Recently the topic of acknowledging and encouraging success as been discussed amongst some of my colleagues. It’s an important topic regardless of which school one works in whether independent or state. The solutions proposed by some staff were that we need to focus our attentions on identifying the best work and scanning it, copying it etc for display in the school lobby.
I feel this misses the point entirely of how one encourages success. I have heard a PE teacher from another school say that he encourages pupils to come do his subject at GCSE if they are struggling in other subjects and feel they are not that academically gifted. Great! So this means a pupil may come and do his subject already with the message ringing in their ears that they are not as good as other pupils.
Encouraging success isn’t just about identifying work which looks nice on the school wall but about firstly looking at the things we do as teachers which might discourage or demotivate a pupil and then seeing what we can do to motivate pupils who are starting off at a lower ebb than their peers.
I have seen pupils get worksheets in subjects like Maths and throw up their hands and say ‘this is hard’ and ‘I can’t do this’ before they have even got anywhere. My normal response is ‘Yes, it is meant to be tough!’ and ‘It is meant to be challenging!’ and then ‘Here by the way is some knowledge and processes you can use to try and work through it yourself!’. Whenever a pupil in my Computing class gets a bit frustrated when they’ve made a simple mistake I normally say ‘Fantastic! Now let’s unpick why it went wrong and work out what you can do next time to make it work right the next time.’
Computing is a fantastic subject for encouraging a mindset of success through the content and practical work which pupils undergo. I’ve had pupils who play music get upset if their algorithm didn’t work right the first time and I ask them if they have ever played a music piece absolutely right the first time.
We don’t need extra lessons focussing on how to focus and be determined and be motivated to succeed (Or whatever damn-fool idea Labour in particular dream up next). Our subjects contain the means to encourage that in pupils through the work they are set and the knowledge, skills and processes they acquire through challenging, rigorous work. Succeeding in that is the excitement of learning.
We can also encourage success by showing pupils what they can do with what they are learning now. When I was teaching ICT I never had a single A-Level pupil go on to do an ‘ICT’ related degree. Although I will only be starting A Level Computing in September 2015 I am already thinking about how I can encourage the girls I teach to go further in Computing. Although I don’t personally believe in focussing only on Oxbridge (Any Russell Group university seems a perfectly fine aim) I will be taking my year 10 girls at the end of March to a Women in Computer science taster day at Oxford University where they are going to find out what it’s like to study at Oxford and what sort of work is being done in the field of Computer Science.
All it comes down to is …
- Aim high
- Give them the knowledge and skills to get there