A teacher asked us recently: my school makes all students write their target grades on the front of their books: could this be undermining the self-belief and growth mindset I want them to have?
She’s right to be worried. Although many schools believe that sharing grades in this way makes it obvious (particularly to inspectors, and to teachers) where students should be aiming and what they should be doing, it does little to help students or teachers in supporting them. There are many negative implications too: to aim low, ‘I’m only a C-grade student;’ to give up, ‘I’m meant to be on a B and I’m only on a D;’ or to slack off ‘I’m targeted a C and I’m getting Bs.’ Enabling students to directly compare themselves with one another also focuses on students’ ‘egos’ rather than on the tasks at hand. But while the possibility that this will convey fixed mindset messages to students are pretty clear, it’s less apparent how a concerned teacher might approach this: non-compliance with this particular policy is pretty obvious.
In a couple of recent classroom visits, I’ve noticed teachers introduce simple tweaks that share target grades while conveying encouragement. Sam Ripman (’13 participant), in Hanson Academy, Bradford used this:
Sam was concerned students “would not push to surpass expectations when the school’s ‘expectation’ is made so clear to them.” This way, he hoped to share his belief in his students with them.
Nicky Jones (’12 Ambassador), at Whalley Range High School in Manchester, used this:
Nicky explained that this was a way to make target grades “a bit less fixed” and to remind students that a target grade is “a prediction based on data;” it’s “not a prediction based on effort, not a prediction based on other things… it’s important for them to recognise that you are the person that can either reach that target grade or not reach that target grade, so if you decide you’re going to put an A or a B, you could reach that target grade – it’s about the effort you put in.” Nicky was considering going further, by sharing the actual data on which predicted grades are based, and so allowing students to see exactly what they are capable of. Another teacher who has used this in the past has written about doing so here.
In this way, Sam and Nicky followed school policy that students should know their target grades. Every time students saw these grades however, the underlying message was that their effort and motivation could help them do better.
Three ways to build growth mindset when using grades:
- Share target (or current) grades alongside growth mindset messages, as Nicky and Sam have done.
- Talk to students about the range of results they might achieve – and what they can do to affect them.
- Share pictures of past students and the grades they achieved (perhaps alongside those they were originally predicted).