Changing ‘Challenge’ and building Resilience

Changing ‘Challenge’ and building Resilience

Early this month I attended an IB Schools Australasia’s 2017 Speaker Series event at Wesley College (St Kilda Campus) with Haydn Flanagan Head of Middle School. The speaker Professor Martin Westwell spoke on ‘Changing Challenge – using creativity for disposition and differentiation’.

Martin Westwell is the Strategic Professor in the Science of Learning at Flinders University and is the Director of the Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century. He has a special interest in the topics of ‘student struggle’, ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’.

Martin discussed the evidence from recent research that suggests that if we change the way we think about ‘challenge’ it can open up new ways to help us shape student attitudes to learning. It can also provide teachers with opportunities to differentiate their teaching programs and cater for the different needs of learners in their classroom.

In his presentation Professor Westwell explored how different classroom practices involving students thinking in different ways can enhance student learning and engagement. As teachers we know we need to provide students with more thinking time instead of asking them to jump to an answer or being prescriptive on how they should solve a problem.

Westwell believes that when students take part in inquiry learning and are about to embark on an investigation we need to give them the opportunity to think divergently first. To toss around ‘ideas’, talk about ‘what ifs’ and ‘depends on’ questions, rather than give them a plan for their investigation. Then ask them to reflect on these ideas and thoughts and start thinking convergently i.e. narrow down their ideas and devise a hypothesis, tests, method, etc. to address the inquiry question. This is a model for being creative.

Martin also touched on work from other researchers in the context of challenge and failing, this included Carol Dweck’s growth mindset and Lance King’s failing well. The growth mindset involves students viewing a challenge as a learning opportunity where effort counts. To struggle with a challenge and to fail initially is OK. The growth mindset is “I am not good at this task yet”.

In line with Carol Dweck’s work, Lance King believes that the secret is to rework the notion of what it means to fail. We need students to get over their emotional fear of the word failure. Failure is just feedback. Feedback on what you are not doing right yet. Here failure is simply defined as not reaching your goal at this stage. It is important that students take responsibility for their actions (or lack of action) in not achieving the goal and to make changes to the way they go about the process of learning.

According to Professor Westwell a parent’s own mindset has a significant influence on their son or daughter’s attitude and approach to life. Parents can influence their child’s mindset by modelling a positive approach to life’s challenges and praising effort, perseverance, and the importance of confronting and learning from mistakes. This is helping your child to build resilience and develop the learning skills to tackle the challenges of life in these changing times.

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