It is fair to suggest, that at some point in our lives we've all heard and possibly used the phrase 'I can't do it!' and as a result of adopting such an approach, it can often lead us into following a negative mindset and the distinct possibility of merely giving up before we have even really started.
As we all know, there is a wealth of psychology research out there that can help teachers to improve how they work and collaborate with students of all ages, but it is a fair assumption to make that these academic studies aren’t always easy to access or translate into the realities of modern-day classroom practice.
As an experienced teacher, I'm an advocate of all things developed through methods of creative learning, and continually seeking every opportunity to use the Great Outdoors, as an extension of the classroom. I always see it as an opportunity to plan and deliver meaningful, achievable, yet thought-provoking educational possibilities, for all of my students.
In this particular blog post, I aim to highlight and address all of the above by finding the answers and practical solutions to a common question: How can we help our students to do better at school?
For me, the answer is simple and achievable for all. It is down to the ability of the class teacher or senior leaders to devise and deliver an exciting and expansive school curriculum that will not only help promote the benefits of a Growth Mindset, but also take on board the many advantages of using the Great Outdoors as part of a positive learning tool.
So, What is a Growth Mindset?
A growth mindset is the idea that intelligence can be developed rather than it being directly set in stone.
It is arguably the most famous psychological theory in education at the present time, since firstly being introduced into mainstream consciousness following a seminal growth mindset study carried out around 20 years ago.
Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the concept of a growth mindset, and it was popularised in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Over the years, many schools and educators have started using Dweck’s theories to help inform teachers on how best to teach their students.
Dweck’s educational work focuses on the distinction between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. According to Dweck, in a fixed mindset, people believe their fundamental qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are actually just fixed traits, and they continually spend their time documenting their knowledge or skill instead of actually developing them.
Alternatively, in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities develop through both dedication and also hard work, with brains and talent being the starting point.
Adopting this particular view then helps to create a clear love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Therefore, students who embrace a growth mindset and the overarching belief that they can learn more or become smarter if they work hard and persevere—may actually learn more, learn more quickly, and view challenges and failures as opportunities to actually improve their overall learning and development of key skills.
Using Outdoor Learning to Encourage A Growth Mindset
In recent years schools have increasingly started to embrace the work of Carol Dweck and integrate the theory of Growth Mindset into their daily lessons and also the broader school culture.
As a result, this has started the platform in developing the thinking skills and self-awareness in all young learners and by adopting such vital skills it will inevitably help to prepare them for life in the wider world, which as we all know, has its own complexities, challenges and difficulties. To overcome barriers and achieve overall success they must ultimately find the inner wisdom to learn and grow.
Taking this into consideration, I feel that introducing the outdoors into our regular classroom activities can introduce endless amounts of opportunities and possibilities that will go a long way to help illustrate the meaning of what a growth mindset is and how it can be implemented in an effective way.
In the context of school learning
In the two mindsets 'growth' or 'fixed' , what we are aiming to do first is to help initiate and raise self-awareness in our pupils and to make apparent which one they will unconsciously adopt when facing difficulty or challenge.
For example, do they respond by saying “I can’t do it” and subsequently then give up easily?
With the fixed mindset it is a common belief that you can either do things or not. You are either good at something, or you're not, and you will, therefore, do all the things we're naturally good at and try to avoid the rest.
In the fixed mindset it is a common belief that intelligence, creativity, charisma, spatial awareness, joke-telling ability, can’t be developed. Naturally, this is hugely discouraging and indeed damaging to all learners when they face possibly difficulties.
Alternatively, you say the opposite with words “I’ll give it a go and try and figure it out” and then continually seek opportunities to embrace all possibilities of a growth mindset.
Here, the growth mindset now comes from the belief that effort and commitment will naturally lead to overall success. The primary focus now becomes hard work, time spent, perseverance and the ability to respond to the improvements.
Self-awareness is the first step on this journey toward developing an effective and positive growth mindset.
Its good to make mistakes
As a child, I often responded unfavourably at school to the teachers who continually told me I wasn't good at something. Well, it was correct that I wasn't good at a lot of things, but somewhere deep inside, I must have been good at something... right?
I think therefore it wasn't necessarily myself who was always to blame. Perhaps the curriculum and the style of teaching also played a significant role in my struggles.
After all, I am now a teacher and who clearly understands that young minds need to be inspired and stimulated to reach their full potential. Sadly from what I see around me, that is not always the case, with many underachieving due to unirspiring teaching methods, too much testing and a general disregard for the real reason why you teach.
In my opinion, outdoor learning provides endless possibilities and utilising the outdoors definitely lends itself to focusing on developing a growth mindset. As a result, when we go outside to learn and develop critical skills and attempt to complete a given task, we often go through the process of trial and error.
For example, when attempting to measure the area and perimeter of the school playground during an outdoor practical maths lesson, difficulties and challenges sometimes lead an individual pupil in to thinking that 'they are not very good at doing maths outside.' I think that it is fair to suggest this isn't a situation that they don't enjoy it or can't achieve, simply that they have probably just made an error in their calculations..
With support/guidance and a little trial and error, eventually, that individual or group of children will progress. When you do fully utilise the outdoors, such as learning to build and light a campfire, making a shelter or creating a piece of artwork using a wide range of collected natural materials, this leads us to dig deep, utilise our skills and calls upon our ability rather than it being all about 'natural talent'.
As a result, I feel it is massively important to go through the process of making mistakes. After all, as humans, we continue to learn from the mistakes we make. It builds character, confidence and overarchingly pushes us to achieve even more.
Learn your lessons from the Great Outdoors
Creating a wide variety of learning opportunities in an outdoor environment is particularly important and will most certainly help to support and develop further learning opportunities. In this particular setting, we can facilitate great work and clearly illustrate the benefits of a positive growth mindset. We can utilise and learn from our surroundings, but also draw clear parallels to what goes on inside the classroom. Integrating new learning into maths, language or reading skills.
Developing positive communication skills is also important together with your ability to promote positive praise.. Creating this supportive culture will inevitably bring out the best in all pupils undertaking such challenges. Emphasising the importance of practising, putting in the effort and hard work is a necessity, whilst drawing on feedback can also distinguish the main differences between success and failure.
The ability to express feelings and emotions like... "I saw how hard you worked to get that right" rather than add points like "you are brilliant at this." will most certainly work in the learner's favour.
Establish a clear vision
I believe a positive Growth Mindset and the Outdoors as a learning tool, go hand in hand, and I think there are a wealth of opportunities. My career is built around and my experiences stem from listening to others, learning from others and indeed learning from what is in front of me.
Theory accounts for some important elements, but experience and common sense are also vitally important, together with a willingness to adapt and change..
I devised opportunities for outdoor learning by pursuing my interest in learning and the outdoors. To develop those skills I pursued becoming an accredited Forest Schools practitioner, implementing a working Forest School at my last school to see the benefits at first hand, weaving potential learning opportunities into our already creative curriculum.
Friday afternoons were always something different. During that time, all children had the chance to learn new skills, enhance and support existing ones and also embrace challenge, by taking significant risks.
Slowly, and as a school we developed an interesting and exciting culture where the outdoors became an integral part of our school life whilst also creating a strong identity of the school and the children within it.
We developed a creative culture and a culture built around questioning, encouraging pupils to question in order to help bring about success.
When have you faced a challenging situation or task that has eventually resulted in you achieving success?
Some answers might include the first time you learned to walk, the moment where you rode a bike for the very first time or swam in the water. The children I teach find learning times tables challenging whilst. running a marathon, getting a job or learning to drive are all other examples.
In these examples trial and error always remains a significant factor. In school lessons, some activities can also fall into the same category.
It can also be an opportunity to encourage expansive thinking and use experiences to measure failure and success.
- Problem solving is great, however big or small. Set a problem and give all children the unique opportunity to explore and create different types of solutions.
- Collaborative Group Work - delegated roles and responsibilities to members of the group to achieve the desired outcome.
- Within Group Work use one group member as an observer. They will record all the trials and errors and highlight how they come about. Then use that knowledge to devise a system or way to help overcome the potential barriers and reach a solution.
- Encourage all pupils to include trial and error in their written work and develop this skill further by using the outdoors as a stimulus to help develop positive writing habits and good overall techniques.
Of course, there are many ideas to choose from and to include in your practice, so it is important to think carefully and clearly abut what you want to achieve from your overall outdoor experience.
In my opinion learning is pretty wonderful and it is an extremely powerful tool. Utilising and learning within an outdoor context is vitally important, if we are to further develop a positive growth mindset and establish a life-long zest for learning.
Work with me
I have many years of valuable experience, not only as a Teacher, but also within the context of outdoor learning. I specialise in Practical Forest Schools learning as well as over 15 years experience in planning Bespoke Residential School Visits.
I also produce a wide variety of my own teaching resources that can accompany any outdoor learning experience. I make these resources from my own ideas, practical experiences, but can also create something on request. You can view those resources here.
Please click here to find more about what I can offer.