Category Archives: educational psychology

Help! My child hates reading

In my professional role I often come across children who say they ‘hate’ reading. In this video I discuss some of the reasons behind this feeling and what you can do as parents and to help your reluctant reader become an avid reader.

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Making all children wear trousers is not a gender neutral uniform policy

Piers Morgan criticises Lewes school’s gender neutral uniform – BBC news

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although I don’t agree with Piers Morgan’s reason for finding the Priory school’s uniform policy absurd. It do agree this school has still got it very wrong. Is this really an attempt at a gender neutral school uniform policy, or rather is it a blunt tool to cover up female flesh to avoid addressing/ acknowledging the objectifying attitudes to women that continue to proliferate in society?

Priory School in Lewes said it made the change after concerns were raised over the length of skirts worn by pupils.

uniform

Examine the pictures produced by the school and ask yourself if it obvious which figures are boys and which are girls?

Of course it feckin’ is! The boys have trousers with a smart crease down the front. The girls have slimmer, figure hugging trousers. The girls wear ballet shoes, the boys big chunky shoes (this school is so behind the times, ballet shoes are so yesterday, DMs are where it is at for boys and girls and those who identify as a third gender, intersex or no gender). The girls have long hair, the boys short. The girls pose in a way that accentuates their little delicate, weak hands. The boys ram rod straight, their big, strong hands behind their backs or straight down their sides (a physical manifestation of holding it all in, even those really useful emotions of fear and regret and sorrow).

Gender neutral clothing means boys and girls and those who identify as a third gender, intersex, or no gender wear whatever uniform that they feel ‘right’ in be that a skirt, trousers, shorts or a dress; and that the school rules are applied equally to all. Better still, scrap uniform altogether and instead develop a set of guidelines applicable to all that ensure safety and fairness such as, no heels, no obvious branding logos etc.

What gender neutral clothing is not about is covering up flesh and stifling individual expression by making everyone the same. So although Piers Morgan’s objection is coming from a quaint, but frankly last century Chauvinism (yawn), I do get his discomfort and I strongly urge Priory Academy to have a rethink and engage with their student body – who will already have the solution – and roll out a gender neutral uniform policy that really is what it says it is.

Becoming and Educational Psychologist: Part 4

Effort grade

As promised for those who are interested in my research, here is a link to a Prezi summarising the findings.

With only a few months to go until I complete the doctorate, it is time to thank all those people that helped me to get there.

My thanks to Dr Juliet S., my thesis tutor, for her unequivocal enthusiasm for all things growth mindset and her encouragement and sage advice when at times it all felt a bit too overwhelming. Thank you for containing me and my ideas so they could be realised.

A big thank you to Dr Dino for your no nonsense statistical advice and answering my many, and at times, rather confusing questions. Thanks to my placement supervisor, Dr Clare, who kept me grounded through many a supervision session and always showed a positive interest in my research, helped me to share it among my colleagues, and saw its potential in changing practice in our schools.

Thank you to all my colleagues on the course who must have got pretty tired of hearing about process praise and growth mindset, but nevertheless always listened and offered fresh and useful perspectives on what I was hoping to achieve. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

Thank you to my parents, children and friends who understood when I didn’t want to talk about how it was going and always reminded me of the end goal and how proud they are of me.

A very special thank you to my husband, John, who – faced with my ambitious data collection strategy – brought expertise and calm to what seemed like an impossible task, from developing the smartest, leanest database possible for inputting data, to spending hours clicking boxes in said database every evening and weekend for months on end. You have no idea how much your practical support, belief in me, willingness to listen carefully, and offer insight into my idea from its early inception to its completion have helped me to produce something I am really proud of. I am really lucky to have you in my life.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of the three schools in my placement authority who agreed to give this intervention, and me, a go. To the teachers and teaching assistants who had the task of getting in excess of five hundred pupils to complete the questionnaire, twice. To the pupils for completing the questionnaires with such thought and at times remarkable creativity. To the participating teachers who embraced their golf counters, filled out the google form every day for four weeks, and allowed me into their classrooms to observe their maths lessons; and to the senior leaders who provided me the opportunity to work with their teachers in a year of immense upheaval in the primary curriculum. Your contribution has been incredible.

Becoming an Educational Psychologist: Part three

A big part of the training involves carrying out a piece of research called the thesis. A thesis is a dissertation advancing an original point of view as a result of research. This is an 18 month long process and I am about halfway through.

Friends sometimes ask me what my thesis is about and I have usually drunk alcohol by then and I am not always coherent in my response. So I thought I would ask myself some questions while sober and attempt to answer them, so next time I am asked I can text them the link and carrying on quaffing my wine.

What is your thesis about?

Getting teachers to increase the use of process praise in maths lessons.

Why?

To see if the increase in process praise leads to children’s beliefs about maths intelligence to change and for their effort to increase.

What is process praise?

Process praise is praise that specifies what it is for and is directed at a particular individual or defined group of individuals. It focuses on the effort and strategies employed (mastery goals) rather than the end result (performance goals).

For example:

Focusing on a maths skill: Well done, Maya, for using an equals sign to show they are equivalent.

Focusing on an interpersonal skill: I am impressed with the way you worked with your partner to solve the problem, Raj.

Focusing on the process of learning: Good effort, Rachel, you worked hard even though you found it difficult.

What do you mean by children’s beliefs about maths?

According to Carol Dweck, children have one of two mindsets about maths (and everything else).

Fixed – maths intelligence is fixed from birth you either can or you can’t do maths.

Or

Growth – maths intelligence is malleable and can grow with effort.

What sort of praise do teachers’ usually give if it is not process praise?

Lots of general praise such as ‘well done’ or ‘brilliant’ which is fine, but doesn’t tell the child what they have done well.

Also some person praise such as ‘good girl’ or ‘clever boy’ or ‘you are a natural’, which research has shown can actually been damaging as it may reinforce the belief that trying hard and practising means you are not clever, and that people who are good at something don’t have to practice.

Will giving process praise change the mindset of children from fixed to growth?

Previous research has shown that children exposed to process praise, ‘good effort, you must have worked hard’, are more likely to choose a more challenging task when offered a choice between the same level of difficulty or a harder problem than those who were praised for being clever, ‘well done you must be really smart’. However, this research was not conducted in real classrooms, rather it was an experimental set up. My research takes this idea and applies it in classrooms of children aged 9-11 years to see if it can change the child’s mindset in maths.

Why does mindset matter?

Children with a growth mindset have been found to make better progress in secondary school than those with a fixed mindset particular in maths. However, it is not clear how children develop this mindset and what works to change it.

What is your research aiming to prove?

I am not aiming to prove anything rather test a hypothesis generated from previous research findings. I want to know if getting teachers to increase their use of process praise in maths has an impact on those children’s beliefs about maths intelligence. I also want to know if this type of praise changes the children’s effort (measured by the teacher).

How will you know if the childrens mindset has changed as a result of teachers using process praise?

Because before I trained the teachers how to give process praise, I asked the children to complete a questionnaire which identifies the mindset they hold in maths. I then got the children to complete this questionnaire again after 4 weeks of process praise. I also asked another school to carry out the same questionnaire before and after the process praise intervention, however they didn’t get the training so the teachers carried on as normal (they will get the training, but after the data is collected).

This means there are two ways I can show if it worked or not. By comparing the childrens scores on the questionnaire before and after they received process praise, and by comparing the scores of children who did and didn’t receive the process praise.

I also got the teachers to give and effort grade for the children in maths before and after the process praise intervention.

So if you do find it has worked what does it mean?

It means there is a cost-effective and relatively easy to implement intervention, which will improve children’s effort in maths by changing their beliefs about maths intelligence, which may increase attainment (bearing in mind other factors such as quality of teaching, pupil absence).

And if you don’t?

I will mine the data until I do. No, I will obviously look very closely at what the data is saying and from that devise further hypotheses to test – for example if there is a small difference then I might consider if changing only one thing in the classroom is enough to promote a growth mindset when other factors do not change? e.g. setting in maths (which if not flexible can transmit a powerful fixed mindset message).

Or if there is no difference at all, do we need to tell the children about mindsets (share the psychology) in order for them to benefit from the praise messages? If so, what does that mean? Are we really changing their mindset or merely giving them the answers to the questionnaire? What about parents mindsets and wider staff in a school like lunchtime supervisors or after school club staff? What needs to be in place to foster a growth mindset in all children?

What are your best hopes?

That my data will show not only a statistical difference between the control group and intervention group, but also that the effect size will demonstrate a meaningful difference in terms of affecting actual outcomes like attainment.

Which means?

It works. By teachers adopting process praise in maths lessons and using it regularly, children begin to put in more effort and believe they can learn. This makes them feel good. The teachers feel good. And the added bonus is they achieve their earlier potential in maths, which for many children is not the case.

Give me a 30 second soundbite. What is the take home message?

You cannot over-praise a child, but if you use a lot of person praise such as ‘clever girl’ or ‘you are a natural’ this can demotivate the child and lead them to avoid challenge because they perceive ‘effort’ as meaning they are not clever. Praise the learning that they did, not the outcome. Also, introduce the word ‘yet’. Every time your child says ‘I can’t do that’ you add ‘yet’.

If you want to know more about Carol Dweck’s theory of how praise impacts on children’s theory of intelligence click here for a Prezi I put together with an embedded video of the experiment my thesis is based on.

And if you got to the end of this post without falling asleep. I appreciate the effort. Thank you.

And John, if you get this far. Thank you so very much for all you are doing. Outstanding effort! xxx

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