Friday, 6 April 2012

Rewarding learner attributes

This year as part of our Learning & Teaching group, I headed up a mini team and looked at ways of using feedback in our school.  As if I had planned it myself, our Director of Learning asked us to specifically look at using feedback to promote Growth Learners (C. Dweck).  This was already something I was looking into in our Year 9 L2L lessons and tied in nicely for our new course with the Year 7's next year.  Amazing how things fall nicely into place.

First of all we looked back at the idea of Growth Learners.  We went through some of Dweck's work and pulled out key components of her theory.  It was interesting to see that we probably talk about these things in lessons very loosely but have never actually rewarded it.  Do we actually promote them explicitly with learners?

Fixed v Growth Learners

So I then thought about the way we reward at our school and all of a sudden my L2L hat came out again.  We have a very good system that uses a package called SIMS.  Simply click on a students name on the register and assign a merit to them.  Merits = points and students work their way up a rewards ladder.  Doing this is the quick way and simply assigns a merit for 'classwork'.  If you want to give a more specific comment on why you've given a merit, you have a few more clicks so naturally this isn't used as much.

Without conducting a whole school review, we generalised from our own departments and teaching experiences about why people handed out merits.  Three areas were identified. 

a) Merits were given for things like giving correct answers in lessons, getting good grades in tests or homework, completing all of the tasks in a lesson.....  Looking at Dweck's work, many of these things were promoting Fixed Mindset Learners.  It is still good to be rewarded when you have got a good grade, but do these students always get good grades?  Were they challenged or could they do this well anyway?  Did they make progress? Did this recognise the effort and process of less able students who probably made a lot of progress even though it wasn't of the same quality of the more able students?  Is it always the same students who answer every question?  Do they put their hands up when they don't know the answer (or like Dweck says, they are worried about looking unintelligent if they get it wrong).

b) Merits were given out for effort, progress and outstanding work or contribution.  We agreed that this was a good step as rewarding effort reinforced that to be successful you need to work hard. Outstanding work and contribution linked with progress and rewarded learners who had pushed their learning forward.

c) Merits for 'naughty' students who aren't naughty in your lesson today.  I reviewed this a few years ago and found a lot of 'good' students who follwed the rules and did as they were asked were being 'out-merited' by the naughty ones who behaved.  They were caught in the middle ground between them and the 'exceptional' students.  For some it felt like complying with the rules got you no recognition (and nearly made one of my tutee's go down the wrong route in Year 11 because of this frustration!).

The next problem we identified is that to promote being a Growth learner through feedback, you actually need time to give it.  You need the time to actually explain to them why you are awarding them a merit based on a positive learner attriubte or quality.  Unfortunately, doing this either gets forgotten as you get on with the teaching or gets missed because teachers don't manage to fit in time to give constructive learner feedback.

After looking at these points, we started putting ideas together.  One strategy that came out was one I remebered from working with our excellent Science team.  The local AST had come in and looked at feedback with them and did something similar to what we were about to do.  The AST set the Science team on a task as you would do in a lesson.  As they got on independently, he simply watched and observed with a pack of post it notes in his hand.  This observation allowed him to see the good things going on.  He identified good leaders, people who got themselves unstuck, those who were good at planning the task, those who used the resources they had in front of them effectively... He then wrote a comment based on this on a post it and simply popped it on the desk in front of one of the Science team, let them read the comment and then walked off.  A big smile came out, that person knew that they should continue to work/learn in this way and develop it into a good habit.  He could do the same to challenge behaviour if needed.

So, we needed a quick way to do something similar, to reward good learner habits, to give clear feedback and to reinforce being a Growth Learner.  This is what we created:

Based on our version of the 5R's for next year (I am responsible, I am determined....) we came up with these reward cards.  We broke down each one of of attributes and identified key points that helped promote good learning.  We then colour co-ordinated them (Green - Responsible, Blue - Determined, Pink - Resourceful, Grey - Deeper thinker, Orange - Reflective), laminated and cut them up into small cards.  Without the need for a post it, we simply drop these in front of individuals when we see good learning going on.  It gives them that instant bit of feedback and reinforces good habits.  In the last few minutes of the lesson, learners bring these up to me and I trade them for a merit and a one sentence explanation about why/when/how they got it.  I reinforce that this is good Growth learning and off they go.  At home I update this to a spreadsheet which makes a multi coloured bar chart for each student, showing them who has been rewarded for which Growth learner qualities.

How I record their cards.  Learners can look at this and see what qualities they're good at and which ones they need to work on.

So far, my Year 9 L2L class are loving it.  It's quick and simple.  If I need to spend more time with a learner giving specific feedback I can, knowing that I am able to still give instant feedback to other learners using the cards (it gives me time).  All of a sudden the children are talking about learning and are asking how they can get a merit.  I can now say things like 'by staying focused when working on a task' and talk them through strategies to help them do it.  As a result, I also have them fully embedded in my Year 10 GCSE PE class who actively try to demonstrate these qualities to get them.  The actions of these learners has massively improved and I love going to these lessons because of the learning environment that has been created.

Overall verdict: We like them.  They're a quick way to reward individuals for good learner qualities and attributes.  Highlights exactly why they have received a merit.  Helps us quickly promote good learning and gets them talking about what good learning is.  Next is to trial them with the Year 7 L2L programme next year and linking them explicitly to our version of the 5R's.  Anything you would add or do differently?  These are just ideas so happy to have help developing them.


  1. This is brilliant! Love the way learners are actively wanting to show positive learning behaviours. I'll be forwarding this url to our new teaching and learning lead.

    Look forward to seeing further evidence of impact.

    Simon Scarborough

  2. This is a great idea. Can I steal it for next year, please. Simple enough that it stands a chance of being able to be carried out. That's what we need.

    1. Of course you can. The idea of this blog is to try things out, reflect on its impact and share them if people think they might be helpful. If you want an actual electronic copy of the cards to print off, follow me on Twitter via @davidfawcett27 and I can e-mail them over. Let me know if they work.

  3. Hi,

    Just found a link to this via the TES. This sounds really motivating for pupils - i intend to trial it with one of my classes.