Creating Confident Individuals

Thanks to Laurie O’Donnel for reminding me in his recent blogpost of what a significant text Carol Dweck’s Mindset is, especially in the context of the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence, and in particular the aim to develop confident individuals. To many people, and perhaps particularly to Scots, “confident individuals” has connotations of arrogance or cockiness, characteristics which we have always derided, and rightly so. However, as Dweck demonstrates in Mindset -subtitled The New Psychology of Success – having confidence as an individual is much more about having what she calls a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset”. mindset1

Students with a fixed mindset often give up easily because they assume they have been dealt a losing hand, usually reinforced by people telling them they are dumb or stupid. Even for very able students, a fixed mindset can lead to failure: in the fixed mindset effort is not something to be proud of, it is something which casts doubt on your abilities. Teachers with a fixed mindset bemoan the fact that they have been given “the bottom set again” and believe that no matter what they do it will make little or no difference whatsoever, so have often given up on some students before they even meet them.

With a growth mindset on the other hand, young people learn that effort is in itself rewarding, and that while some people are apparently able to do some things with little effort, others take longer and may have to work harder to get there. It isn’t difficult to think of examples – in sport, music or any number of activities – of people who have shown early talent only for it to remain frustratingly unfulfilled, while others who develop later go on to more sustained levels of success. In the growth mindset challenge is welcomed, because it is the effort which matters, not the ability. Ability is something which can be learned – you don’t have to be born that way.

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We Think, Therefore We Are

In his latest book, We-Think, Charles Leadbetter argues that if the 20th Century was one of mass production and mass consumption, the 21st Century will be one of mass innovation and collaboration, the sharing of ideas being the currency on which our future prosperity depends:-

“In the economy of things you are identified by what you own – your land, house, car. In the economy of ideas that the web is creating, you are what you share – who you are linked to, who you network with and which ideas, pictures, videos, links or comments you share. The biggest change the web will bring about is in allowing us to share with one another in new ways and particularly to share ideas.”

At least two questions immediately come to mind. If the new economy is about sharing, what is it that is going to encourage people to share and to give away, rather than trying to cash in on their ideas and maximise their profit, according to the natural laws of self-preservation, natural human tendencies to self-interest etc etc. And in a world where it is rapidly becoming easier to organise on a global scale, what is going to prevent individuals and organisations from using the power of the internet for destructive rather than constructive purposes?

On the first issue Leadbetter is optimistic. It’s not that he believes we-think will entirely replace the market-driven economy but rather that there will be a balance between  market and non-market ways of organising the networked economy. In other words, individuals and organisations will survive according to their ability to sell and to share freely their ideas in the right proportions, a mix of collaboration and commerce, community and corporation. He believes that what motivates people above all else is not wealth but the quality of the relationships they are able to develop, alongside a sense of worth and a recognition of their talents, especially by their peers. This is threatening to traditional corporations with hierarchical structures, which operate on the basis of status and authority within the organisation rather than the creativity of individuals, and in the next few years we will see an increasing struggle between this dysfunctional world where decisions are made for us rather than with us and an alternative world in which we are, in the words of Pat Kane, “players”, where we are engaged and participating fully in the process of our own lives.

The challenge, according to the author, is to create a sense of order and security without undermining our capacity for sharing, for sharing can also spread diseases, infections and viruses, ideas and identities can be stolen. Furthermore, those who have top-down control, whether private corporations or governments, will fight to retain it. However, he believes that within organisations managers and professionals will struggle to retain power based on privileged access to information as those they govern  become less deferential, acquiring their own voices and finding their own information.  Secondly, more forms of peer-to-peer control, including surveillance, will provide the transparency needed to provide the security we all seek. We will get used to rating one another and being rated by our peers – something which is currently an accepted form of self-regulation in the scientific community but which will spread to many other walks of life. Finally, Leadbetter argues, we will have to encourage and develop in people more self-control so that they use their increasing technological power more responsibly. Enter the role of education and educators. He puts it succinctly like this:-

“That means, at the very least, children learning the skills and norms of media literacy and responsibility; learning to question and challenge information as well as copy and paste it.”  Reassuringly, this has echoes of the following statement from the new Literacy and English framework in Curriculum for Excellence:-

To help me develop an informed view, I am exploring the techniques used to influence my opinion. I can recognise persuasion and assess the reliability of information and credibility and value of my sources.

Never has the role of the teacher been more important in guiding and supporting young people as they develop that “informed view” for themselves as independent learners and thinkers.

Happy Birthday Blog

Just realised that today marks the anniversary of my first blog post, and I was reflecting on the changes it has made to my life in that time. The original motivation for starting the blog was to take myself through the process of setting it up and go through the various stages of development, so that in turn I could take others through the process and prove that the technical bits were just challenges to be overcome rather than insurmountable barriers ( I was already convinced that here at last was a tool to put learning, and writing in particular, in the hands of the learner). I have to say in that respect it has been fun – if at times very frustrating – and I am learning a new language as I go – the language of posts and inserts, tags and categories, uploading and embedding, not to mention wikis, wordles and widgets.

In terms of developing literacy skills, there is no doubt in my mind that creating blogs and wikis in the classroom, and making full use of Web 2.0 technology, most of which is free and far less technical than many teachers imagine, is the way forward for learners and teachers, allowing them to make links within the school and out to the wider world. What better motivation to write creatively and accurately than to know that your peers, the most critical audience of all, are reading, watching and commenting on what you produce! What better motivation to write than to know that what you are writing  isn’t only being read by one critical adult, and it isn’t coming back with a grade on it? As someone somewhere once said, the best motivation is self-motivation. Incidentally, if you want to see how blogs can be used in the classroom, have a look at this one from Australia, or this one from Perth Academy in Scotland.

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Recently, signing up to Twitter and developing an expanding network of friends and colleagues with common interests, I have added a new dimension to my social networking and opened up a whole other world of possibilities, enlisting in what Mike Coulter has referred to as “an army of researchers”. I’d like to thank all of them for getting me this far, especially those listed in my Blogroll (and who would have thought I’d ever say that a year ago!). Look forward to talking, sharing and working with you for a long time to come.

The New Meaning of Text

Today will come to be seen as a landmark in the history of Scottish education, with  the publication of the new Curriculum for Excellence frameworks in the eight curriculum areas of expressive arts, health and wellbeing, languages, mathematics, religious and moral education, sciences, social studies and technologies. The revised curriculum has a clearly stated purpose – to ensure that all the children and young people of Scotland develop the attributes, knowledge and skills they will need if they are to flourish in life, learning and work, now and in the future – which is further encapsulated in the four “capacities”, providing learning and teaching opportunities which will enable young people to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors. A key difference in the new curriculum is that it is described in terms of outcomes or “I can………..” statements rather than inputs or content, which is how curricula have traditionally been defined (NB this is not the same as saying that content is not important!) thereby shifting the emphasis and the main responsibility for learning to the learner, which is exactly where it belongs. 

Having been involved in the early stages of drafting the framework for Literacy and English, I am delighted to see the formal recognition, alongside books, of non-print texts including film, and the word “watching” given equal status with “listening” and “talking”. The full definition of “text” appears as follows;-

“A text is the medium through which ideas, experiences, opinions and information can be communicated.”

The document helpfully offers a range of possible texts for use in the classroom, and I think it would be a good idea for any teacher responsible for the development of literacy to have a graphic reminder of all the options avaialable, so that when planning a series of lessons or a course of work, a reasonable balance can be achieved over the week, or the term, or the academic session. I have presented these in the form of a Wordle, which could easily be enlarged and printed as a poster to put up on the wall of your classroom as a reminder to you and your students.

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The Meaning of Text