The first week after half term the school is still. Classrooms are full of quiet reflection as girls from Years 7 to Upper Sixth are engrossed in either private revision or active recall as they prepare and sit examinations. School feels very different in this week – there is a hush all over the land.
Unfortunately after the week has passed, Governments, schools, teachers, parents and pupils focus too much on the outcome of this period of recall. The grades the pupils receive are rated more highly than the effort and determination they put into the process. This is seen so clearly in League Tables where schools are competitively compared nationally and locally on the outcome, where the number of A stars are valued far more highly than the efforts the pupils and their teachers have put into achieving their grades. The League Tables have no context; there is no reference to the ability of the cohort or the value that has been added by the efforts of the individual teachers and pupils.
Carol Dweck, child educationalist, has always stressed the importance of the “growth mind-set” where you praise the effort that goes into the performance rather than the performance itself. Her research has shown that when researchers in tests praised the intelligence of the pupils they found in subsequent tests pupils shied away from harder tests. They found struggling in a harder test humiliating; they perceived it as showing they were no longer intelligent. They retreated into their shells and became either disinterested in learning or lost confidence in their ability to perform.
Those, however, who were praised by the researchers for the work and effort, remained confident. In subsequent harder tests they knew the problems were more difficult and instead of giving up, thinking they were not intelligent enough, they worked at the problems. They had made the link that challenges can be overcome but it required work, not innate ability.
The message is that we should reward hard work, perseverance and not innate intelligence. Pupils who have done well with little effort should not be praised, they have done little learning. In the long run they will not advance, they will not have the resilience later on. Pupils, on the other hand, who have worked hard, who do not give up should be recognised and applauded. They have truly learned and will advance.
As schools and parents we need to avoid presenting attainment as the end of all endeavours but in addition recognise the importance of effort and hard work. There is no fixed limit to what a pupil can achieve with effort. Aristotle said “excellence is …not an act but a habit”. So if your daughter has worked hard and persevered with the challenges of the material over this last week, praise her efforts and reward her. If she has revised poorly and put little effort into her work but still done well, do not over praise the outcome. Ask her, could she be doing more?