Andy Falconer

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How You Talk To Your Child At Home Affects Their Whole Approach To Learning

9 Sep 2018 | Leave a Comment |

I have two things for you to think about.

Firstly – how much of your skills and talents, which I’m sure are many and varied, do you think is innate? How much do you think you were born with?

Secondly – what kind of things do you think make a significant difference to how well a pupil does at school?

The answers to both of these questions are linked to our growth mindset ethos at St Olave’s School. In the past it was common for schools to test and pigeon-hole pupils into those who could and those who couldn’t and to teach accordingly. We don’t do that. We don’t pigeon-hole pupils. We don’t tell high achievers how brilliant they are and we don’t commiserate with those who find things a bit trickier because they’ve been dealt an unlucky hand. We see things differently.

So what are the answers to my questions?

How much of our talents and skills is innate? Current thinking is that about 25% is there already. That means we have a lot of untapped potential in every pupil.

What makes a significant difference to how a pupil does at school? How well a pupil thinks they will do at school. Pupils who think they’ll do badly, tend to do badly and those who think they’ll do well, tend to do well. If we can get a pupil to believe they can do better, they will.

It’s not a magic trick or wishful thinking, it’s knowing that if a pupil understands and believes that if they work hard and keep going, whatever pitfalls they encounter, they will continue to improve their skills and talents – pushing further and further into the 75% that they are in control of.

We aren’t saying that’s easy to do (it will mean a lot of hard work), or that it’s risk free (there will be setbacks and failures along the way that will attempt to dent confidence and encourage timidity) but we are saying it’s possible, whatever the starting point of a pupil, if they have a growth mindset.

But, we need your help, as we can’t just do it here at school.

It’s all about the language you use at home when you talk to your children.

Your child comes home, a bit deflated. They tell you it’s science homework tonight and they found the topic really hard. They aren’t sure they’ll be able to do it.

What do you say?

“Oh, don’t worry, I was rubbish at science when I was at school. We can’t be good at everything!”

You want to reassure, to make them know you empathise, but you’ve just given your child an excuse not to try in science anymore. You’ve just told them that there’s a reason why they can’t do it and there’s nothing they can do about that. It’s innate.

Your child comes home and tells you that they’ve been put into the highest maths set.

What’s your reaction?

“I’ll get the champagne, you start Googling Oxford University maths degree courses.”

Your child will be pleased they’ve made you proud, but they will probably also start to feel increasingly anxious. If you make it clear that the outcome is what matters (being in the right set) then others who might do better than them become a threat, as does challenging work. Anxiety increases. Confidence drops.

Our setting in maths (our only setted subject) is primarily based on pace. A pupil can be getting answers correct and doing really well but finding it difficult to keep up with the pace of the group. This doesn’t mean they’re bad at maths, it means they need to be in a different group.

But if you’ve celebrated the initial placement in the top set, what’s your child’s reaction going to be when they learn they need to move into a different group?

“I’ve let my parents down. I’ve let myself down. I’m not as good at this as I thought I was.”

Remember, a pupil tends to do as well as they think they will, so this may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So we’re asking you to think very carefully about the language you use around your children.

Praise effort, determination, perseverance.

Don’t praise speed, easy victories. These are worthless.

Encourage resilience, initiative, curiosity.

Don’t give them excuses.

Henry Ford said: “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right”. We agree.

We know that every pupil can get better at whatever they put their minds to and, with your help, we aim to help every one of your children believe that too. Because we know what a difference that can make.

(This talk was given to new parents at St Olave’s School, York by Cathy Lees – Director of Teaching & Learning)