At the Sunday Times Festival of Education I was immediately drawn to this session by its title, with its reference to something we’d all like to be doing: growing a love of learning. When I read the outline, I knew I had to get to it: “Ways to foster growth mindsets, creativity, resilience, and learning skills in your school”. All of this in just one session? This was something I had to see!
I arrived a few minutes early and made myself comfortable. When someone sat next to me, I turned to him and said “This speaker’s come all the way from Scotland to give this session – that’s pretty impressive”, to which he replied “Well, I’ve some all the way from Australia to be at this Festival – and it’s all been great so far.”
It turned out that there were many other people keen to hear from David Starbuck (maybe, like the person who introduced him, they had confused him with David Starkey, but I very much doubt it!): there were soon over 100 people crammed into a room in which there was only space for 40 chairs.
If this was at all daunting for David, it certainly didn’t show: he delivered a really engaging presentation which covered an immense amount of ground in a very short time.
We began with a bit of neuroscience. The brain creates neural pathways to store knowledge: each time we “revisit” a certain idea, these pathways are reinforced and we are subsequently able to recall that idea more easily. However, the brain is processing so much information that it has to filter out a lot of it. As an example of this, we might never have noticed a certain make of car, but then a friend buys one and suddenly we start noticing that type of car everywhere: because this information was previously of little relevance to us, we did not register it. As teachers, we must be mindful of the fact that everyone has the same ability to form neural pathways, and that those who seem to be less proficient learners are in fact just filtering out more information. To overcome this, we need to make their brains more receptive, which is where Growth Mindsets come in. For more information on this, see our page on developing resilience by clicking here.
David talked about the need not only to use the sort of language which encourages Growth Mindsets, but also to truly embrace the philosophy that underlies it. If we as teachers adhere to the traditional notion that there are some things which some pupils will simply never be able to do, this will affect the way we plan our teaching and generally interact with the pupils. Referring to this as “professional congruence”, David quoted Dweck’s assertion that “when teachers and students adopt a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort and mutual support.” David pointed out that therefore we should aim to foster a Growth Mindset in every member of the school community, including the staff. Leading on from this, David suggested that schools should nurture a “creative culture” within all aspects of school life by encouraging more risk taking, collaboration, and personalisation.
Clearly this is a very brief summary of a pacey and invigoration presentation. I leave you with just one last thought, as it resonated with an issue I have heard many teachers complaining about over the years: why is it that when pupils are taught something in one subject, they then seem unable to apply it in others. I have often referred to this as “compartmentalised learning”, and have shared the frustration of my colleagues. David talked about the “learning locale”: he quoted research which has shown that learning is often linked to the location in which it takes place. We’ve all experienced this sort of association – a notable example being when we hear a song which reminds us of a certain place we once heard it in. This is why it is no good if we only try to nurture Growth Mindsets in certain areas of the school curriculum: to truly make a difference, this has to be a whole-school philosophy.
If you’d like to know more about David’s approach to learning, you can read his own blog here – well worth a look!