What the PISA tests tell us about growth mindset

What is PISA?

The Pisa tests are the Programme for International Student Assessment, in which the ability of 15-year-olds is tested every three years in reading, maths and science. The tests allow comparisons to be made between the education systems of different countries. They are voluntary but an increasing number of countries take part, wanting to see how their pupils compare by international standards.

The rankings are based on samples of pupils in each country – with about 600,000 pupils having taken this round of tests. The UK’s figures are based on a sample of about 14,000 pupils taking tests in almost 460 schools. Churchill took part in the Pisa tests in 2015, but we weren’t part of the sample in 2018.

This year the UK has gone up in the international rankings, particularly in maths (UK is 18th, up from 27th) and reading (UK is 14th, up from 22nd). You can read more about the PISA 2018 tests here.

The Pisa tests also ask questions designed to capture students’ attitudes and beliefs about school life and what it means to them. This year, for the first time, the Pisa tests asked students a question to understand whether or not they had a growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset?

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Growth mindset is term first coined by Professor Carol Dweck to describe the belief that your basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. It is the opposite of a fixed mindset, where you believe that you are born with a certain amount of ability and there isn’t anything you can do to change it.

The importance of a growth mindset is one of my most fundamental beliefs about education. So much so, I wrote a book about it!

What does PISA tell us about growth mindset?

In this year’s PISA tests, students from around the world were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t change very much.” If students agreed with the statement, it showed they had a fixed mindset – that is, they believed they were born with a certain amount of intelligence and they couldn’t do much to change it. If the disagreed, it showed they had more of a growth mindset.

Answers to this question were then linked to the students’ responses to other questions in the tests to understand more about the importance of a growth mindset.

Lesson one: a growth mindset makes a difference

The PISA 2018 Report shows that students whose answers indicated that they had a growth mindset scored 32 points higher in reading than students whose answered indicated a fixed mindset. This was true even after the statistics had been adjusted to account for differences in the socio-economic backgrounds of the different countries.

The report also shows that:

“Students who believe that their abilities and intelligence can be developed over time (those with a “growth mindset”) also expressed less fear of failure than students who believe their abilities and intelligence are “fixed”. In PISA 2018, the students with a growth mindset reported greater motivation to master tasks…set more ambitious learning goals for themselves, attached greater importance to school, and were more  likely to expect to complete a university degree.”

From Pisa 2018: Insights and Interpretations by Andreas Schleicher

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Lesson two: lots of students in the UK report having a growth mindset

Growth mindset PISA 2018

Out of 79 countries taking part, the UK came in the top 10 for students who believe that their abilities are not fixed and can be changed – well above the international average. This is good news! Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD (which runs the PISA tests) says:

“of all the judgments people make about themselves, the most influential is how capable they think they are of completing a task successfully…research shows that the belief that we are responsible for the results of our behaviour influences motivation, such that people are more likely to invest effort if they believe it will lead to the results they are trying to achieve.”

Lesson 3: a growth mindset can be taught

Teaching students more about the brain’s capacity to learn can help students to understand that the brain can change as we learn. This means that students are less likely to attribute failure to a lack of talent, and more likely to learn from setbacks. This is central to our approach at Churchill.

The PISA report also emphasises the importance of teachers, parents and school leaders believing in the potential of all children to succeed. This means having high expectations of all our students, and not reducing the level of challenge when learners struggle:

“When students struggle and teachers respond by lowering standards, teachers may imply that low achievement is the consequence of an inherent lack of ability. Unlike effort, talent is seen as something that students have no control over, so students may be more likely to give up rather than try harder…Parents, teachers and principals need to create an environment where children are encouraged to participate, and where educators believe in students’ potential to develop their skills and provide students with the necessary support and feedback.”

Lesson 4: developing a growth mindset is hard work

The PISA report says that the highest performing countries ensure that students are all educated together in comprehensive schools, with ambitious curricula and the unswerving belief that all children can achieve:

“In many countries, it has taken time to move from a belief that only a few students can succeed to embracing the idea that all students can achieve at high levels. It takes a concerted, multifaceted programme of policy making and capacity building to attain that goal. But one of the patterns observed amongst the highest-performing countries is the gradual move from a system in which students were stratified into different types of secondary schools, with curricula demanding various levels of cognitive skills, to a system in which all students go to secondary schools with similarly demanding curricula.”

“It takes strong leadership, and thoughtful and sustained communication to bring parents along in this effort, particularly those benefiting from the more selective
tracks. In the end, education systems are unlikely to sustain high performance and equitable opportunities to learn without the premise that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels – and that it is necessary for them to do so.”

This is hard work, but at Churchill we are committed to achieving it. The research shows that it’s worth it – and the UK is already moving in the right direction!

Kicking the mobile phone habit

I used to charge my phone on my bedside table. First thing in the morning I would reach for my phone, check Twitter, check Instagram, check my emails, read the news headlines, check the weather, see whether anything new had popped into Twitter whilst I’d been doing the other things….

Last thing at night, the same thing was happening. I’d go to bed, but it would sometimes be over an hour before I finally put my phone down to go to sleep. Instead I’d be scrolling, scrolling, through screen after screen of rubbish. Why?

I knew it was a bad habit. I’d read the reports that said you should avoid looking at screens two hours or more before going to bed, because the bright light suppresses the release of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone. And, sure enough, I wasn’t sleeping well. But when I woke up in the night, I’d reach for my phone, kidding myself that it was just to check the time…but as my phone unlocked, I’d see a notification symbol and fall into the trap of “just checking” to see what had happened. And, before I knew it, I’d be back to scrolling in the dark, my face lit up by the eerie glow of the screen. I knew it was unhealthy, but my willpower wasn’t up to resisting the temptation.

I used to read books voraciously. I hadn’t read a proper book at bedtime for ages. I was tired all the time. Something had to change.

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My saviour – a no-frills alarm clock

At the end of the summer holidays, I bought myself a back-to-school present: a no-frills alarm clock. I’d been using my phone alarm for years: “I have to have my phone by the bed, because it wakes me up in the morning!” I’d been kidding myself. It was just an excuse. It had to stop.

Buying the alarm clock was a deliberate attempt to break my bad habits. The one I chose has the following features:

  • Orange display: orange and red lighting has the least impact on suppressing melatonin, so is the best choice for night light
  • Fade-able display: to reduce the brightness in the dark, which again encourages the release of melatonin
  • Battery backup: so I know I’ll get woken up even if there’s a powercut
  • No frills: so it won’t be a distraction

It cost about £15 on Amazon. I plugged it in next to my bed, and unplugged my phone charger, taking it downstairs. From August 31st, I was in a new habit. Before bed, I’d plug my phone in to charge downstairs, and then go up to read. No more pointless last-thing-at-night or first-thing scrolling; no more having my evenings disturbed by emails which can definitely wait until morning; more reading of actual books at bedtime; less screen-time; more sleep.

The change has been miraculous. I still use my phone – I rely on it for so many things! But I have completely kicked the habit of night-time and morning scrolling. I’ve slept better. The school hasn’t collapsed because I haven’t been checking my emails at two in the morning. I haven’t missed out on anything. And I have read so many books!

Our phones are useful tools, and make life easier in so many ways. But the temptation of the notification can be all-consuming, and they can be addictive. How many of us are kidding ourselves that we need our phones with us all the time? Do we really?

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At Churchill we have a simple rule: “my mobile phone will not be seen or heard in the Academy at any time.” One of the reasons for this rule is to encourage good habits in our students. They don’t need to have their phones glued to their hands at all times. They don’t need to reach for it “just to check the time” – the trap of the tempting notification awaits. They can focus on their learning without the distraction of the device. They can and should be interacting with their peers IRL, not through their screens. And although the impact of mobile phones and social media on mental health is controversial, ensuring that there is time away from the newsfeed, the photostream and the snapstreak encourages a healthy balance.

As adults, we need to model the good behaviours we expect in young people, and turn away from the screens and towards the people around us. We just need to take a positive step to break our bad habits, before it’s too late. 

Post script: since September I’ve read these books:

  • Cross Fire by Malorie Blackman
  • The Testaments by Margaret Attwood
  • One Day by David Nicholls
  • The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman
  • The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
  • The Travelling Bag by Susan Hill

They’ve all been brilliant!

Training teachers in Qatar

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A view across Doha, Qatar from the 32nd floor

On Saturday of last week I flew out to Doha, the capital city of Qatar, to work with a group of teachers and school leaders from British International Schools in the Middle East. They had heard about our work at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and they wanted to find out more, to see whether aspects of our practice could be applied in their schools.

Where is Qatar?

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The location of Qatar; Doha is marked by the red pin

Qatar is a small state poking out into the Persian Gulf, bordering on Saudi Arabia. I went to the capital city, Doha, which sits on the Eastern coast of the country. Qatar was a British protectorate until it became independent in 1971, which is why there are still a lot of British schools there. Doha has recently hosted the World Athletics Championship and preparations are well underway for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. There is a lot of development going on – I saw three massive skyscrapers under construction and air conditioned football stadiums being built in the middle of the desert. Quite something!

What’s it like?

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Two skyscrapers under construction (centre) against the Doha skyline

It’s hot! The temperature was around 35° C during the day, dropping to 30° at night time. Despite the Persian Gulf nearby, the surrounding country is dusty desert. Everywhere has air conditioning, which meant that indoors felt quite chilly by comparison and I had to put a jumper on!

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Doha from the air

The city centre (West Bay) has a spectacular skyline of towers and skyscrapers. Many of them are government buildings, but there are also towers for Qatar Petroleum, the Qatar Olympic Committee, banks and hotels. It’s amazing! The surrounding city spreads out into the desert.

Qatar is an Islamic country and there are many mosques around the city. The call to prayer is amplified by loudspeakers from the mosques, which makes a wonderful noise echoing from building to building! Due to their religious beliefs, alcohol is not available in restaurants or hotels. All the people I met whilst I was there were very welcoming and hospitable. It seemed to me like a country which was very open to international visitors.

What are the schools like in Doha?

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Outside the Qatar International School

I was working at the Qatar International School, a British International School in Doha. It’s an all-through school, with a building for Early Years, Primary and Secondary sections. In their secondary school they study iGCSEs, the international version of the GCSEs we study, and A-levels which are the same as ours. The staff and students are a mixture of British ex-pats, Qatari nationals, and other nationalities who want a British education. This meant that the classrooms were an interesting multicultural blend of all different nationalities. Everyone got along really well!

All the schools were surrounded by high, solid perimeter walls, electric gates and security guards. There were locked pedestrian gates too – one of the schools even had security turnstiles for the students to get in and out. This seemed to be the norm across Qatar – all the buildings I went into had x-ray machines to scan your bags, too. 

School starts at 7am, and finishes at 1pm. The other difference is that the working week starts on a Sunday and runs until Thursday, so the weekend in Qatar is Friday and Saturday. I struggled with that a bit! There are two breaks during the day, but students go home for their lunch at the end of the day – they do not have lunch at school. There are seven lessons in the day, of differing lengths. Moving between buildings means going from air-conditioned-cool to blazing-hot and back to cool again – you have to brace yourself! But apart from that, there were lots of similarities to British schools – their classrooms looked just like a regular British school classroom would.

What were we working on?

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I was out in Doha to work with British International School teachers and school leaders on mindsets and metacognition. These are things that we have been working on at Churchill since I became Headteacher back in 2016. They were particularly interested in our work on attitudes to learning, feedback, and how we are working with teachers and students to unpack the thinking processes behind learning (metacognition). It was amazing to me that our work at Churchill has a reputation which stretches so far – but the colleagues I was working with out there were very impressed by what we were doing and wanted to find out more!

It made me very proud to be talking about our wonderful school in such a different place. Although Churchill has been soaking under torrential rain for weeks, whilst Doha has been in blazing sunshine for months, there was much to be found in common between us. “The way we do things here” at Churchill certainly found an enthusiastic audience in the Middle East!

I had a great time in a brand new environment for me. I’d never done anything quite like this before! But, when I was back on duty outside the food pod on an overcast lunchtime on Wednesday, I did catch myself thinking: “there’s no place like home.”

Practising penalties with Harry Kane

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Wembley Stadium, Saturday 7th September 2019

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to head down to Wembley Stadium for England’s European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria. It was my first time at Wembley watching football (although I did go last year to watch Taylor Swift) and I was very excited! Our seats were right at the top of the stadium, just left of the halfway line – we had a great view of the whole pitch.

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Harry Kane scoring a penalty against Bulgaria, 7th September 2019

The atmosphere was electric. There were over 80,000 people at the match and the noise was incredible! I even managed to capture a video of Harry Kane tucking away his second penalty to complete his hat-trick:

After the match, I was interested to read what Gareth Southgate had to say about Harry Kane’s penalties:

“We stood and watched him take penalties for about 20 minutes yesterday. When you watch the process he goes through, he gives himself every chance of succeeding by that deliberate practice…he’s an incredible example.
“When he gets his moment, he has an outstanding mindset and, technically, he’s a top finisher…but I go back to the fact that’s hours and hours of practice and if you talk to some of the other forwards in the squad, they would talk to you about how big an impression that has had on them.”

In my assemblies this week, I picked up on Southgate’s message: Harry Kane is a talented striker, but his accuracy from the spot is no accident. He prepared and practised so that, when his moment came, he was ready to deliver. It is this which sets such a good example to England’s younger players and, I hope to Churchill Academy & Sixth Form students. No matter what your ability is, careful and deliberate practice is the key to unlocking that ability and ensuring that you are ready to deliver when you get your moment – whether that be a Maths test, a dance performance, a race, your next English lesson, or an international football match. Preparation and practice mean everything.

Footnote

Muric

My assembly message was rather undermined when Kane had a penalty saved by Nottingham Forest’s Aro Muric  in the 5-3 thriller against Kosovo on Tuesday night – but still, he’s a pretty good striker! I guess the goalkeeper had been preparing and practising too…

Neurodiversity Week 2019

This week has been Neurodiversity Week at Churchill, as we have been exploring together the variations and differences in our brains that help to make up our rich community.

Neurodiversity is term adopted by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. She was frustrated that differences in the make-up of our brains were too often being seen as problems or challenges to be overcome, rather than part of the natural variations in our human makeup. She proposed that neurological differences – differences in our brains – should be recognised and respected as much as any other human variation.

It’s a well-accepted fact that everyone’s brain is different. We are all unique. We recognise that our individual brain is “wired up” differently to anybody else’s. My brain, for example is wired up so that I am left handed. As a small child, I reached for objects with my left hand, and instinctively kicked a ball with my left foot. Despite the fact that everyone else in my family was right handed, it’s just the way my brain was made!

There are many other differences in the ways our brains work. Some people are naturally more organised than others; some have better hand-eye coordination; some see colours differently; others have superb memories for names and faces. What Judy Singer recognised was that some differences in the ways our brains work were characterised with negative stereotypes. Labels such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and others were seen as problems to be “fixed” or “cured;” Singer argued instead that they should be respected and recognised.

Neurodivergent individuals may have many strengths that those without the differences lack: perseverance, creativity, problem solving, oral communication, resourcefulness, visualisation, and practical skills being just some examples. This may be why there are so many highly successful individuals who have neurodivergent qualities:

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This week students have been learning about neurodiversity. They have been discussing how we all need to value our differences, and not to see people who differ from us as “other.” How boring would life be if we were all identical? What can we learn from each other? And how can we celebrate our strengths?

Above all, whilst we are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, what we also know is that our abilities and intelligence are not fixed. Through hard work, careful practice and determination, we can improve on all aspects of our natural ability – and that this process continues throughout our life, not just at school.

 

Lessons from the Champions League

What a week of football it’s been! Liverpool and Spurs both overturned seemingly overwhelming odds in the second legs of their semi-finals to set up an all-Premier League final.

There’s no doubt about it – Liverpool were immense on Tuesday night. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the first leg to defeat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate and book their place in the Champions League final is the stuff of legend. When Trent Alexander-Arnold took the corner for Divock Origi to score the fourth Liverpool goal, he caught a team of legends and international superstars napping and dumped them out of the competition.

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It’s not the first time it’s happened, either. Last year, Barcelona were through to the quarter-finals and carrying a 4-1 lead into the second leg against Roma. They were defeated 3-0 in that second leg, and it was Roma that went through to the semi-finals (where they were beaten by Liverpool!)

This fact did not escape the Barcelona players in the painful aftermath of their defeat this week. Luis Suarez, ex-Liverpool striker now playing for Barcelona, summed it up in a post-match interview:

“We have to do a lot of self-criticism because this is the second time that the same thing has happened to us. We cannot commit the same mistake two years in a row. There are many things we need to consider and think about.”

What struck me about Barcelona is that they went out of the Champions League because the players weren’t concentrating. Liverpool, on the other hand, were completely switched on, focused on the task in hand, and playing every single second as though their lives depended on it. For Liverpool on Tuesday, the idea of “giving up” wasn’t even a possibility. The incredible support at Anfield certainly gave them the belief and the boost they needed.

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Then, the following night, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a second incredible comeback – this time overturning a 3-0 deficit in just 45 minutes of football, away from home against a really strong Ajax side. Just like with Liverpool, the first-choice striker was unable to play, but the team showed in their battling determination that they just refused to be beaten. Lucas Moura was quicker, more focused, more switched on than the Ajax team, and poached the final goal as the final seconds of stoppage time ticked away.

These were two magical nights of football, even for a neutral like me. As a Watford supporter, I hope that my team can capture some of Spurs and Liverpool’s “never give up” fighting spirit in the forthcoming FA Cup Final against Manchester City. And as a Headteacher, I hope that our students can capture some of the same spirit in their endeavours. I hope that our students see that lapses in concentration can cost you, and remember to stay focused all the time. I hope they see that, whilst we all make mistakes, we have to learn from them – and that there’s really no excuse for making the same mistake twice. I hope they see that with hard work, effort and determination, nothing is impossible; and that, with the support of those around you in the community, you’ll never walk alone.

 

The book that made me

On World Book Day this week, I was reflecting on the books that I have read and which one I would choose as the most significant – the book which made me. There is really only one choice: Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath.

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My copy of the Collected Poems

I can remember my first encounter with a Plath poem like it was yesterday. In actual fact, it was upstairs in a sixth form classroom when I was in Year 12, in the summer of 1992. One of my English teachers, Mr Rattue, presented us with two poems called “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus”. Reading those poems was like an electric shock. I had never read anything like them before. The fury and fire in those lines blazed off the page and scorched themselves into my mind. I was dazzled by a poet who was an absolute mistress of her craft, writing about her personal trauma with almost clinical precision, without sacrificing any of the emotional content. The fiery-haired, powerful and terrifying voice of the poems mesmerised and enchanted me. After the lesson, I remember asking for more, and Mr Rattue lending me a copy of Plath’s collection Ariel from the English office. I was hooked.

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My copy of The Bell Jar

I read more and more Plath, seizing on The Bell Jar next. I was bewitched by the imagery, the detachment of the narrator, the autobiography of it. I held on to Ariel, reading and re-reading the collection. I typed out “The Moon and the Yew Tree” on my Nan’s typewriter and kept in my wallet for years afterwards. I remember reading its steady, dead rhythms to calm myself before my university interviews. I still carry it with me, tattered now after many years, but intact.

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Inside my copy of The Collected Poems

My copy of  The Collected Poems came later, in a really important week of milestones. After taking part in every school play and production going, I was awarded the Service to Drama prize for my work on lighting the school plays. This was the first time the prize had gone to a backstage performer rather than an actor that anyone could remember; I was incredibly proud to win it then, and it remains one of my proudest achievements. All school prizes were given as book tokens; we had to buy a book to be awarded at the ceremony. There was no question what I would choose. I remember the frustration of waiting the week from handing the book in to school, to being awarded it on Tuesday 15th December 1992. Wednesday to Saturday I was behind the lighting desk for Twelfth Night, our school play that year and the last one I was involved with. And on the Saturday afternoon of 19th December 1992, I got my acceptance letter from Oxford University.

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Analysing Ariel: my university notes inside The Collected Poems

I took the Collected Poems with me, writing about Plath’s poetry in my first year and returning to it for my finals. In my teaching career I have taught The Bell Jar and Ariel as part of A-level English Literature. Whenever I return to the poems, even to write this post, the experience is as gripping, chilling and breathtaking as it was in 1992.

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Tattered but intact – my copy of The Moon and the Yew Tree hand-typed over 25 years ago

The Collected Poems is the book that made me because it is tied up so tightly with landmark experiences of my young adult life. The voice of the poems speaks so clearly, so personally, with such craft and skill, such poignancy and power, that I measure everything else I read against it – but nothing comes close.

A good night’s sleep

It’s well known that a good night’s sleep is one of the most significant factors in making sure that we are at our best the next day. There are multiple research studies which show that sleep helps with concentration, memory, insight, creativity, and even our immune systems.

It’s also well known that most of us aren’t getting enough sleep, so we are not benefiting from the improved performance we could be seeing in school. So what can we do to make this better?

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9 Common Sleep Mistakes, courtesy of Inner Drive

  • TV before bed: the temptation to watch “just one more episode” of that Netflix box-set can be hard to resist – that’s how Netflix is designed! “Just one more episode” will lose you an hour of sleep. The episode will still be there tomorrow – but the sleep will be lost for good. Shut the laptop and shut your eyes!
  • Bed times: if you go to bed at different times each night, your body’s internal clock gets confused and it can disrupt your sleep patterns. Having a regular routine really helps to get a consistent night’s sleep.
  • Go to bed before you fall asleep: if you find yourself dropping off on the sofa, you’ve stayed up too late. Get to bed earlier, with a good book, and read a chapter before you turn the light off.
  • Naps: research shows that short naps can be useful, but anything over half an hour can prevent you from sleeping well at night because you won’t be tired until later. If you need it, slot in a ten to fifteen minute “power nap” – but set an alarm!
  • If you’re wide awake, get up: if you find yourself tossing and turning, unable to sleep, get out of bed and do something that occupies your brain without stressing you out: a jigsaw, tidy your room, organise yourself, read another chapter of your book. Then go back to bed, so that you associate it with sleeping, not being awake.
  • Put your phone away: the bright light from your phone or tablet tricks your brain into thinking it’s day time. This stops melatonin (the sleep hormone) from being fully released, making it harder to drop off. Put your phone away at least an hour before you want to go to sleep.
  • Cut the caffeine:  energy drinks, cola, tea, and coffee all have delayed effects on your energy levels. If you drink them before bed, the caffeine will be trying to keep you alert as you are trying to fall asleep.
  • Don’t kill time online: don’t waste time scrolling social media, letting YouTube autoplay the next epic fails video, or spectating Fortnite kills. This is time you could be spending asleep. If it’s not productive – don’t do it!
  • Try not to overthink tomorrow: try not to make lists of everything you need to do whilst you’re lying in bed – this can lead to a stress response. Make those lists and get everything organised before you go to bed – then get that book out, read another chapter, switch off the light and drift off to sleep.

Good night!

 

Thanks to Inner Drive for their help with this week’s blog.

Memory Hooks

…or “how to spell millennium.”

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Last week we had the first round of our annual staff spelling bee. This is a hotly contested competition, and the final takes place immediately before the students’ spelling bee competition in February. I have made it to the final for the past three years, so I have a reputation to uphold!

Round one consisted of six words:

  1. Definitely
  2. Indefatigable
  3. Melancholy
  4. Millennium
  5. Acquiesce
  6. Tracheotomy

I was delighted to get them all right! So at least I’m through to round two…

However, the presence of the word “millennium” was a bit of a gift for me, because I definitely know how to spell it. At least, I do now…and I have for the past nineteen years.

Back in the year 1999, I was in my first teaching job at a school in Nottinghamshire. My tutor group and I did an activity thinking about our hopes and wishes for the year 2000 – we called them our “millennium pledges” and we were going to use them for the display board in our tutor room. I duly stayed after school one day, backed and edged the board in new display paper, got my tutor group’s pledges arranged artistically on the backing paper, and cut out and stuck every letter of the display title using letter stencils, in silver and then in black. I stuck the black behind the silver to create a neat shadow effect. I then covered the display in clear sticky-backed plastic covering film to protect the children’s work. Two hours after school, I was standing back to admire my handiwork, when my Head of Department came in to have a look.

“There are two “n”s in ‘millennium,'” she said.

Yes, you’ve guessed it, my display said “our millenium pledges” – with one “n.”

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It turns out, once you’ve covered a display board in clear sticky-backed plastic covering film, you can’t peel it off again without ripping the paper. And ruining the students’ work. And the backing paper. And the edging paper. And, really, the whole display, which had to be completely re-done from scratch, including the children’s millennium pledges. I did make a teaching point out of it, and I hope that those children (who will now be about 33 years old!) can still spell ‘millennium’ correctly too…

Memory hooks

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Whenever I see the word ‘millennium’ now, I am reminded of those hours of time cutting stencil letters out. Twice. The memory is painful, and very funny – in hindsight. But it is strong and powerful. It is a memory I can return to when I am thinking about how to spell that tricky word, and it provides a “way in” for me to the knowledge that I need to ensure I never spell it incorrectly again. Although this memory hook was created by accident, it is also possible to use this technique to enable you to remember key information, for example when revising for tests, by deliberately creating a memory hook to link you to the information you want.

The memory hooks can be anything – an emotion, an image, a place, a person, a piece of music…I have a strong emotional hook to the spelling of the word ‘millennium’! Find something that you can use to trigger your memory, and you will find it easier to remember the things you are trying to learn.

One way to do this might be by putting revision reminders in different rooms of your home. Let’s say you were revising for a History test: you could put facts about people around the bathroom mirror, facts about places on your bedroom door, and information about causes and consequences on the refrigerator in your kitchen. Then, if you’re trying to recall the name of a key person, you can visualise your bathroom mirror and the post-it note you’d stuck just to the left of it…and hopefully, that will give you the memory hook to bring the name to mind.

Memory hooks really work…and that’s why my Joint First Place trophy from the 2018 Staff Spelling Bee has pride of place on the bookshelf in my office, just next to my Lego Millennium Falcon.

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Assembly: marginal gains and resolutions

CRH Marginal Gains Assembly

In this week’s assembly, I’ve been talking about marginal gains and resolutions. I started with the picture above: many students had a go at guessing what these objects were! The answer is that these are ‘bum warmers’, used to warm the muscles of Olympic cyclists before a race. The extra warmth means the cyclists can start one hundredth of a second faster than their opponents.

These curious devices are one example of the British cycling team’s approach to the “aggregation of marginal gains.” This approach means making tiny improvements in lots of different areas, adding up to a big overall effect. Other examples include the the cyclists always taking their own pillows and bedding with them when they travel, to reduce the chance of picking up an infection which might interfere with their training. The team tweak every aspect of the bikes, the cyclists’ equipment and clothing, their diet, sleep, schedule and training regime to try and eke out an extra 1% of performance.

CRH Marginal Gains Assembly

It’s an approach which seems to have worked. In the four Olympic Games between 1992 and 2004, the cycling team managed to win eight medals; following the adoption of the marginal gains approach, the team won 41 medals across Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.

Marginal gains in school

I want us all to think about what marginal gains we could make in school. What small changes could we make to our approach which, sustained and added up over time, could result in a big improvement?

clock

One change could be in making the most of the time we have. Spending five minutes of a lesson off task – daydreaming, chatting to a friend, looking out of the window – doesn’t seem like too much of a problem. But adding it up over a year can result in a lot of lost time…

  • We have five lessons every day for 190 school days in a year
  • That’s 5 x 190 = 950 lessons per year
  • Five minutes wasted in every lesson is 5 x 950 = 4,750 minutes
  • 4,750 minutes is just over 79 hours
  • That’s over THREE WHOLE DAYS of learning lost per year, just from five minutes in each lesson (three days, seven hours and ten minutes, for precision fans).

Ensuring we attend every lesson punctually, and staying focused when we are there, is a marginal gain we can all make that could add up to a big overall effect over time.

Making a resolution

newyearsday

New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep. This can be because they are too ambitious. But the advantage of resolving to make a marginal gain is that it involves a small change – or perhaps a number of them! Making resolutions to stay focused, to ensure that all equipment for school is prepared the night before, to avoid distractions, or to be more punctual to every lesson…these are not impossible goals to set ourselves, but added up they could make a significant difference.

What will your New Year’s resolution be?

CRH Marginal Gains Assembly

 

Thanks to Keith Neville for the inspiration for this assembly.