A letter to your younger self

Here at Churchill, we spend a lot of time with students asking them to think about their attitude and approach to learning. The aim of this reflection and work is for the students to refine their behaviours so they are the most effective learners possible. As part of this process, one teacher asked their Year 11 Economics class to reflect on what they’d learnt over the past year, especially from the mock exams they had completed before Christmas. The teacher asked the group to write a letter to a year 10 student, or to themselves a year ago, giving them the benefit of their additional year’s wisdom.

This is one student’s response:

“To a year 10 student

Here are a few tips I would suggest to a younger me I guess:

Firstly, recap what you learn during lessons at the end of the week or sub-topic.  In particular in unit 2 keep reminding yourself of fiscal, monetary and supply-side policies because that’s what I struggled with the most.

Secondly, don’t stop trying to improve your skills in answering questions.  In years 9 and 10 I was working at a solid F grade and I no longer tried because I thought it was hopeless, but at the start of year 11 and over the summer I did a lot of revision and just got my mock back with a B (1 off an A) which shows if you work hard you are able to improve.

Lastly, don’t stress about the information during lessons if you don’t get it, because you can put in extra time another time.”

This message – “if you work hard you are able to improve” – is the cornerstone of the growth mindset approach we are working hard to cultivate at Churchill. It’s fantastic to hear this is paying off for this particular student. I hope that others take heart from their advice and take the same approach!

What advice – if you could! – would you give to your younger self?

Assembly: Grit and Flow

As the students came into the hall for my assembly this week, they were treated to a video of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman performing Antonio Bazzini’s La Ronde des Lutins (the dance of the goblins). He makes this fiendishly difficult piece of music, full of extended passages of rapid double stops, artificial harmonics and left-hand pizzicati seem easy! This astonishing performance establishes the concept of “flow” at pretty much its zenith.

Flow

Flow is being able to do something well. So well, it seems almost effortless. Perlman manages to make this most challenging of pieces in the classical violin repertoire seem like a breeze, remaining seated, flourishing his bow, enjoying the performance.

My second illustration of "flow"

An illustration of “flow”

How, then, should we go about achieving this state of flow? Counter-intuitively, to achieve this apparently frictionless and smooth process, we first need to apply “grit” to give us traction.

Grit

Psychologist Angela Duckworth has spent her career studying the quality of “grit” and how it contributes to higher achievement. She says:

We define grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.

“Grit” is perseverance; hard work and effort sustained over time. This grit will give the learner purchase on the slippery surface of the learning in just the same way as we grit an icy road to allow traffic to flow freely.

Grit means putting the hours in. Putting in the time. Putting in the effort. Repeating something until you know you can do it well. Itzhak Perlman says (here) that repetition is the key to successful practice – again and again and again. Slowly. He does give a warning though – there is such a thing as too much practice. I’m sure the students will breathe a sigh of relief, until they hear that his idea of “too much” is anything more than five hours of the same thing in one sitting. Now that is grit.

My challenge to the students is to aspire to “flow” in all their learning by applying “grit” in their lessons and at home. I spoke to them about the importance of deliberate practice – not just “doing work” but thinking about the knowledge and skills they are applying to the task and how they will use the process to improve.

I started the assembly with Perlman playing La Ronde des Lutins – the dance of the goblins. I finish with another example of La Ronde, this time from the masters of “flow” FC Barcelona:

This training ground exercise is the perfect mesh of grit and flow – deliberate practice demonstrated by those who demonstrate mastery. And enjoy it.

You can view my assembly Prezi here.