The 65-page report, entitled ‘Everyone Starts With an A’, (1) has been published in the UK and Germany and it aims to improve the attainment of lower-income students in particular.
This counter-intuitive approach is based upon recent developments in social and behavioural psychology. One of these discoveries is the psychological phenomenon known as “loss aversion” – the tendency for people to try harder to hold on to something they’ve already got, than to gain something they don’t have.
Nathalie Spencer, senior researcher at the RSA’s Social Brain Centre responsible for publishing the report, said: “The idea is that we reframe the incentives. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets an A, just that everyone starts with one. It plants a seed in the pupil’s mind right from the start that there is the potential for them to get an A.”
The research by the RSA also draws heavily on the work of US psychologist, Carol Dweck. It was Professor Dweck who first put forward the idea that people have either a “fixed” or a “growth” mindset. Dweck argues that those with a “growth” mindset are more likely to succeed because they view hard work and effort as the basis for improvement, rather than innate ability.
There are several recommendations made in the report for both teachers and school leaders.
Regarding mindset, they argue that we should “think about ability like a muscle that can be strengthened”. (p32 and the poster)
“When faced with setbacks, those with a growth mindset (a) have higher resilience than fixed-mindset pupils, (b) are willing to persist longer with tasks, and (c) enjoy them more.” (p6)
Other practical suggestions include these:
(a) Teachers should “praise pupils for effort instead of ability or intelligence, to help instil the idea that effort is key and intelligence is not a fixed trait. For example, try ‘great, you kept practising’ instead of ‘great, you’re really clever’. This way you are praising the process of the learning instead of the outcome.”
(b) The teacher should “become the lead learner in order to model the growth mindset. Educators can shape mindset through modelling it for the pupils.”
(c) Teachers are encouraged to experiment with “giving a ‘not yet’ grade instead of a ‘fail’ to set the expectation that with the right support and mindset, a struggling pupil is not destined to perpetual failure.”
(d) The teacher should see “wrong answers as an opportunity to learn more, to think about the process, and as natural to the learning journey.”
(e) “Build mindset into assessments of pupils.”
(f) “Build mindset into assessments of educators.” (p7)