have a student who got a grade C in her AS Maths. I made her UCAS grade a C, because that seemed reasonable. But I think she underperformed last year and with a bit of extra dedication and a lot of support from me and my colleagues, she could get a grade B, or even higher. So when she asked me whether I could raise her UCAS grade for her so she would have a better chance of being accepted by universities, it was difficult for me to say no. If I said no, I would be telling her I don't think she can achieve above a grade C. Or at least, that's what she would think I was telling her. And this could affect her self-confidence, and could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we give a student a low UCAS grade (because evidence suggests that is the grade they are most likely to get if everything remains the same as last year), then we are sending the message that we don't believe they can improve. One of my ex-students came into school the other day and we were talking about how his UCAS grade was a D (which was perfectly reasonable, as he had only got an E at AS) but he ended up getting a grade B. He said, "I proved you wrong". This actually made me quite upset! He had obviously spent the whole year thinking I believed he could not achieve higher than a D. Now maybe this is what motivated him to go on to achieve a grade B, and hence it was a good thing his UCAS grade was so low. But it still upsets me to think that he thought I didn't believe in him!

Conversely, giving a student a high UCAS grade might give them a false sense of security. If they think they are very likely to get a grade A*, they might not push themselves as much. They might see their UCAS grade as the minimum grade they will achieve with the minimum amount of effort.

I believe that predictions can be very powerful in influencing outcomes. When I was revising for my third year exams at university, I made predictions of my percentage scores for every exam I took, wrote these on a piece of paper and stuck them on the wall above my desk. I made predictions before I started revising but these predictions were eerily accurate. Ever since then I have been convinced that what we believe will happen, will happen. I have actually made a vision board for this year's A2 results, and stuck this on the wall above my desk in the maths office. On it it has every year 13 student's name, and the grade I need them to achieve in order for us to get an ALPS grade 1. These grades are not the same as the students' UCAS grades, they are higher. So it doesn't make sense that I'm telling the students I believe one thing when I'm really aiming for another.

I don't want to make the students' UCAS grades too high because it seems against the rules of UCAS, and I want to do things fairly. But am I being silly? Do all the other schools inflate their grades on little evidence? Should I just predict them all A*s and then work my socks off to make sure they get those grades?

Anyone else in a similar situation? What's your policy for making UCAS grades?

Emma x x x