Things I’m reading and looking at

Book_list_2 Dwek       Hattie          Barell          Claxton      Erickson      Robinson      Zhao      Ravitch      Young        Berger        Troen      Didau     Hattie      Lemov     Willingham     Salhberg     Claxton     Feriere    Bennett      Perkins      Christodoulou

Mindset by Carol Dweck – Summary

Post image for Mindset by Carol Dweck – Summary

For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt of yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.

That is the central message in Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck and her colleagues’ research has found a very simple belief about ourselves that guides and permeates nearly every part of our lives. This belief limits our potential or enables our success. It often marks the difference between excellence and mediocrity. It influences our self-awareness, our self-esteem, our creativity, our ability to face challenges, our resilience to setbacks, our levels of depression, and our tendency to stereotype, among other things.

What is this powerful, yet simple belief? 

The Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Much of who you are on a day-to-day basis comes from your mindset. Your mindset is the view you have of your qualities and characteristics – where they come from and whether they can change.

These following two mindsets represent the extreme ends on either side of a spectrum.

A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed.

A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.

It’s very possible to be somewhere in the middle, and to lean a certain way in one area of life, and a different way in other areas. Dweck writes about them as a simple either-or throughout the book for the sake of simplicity. Your mindset likely varies from area to area. Your views may be different for artistic talent, intelligence, personality, or creativity. Whatever mindset you have in a particular area will guide you in that area.

How does this simple mindset change your behavior? Having a fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over – criticism is seen as an attack on your character, and to be avoided. Having a growth mindset encourages learning and effort. If you truly believe you can improve at something, you will be much more driven to learn and practice. Criticism is seen as valuable feedback and openly embraced. The hallmark of the growth mindset is the passion for sticking with it, especially when things are not going well.

The following example helps illustrate the two mindsets. After you read this short vignette of an imaginary situation, ask yourself how you would respond to this situation.

One day, you go to a class that is really important to you and that you like a lot. The professor returns the midterm papers to the class. You got a C+. You’ve very disappointed. That evening on the way back to your home, you find that you’ve gotten a parking ticket. Being really frustrated, you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.

How would you respond? What would you think? If you thought, “What a crummy day. I would feel like a failure. I would be frustrated. I wouldn’t feel motivated to study for the final exam. Maybe I’m just bad at that class.” then you may tend towards the fixed mindset. If you thought, “Well, I probably shouldn’t have parked there. And maybe my friend had a bad day? I’ll have to study harder for the final.” then you may tend towards the growth mindset.

You don’t have to be of one mindset or the other to get upset. But those with the growth mindset don’t label themselves and throw up their hands in defeat. They confront challenges and keep working. The growth mindset enables the converting of life’s setbacks into future successes. The fixed mindset, however, often results in little or no effort; Dweck mentions the many times she is outright startled by how much the people with a fixed mindset do not believe in effort.

You may be thinking this whole idea of a mindset seems a little simplistic. Surely we’re more complicated than that? Surely such a simple belief can’t have that much impact on our lives?

Small Belief, Big Influence

How can one belief lead to all this – the love of challenge, belief in effort, resilience in the face of setbacks, and greater (more creative!) success?3

“Smart people succeed,” says the fixed mindset. Therefore, if you succeed, you’re a smart person. Therefore, pick the easier problem so success is more likely, and you validate your smartness. Pick a hard problem and you may fail, revealing your stupidity.

“People can get smarter,” says the growth mindset, “and do so by stretching themselves and taking on challenges.” Therefore, pick the hard problem – who cares if you fail!

Your mindset is the view you adopt of yourself. These mentalities can be seen as early as four years old. In one of Dweck’s studies:

We offered four-year-olds a choice: They could redo an easy jigsaw puzzle or they could try a harder one. Even at this tender age, children with the fixed mindset – the ones who believed in fixed traits – stuck with the safe one. Kids who are born smart “don’t make mistakes,” they told us.

The growth-oriented kids welcomed the harder puzzle, finding a safer puzzle to be boring. But those are just kids and toys. Does your mindset have any influence on more important life decisions? It turns out they do. One of the many examples given by Dweck deals with university students making decisions that will influence the rest of their lives.

Who would pass up a free opportunity to improve their life success? At the University of Hong Kong, everything is in english. Some students are more fluent than others, and this can have a big impact on their success. As students arrived to register for their freshman year, they were asked if they would take a free course to improve their English skills if the university provided one. It turned out that those with a fixed mindset were not very interested, and those with a growth mindset were absolutely interested.5 This is a perfect example of how the fixed mindset turns people into non-learners. As Dweck says:

The fixed mindset stands in the way of development and change. The growth mindset is a starting point for change, but people need to decide for themselves where their efforts toward change would be most valuable.

People with the fixed mindset are not simply lacking in confidence, though their confidence may be more fragile and more easily undermined by setbacks and effort. Also, having a growth mindset doesn’t mean you have to be working hard all the time. It just means you can develop whatever skills you want to put the time and effort into.

The following image, created by Nigel Holmes, and found near the end of the book, is a great summary of the key ideas in Mindset, and how it affects your life. (My one nitpick is the use of “deterministic” in the final fixed-mindset sentence, which I’d say is incorrect; replace it with “unchangeable” and I’d be happy.) It shows the difference between the two mindsets, and why the growth mindset is better. Remember that all of these behaviors stem from the very simple beliefs you have about your own abilities to change and improve.

Being aware of your own mindset will be key to changing it, as we’ll see in a future post.


For now, think about which side of this image better represents your beliefs about intelligence, and your resulting behavior. How about for creativity, or technical skills, or speaking abilities, or school skills, or social skills, or any other life skill and ability?

Visible Learning by John Hattie

Visible Learning by John Hattie (2009) is well-described by its subtitle: “A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement”. It is an attempt to summarise a huge amount of educational research about what works and what doesn’t into a single volume. This post is my review and some analysis of the book.


The concept of the book (know thy impact) sounds great and the helpful list of what works and what doesn’t work following Hattie’s meta-meta-analysis should be a no-brainer. What Hattie is presenting is a meta-analysis looking across many (many) studies of a particular change, to try to get a more reliable sense of the effect. Hattie’s Visible Learning aimed to be a meta-meta-analysis: a look at a huge array of meta-analyses to get a good picture of what works in education and what doesn’t. I posted about this in December 2014 following the CEM (Durham University) conference and on the back of his presentation to our school group in 2013. He runs ‘Visible Learning’ as a schools programme, and one of the primary schools in our group have taken this on and presented at a conference last year.

The effort is massive, and commendable. That said, when I read the book it seems contradictory and with several flaws. I do like the questions/ provocations that he throws up, such as:

What does a years growth look like following a years input and how pervasive is this impact within a teaching group?

The ‘expert feeling’ of what works isn’t really valid evidence as it seems virtually nothing has a negative impact.

The book is not one to read from cover to cover, but it should be a useful reference? In looking at homework recently, I thought that I’d check out the influence in Visible Learning. There it sits in position 83 with a low effect of 0.29. When I looked into the pages marked up as linked to homework, it seems that this figure is an aggregate of all school phases. The actual ‘size effect’ of homework in the phase I work in (secondary 11-18) is actually very high and would clock in at number 3 on the list. Wow, number 3 up from 83! It also isn’t very clear what the nature of the homework tasks are; surely you would need to categorize and then table the impacts? This becomes clearer whencConsidering Effect Sizes upon which Visible Learning is centred. The statistical measure called “effect size”is a measure of how much two groups differ on a particular measurement. It can be thought of as a measure of how many standard deviations the mean was shifted. A meta-analysis is a way to rigorously and quantitatively summarise a bunch of research studies, usually by way of effect sizes. Typically, you find a set of studies measuring a similar outcome, with a similar manipulation, find their effect sizes and average all the effect sizes to get a mean effect size. It clearly doesn’t work if  incommensurable results are combined. Given two (or more) numbers, one can always calculate an average. It can be very tempting, once effect sizes have been calculated, to treat them as all the same and lose sight of their origins. In comparing (or combining) effect sizes, one should therefore consider carefully whether they relate to the same outcomes. You should also consider whether those outcome measures are derived from the same (or sufficiently similar) instruments and the same (or sufficiently similar) populations. It doesn’t appear that Hattie has adhered to this, in fact the whole book is built on the idea that we can look across these meta-analyses to find the most effective interventions by comparing average effect sizes.

Guy Claxton, What’s the Point of School?

What’s The Point of School: Rediscovering the Heart of Education
Published by One World Publications, 2008

Guy Claxton is director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, where he is a professor of learning science.  He’s written a bunch of books on Building Learning Power; I’ve come across some of his stuff before when I was working in Bristol and he was based there. This book has proved a fantastic provocation which shaped work in a previous school called ‘Hadrian Learner’ and also in my current school when looking at dispositions around learning.

His book begins with the Winston Churchill quote

“The only time my education was interrupted was while I was at school.”

One of the central thrusts of the book is a critique of the testing system and its implications on children and learning, such as how it increases stress and emotional problems and alienates children from learning. He contends that they begin to see school, especially during their teens, as mainly a place to socialise, and this view gets in the way of real learning.

In the first chapter, Claxton unpacks data on children’s mental wellbeing including UNICEF’s report of 2007(which placed the UK last amongst 21 OECD nations), suggesting stress is becoming an epidemic amongst children. He suggests this is part the result of the breakdown of traditional family life and the consequent reliance of children on their peers and social groups, a dependence on material possessions as “badges” and the appeal of celebrity cults because of a lack of real role models. In addition comes stress from schools and the continual demands to improve and score highly on tests, and because schools do not teach children to be resilient and adaptable instead.

What Claxton advocates is a curriculum that meets the needs and interests of students, making school relevant to them, designing a curriculum that serves students, providing students with challenging and relevant learning opportunities.

What we have are students who are servants to the an assessment system in which the only parts of a curriculum that really matter are those that are assessed – schools and teachers are as culpable, if not more so, in this perversion as central government.

So Claxton addresses the gap between what students learn in schools and what students need to learn for the real world. He suggests schools discourage innovation, curiosity and risk taking, skills needed for the real world.

Stress is what happens when the demands made on you exceed the resources you have to meet them.

Claxton also advocates developing “habits of mind” (or dispositions) in children, so they have the personal resources necessary for real life, which he calls hos ‘magnificent eight’. It’s these eight core capacities that really grabbed me in this book:

Powerful learners are curious

Confident learners have courage

Powerful learners are good at exploration and investigation

Powerful learning requires experimentation

Powerful learners have imagination

The creativity of imagination needs to be yoked to reason and discipline, the ability to think carefully, rigourously, and methodically. to analyse and evaluate as well as take the creative leap.

Powerful learners have the virtue of sociability and sharing.

Powerful learners are reflective: what assumptions have we made? how are we going about this? They don’t consider themselves with a fixed mindset, as ‘good’ or ‘average’.



Trivium by Martin Robinson


Apparently (according to Plato) Socrates fretted that writing would erode memorization. Also, there is (somewhere in the world) a 1,700 year old piece of stone tablet with a student’s work on one side and a rude caricature of his teacher on the other. Years later, Dorothy L. Sayers pretty much said that kids should spend the whole of Key Stage 2 absorbing facts and knowledge. The pedagogical call to arms, ‘Trivium 21C’ by Martin Robinson, is liberally sprinkled with such anecdotes, along with interviews with heavy-weight educationalists, politico’s, journalists and more than one living philosopher. At times, it is so ambitious in its historical and philosophical scope that it reads like Holinshead’s Chronicles of Sophie’s World set in Grange Hill.

Robinson’s central thesis is that modern education has become an unstable product of political toing and froing between progressive, ‘guide on the side’ liberals and traditionalist, ‘sage on the stage’ grammarians. His argument is that, prior to the modern age, there existed a Trivium of academic disciplines that dealt more than adequately with this dichotomy between tradition and renewal. Robinson recommends returning to a Trivium based on modern equivalents like the International Baccalaureate.

To summarise ‘Trivium 21C’ in a few lines cannot begin to do justice to its sheer weight of erudition, thoughtfulness and humour. Robinson is motivated by a desire to provide an education fit for his daughter (something that few politicians, if they are being honest, do for the state education system in the UK. They have a tendency to regard state education from the outside not looking in). Robinson consistently returns to this motivation, ending the book with a particularly poignant line about his hopes and fears for his daughter’s education (which I won’t share, I’ll let you read it for yourself).

If you want to understand the trajectory of education over the last squillion years, and are interested in one man’s extremely compelling argument for where state education should go next, read ‘Trivium 21C’ – a manifesto for the marriage of a reverence for the best that has been thought and written to critical thinking skills and communication. With a dad like this, his daughter’s education is in very good hands.


Yong Zhao, ‘Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China has the best and worst education system in the world”

Following the release of the latest PISA results last year, Michael Gove was quoted as saying that

“since the 1990s, test performances had been at best stagnant, at worst declining”

This was picked up by his successor Nicky Morgan earlier this year following  her visit to Asia (Shanghai) and her subsequent desire to replicate their systems across the UK. Her American equivalent, Arne Duncan, followed this theme when announcing that “yet again that American students were doing terribly when tested, in comparison to students in the sixty-one other countries and a few cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong”.

As an educator in Hong Kong, I see children returning from school at 7pm, asleep on public transport 6 days a week and I know that the late night tutoring centres are a highly lucrative feature of the education landscape. Amidst my own observations and having met and spoke with Yong Zhao at a couple of conferences last year I was eager to read his latest book. In his book, He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old; Nicky Morgan take note.

Zhao shows a slide during his presentations (and in his book) contrasting PISA score with patent applications by location. The quality of China’s patents and research publications, Zhao says, is “abysmal,” because of the circumstances under which they are produced and the ubiquity of fraud. Any criticism of the authoritarian culture that produces cheating and fraud is “viewed as un-Chinese and anti-Chinese” and might lead to “political and legal troubles.”Zhao quotes Zheng Yefu, a professor at Peking University and the author of a popular book in 2013 titled The Pathology of Chinese Education, who wrote:

No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college…. Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner…. This forcefully testifies [to] the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of the [Chinese] society.

The most shocking story that Zhao tells is about a rural township in Anhui province that is known as Asia’s largest test-prep machine. It is home to Maotanchang or Mao Zhong, a residential secondary school devoted to test preparation. More than 11,000 students from this school took the college entrance exam in 2013, and 82 percent scored high enough to gain admission to a four-year college. Tuition is about $6,000, the same as the average annual income for residents of Shanghai. Parents pay for a year’s living expenses in addition to tuition. Students come to this school from across China to prepare for the tests. The workload is three times what it is in the typical Chinese school. Students are in class by 6:30 AM and finish for the day at 10:30 PM, with homework yet to do. The school “has become a legend in China. The national TV network, CCTV, sent a drone to capture the send-off for more than ten thousand students, traveling in seventy buses, escorted by police cars, to take the exam on June 5, 2013.”

Leading Chinese educators have attempted to reduce the importance of examinations, but thus far have failed. Zhao calls testing

“the witch that cannot be killed.”

No matter how often they issue directives to reduce homework and academic pressure, the pressure remains, enforced by schools and parents.

He rejects the current “reforms” that demand uniformity and a centrally controlled curriculum. He envisions schools where students produce books, videos, and art, where they are encouraged to explore and experiment. He imagines ways of teaching by which the individual strengths of every student are developed, not under pressure, but by their intrinsic motivation. He dreams of schools where the highest value is creativity, where students are encouraged to be, as he wrote in his last book, World Class Learners, “confident, curious, and creative.” Until we break free of standardized testing, this ideal will remain out of reach.

Gove v The BLOB by Toby Young

he pdf version can be downloaded here and the blurb on the Civitas website as follows:

“What is “The Blob” and what has a 1950s sci-fi movie got to do with education policy? In this hard-hitting pamphlet, the journalist and free school founder Toby Young explains how the education establishment has been sucked into a thoughtworld which will not permit reasonable discussion of the best ways to school our children. The adherence of teaching unions, local education authorities and academic “experts” to so-called progressive classroom techniques is so fanatical that they ignore a huge body of empirical evidence and the findings of cognitive scientists that point to the need for a more disciplined, teacher-led and knowledge-rich approach.”


So what of this current educational battle with The Blob? ‘The Blob’ was first coined by William J Bennett, a Reagan-era US education secretary, but has since been taken up by UK education secretary Michael Gove as a collective noun for teachers, union leaders, teacher-trainers and other professionals who, as Young puts it, have ‘a vested interest in preserving the status quo’. Young insists that The Blob refers to ‘a particular ideological outlook’, ‘a progressive educational philosophy’ based around ideas like child-centred learning. ‘It is this ideology that is the enemy, not those who believe in it’, he says.

‘The views of The Blob spread like the Ebola virus’,

Young continues, ‘but instead of killing its victims, it enhances their careers. It’s transmitted primarily through university education departments, and a consensus develops that becomes quite difficult for people to oppose.’ Although so-called progressive arguments for child-centred, topic-based education, and self-directed learning, can sound really modern and radical, Young explains that nearly all of The Blob’s ideas have been around for over 200 years and ‘can be traced back to the Romantic movement’.

Young’s main argument against The Blob centres around the place of subject knowledge in the school curriculum. Many who buy into a progressive educational outlook deride the teaching of knowledge as Gradgrind-style drilling, an old-fashioned exercise in getting children to commit information to memory that can be easily Googled and is really only useful for competing in pub quizzes. Young says that these arguments have ‘gained additional authority in the last half-century or so from the rise of postmodernism, and, in particular, from the belief that what we think of as knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is just one way of looking at the world, with no greater claim to being true than any other’.

In practice, this means that school children are still spending time engaged in a great deal of activity. But, as Young puts it, ‘they aren’t being taught to think about history – which is because they aren’t being taught any historical knowledge. They’re just being taught about themselves.’

‘There’s a flattery inherent in child-centred education which promotes a type of narcissism’, Young continues. ‘The purpose of good education should be to enable children to transcend the prison of the self. Teachers need to be able to show children that their opinions are just an accidental product of their circumstances. It’s only knowledge that can allow children to form views which transcend their circumstances.’

In Prisoners of The Blob, Young argues for formal teaching which is centred on recognised bodies of subject knowledge – ‘the best and most important work in both the sciences and humanities, what Daniel T Willingham calls “taken-for-granted knowledge”’.

Young’s book contains a substantial body of empirical evidence garnered from cognitive research and large-scale longitudinal interventions, primarily conducted in the US. This research suggests child-centred teaching methods simply do not work:

‘The consensus after three decades of research into the development of the human brain is that children cannot engage in critical thinking without having first memorised an array of facts relevant to the task in hand.’ This means that ‘contrasting the learning of facts with these higher-order skills is a false dichotomy; a child cannot develop the latter without having done the former. The idea that you can just jump straight to “analysis, argument and presentation” and skip the boring bit is at odds with our scientific knowledge of how the brain develops.’

I was put to Young that such scientific evidence may actually provide quite flimsy foundations for arguing against child-centred education. Surely the case for teaching knowledge would be best made through moral and intellectual arguments? Young nods: ‘There’s a degree of pragmatism about using cognitive and empirical arguments to support proposals for knowledge-based education. I’d still want to teach subject knowledge even if that evidence wasn’t there. We could, for example, look at the arguments AE Housman and Matthew Arnold made in support of classical liberal education. But arguing for knowledge-based education in this way requires the articulation of a convincing moral case, which, to me, lies primarily in the conception we have of the self and what it means to be fully human.’

‘This is a conversation that transcends the current obsession with social mobility. Even in its own terms, progressive teaching to bring about social mobility doesn’t work because the best foundations for social mobility are subject knowledge.’

For Young, the moral case for teaching subject knowledge hinges on its ability to transform the lives of children from disadvantaged backgrounds: ‘One of the great ironies of this debate is that nearly all the advocates of progressive education are on the left, yet the type of approach they recommend as “inclusive” and “equitable” has ended up entrenching poverty and preserving privilege. The reason for this is obvious: if children are learning very little at school, those from under-privileged homes are never going to be able to compete with those from more affluent backgrounds when it comes to securing places at top universities and footholds in lucrative careers.’

But, as Young explains, those on the left haven’t always opposed traditional liberal education.

‘Until relatively recently, the orthodoxy among left-wing intellectuals was that a traditional, knowledge-based education was an essential pre-requisite of social emancipation, rather than an obstacle. Indeed, the notion that ordinary children should be taught useful skills – a view now espoused by the British teaching unions – while only the privileged few should receive a traditional subject-based education was associated with conservatives rather than liberals – not least because they were worried that educating working-class children properly would threaten the status quo.’

Despite the enormity of doing battle with the educational establishment, Young remains upbeat: ‘We are perhaps seeing the beginnings of a tidal change. There are some new teachers now who don’t buy into this gobbledegook. There’s only so long an ideology which flies in the face of the growing weight of empirical evidence can be sustained.’ Ultimately, however, those of us championing the teaching of subject knowledge have arguments that are even more powerful than this empirical evidence. Young agrees: ‘No matter what progressive educationalists might come up with, we’ll always have our weapons: Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Plato. This is a war we will win; but it’s important we make sure it’s a conclusive victory.’ Speaking to Toby Young leaves you feeling like nothing is impossible.


Ron Berger, An Ethic of Excellence

“Work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibilities. There is an appetite for excellence.”

This is a culture Ron Berger not only promotes for his students, but also insists on in his work as an educator, carpenter and consultant. His book “An Ethic of Excellence” encapsulates this message in a phenomenally quick page-turner. Every one of the 150 pages is packed with creativity, inspiration and warmth for students.

Berger’s experiences in poorly maintained schools are all too familiar for many people.

“When kids walk into run-down, ugly buildings constructed as cheaply as possible and often falling apart, what message do these children get? We don’t care about you. We don’t value you. We don’t expect much of you.”

This teacher, on the other hand, doesn’t give his students a chance to doubt his devotion to each and every one of them. Dozens of wildly imaginative projects are laid out for readers in eloquent stage-by-stage descriptions. From kindergarteners annotating extensive lists of snail preferences…that’s right, snails, to fifth and sixth graders performing radon testing for the entire community, his energy, ingenuity and commitment is at first difficult to grapple with.

“Most discussions of assessment start in the wrong place. The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to students but goes on inside students. Every student walks around with a picture of what is acceptable, what is good enough. Each time he works on something he looks at it and assesses it. Is this good enough? Do I feel comfortable handing this in? Does it meet my standards? Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school. How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort.” (P103, ‘An Ethic of Excellence’)

Berger’s level of respect for children and teachers may be a rarity in American public schools today, but for him,

“anything short of excellence would be intolerable.”


The Learning Powered School by Guy Claxton





Visible Learning and The Science of How We Learn- John Hattie



Why don’t student’s like school? Dan Willingham



Teacher Proof- Tom Bennett












What if everything that you knew about education was wrong? David Didau











Teach like a Champion 2.0- Doug Lemov












Making Learning Whole- David Perkins













Seven myths of education- Daisy Christodoulou














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