17 October 2014

On Mind-Sets and GCSEs

Tom Bennett has an excellent commentary on last night's Educating the East End. 

You can also catch the programme (in the UK) at 4oD here.

I'm commenting because this episode is a case-study of two Year 11 (16-year-old, GCSE high-stakes exam candidates). Both of them have "issues" which are jeopardising their achievement in their exams, and their counterparts regularly turn up in FE, perhaps trying to recoup their failures at school. (As indeed did my son.)

One is Oscar, who is a "high-flier" of whom much is expected, but who is not delivering the work; he is making excuses and procrastinating, in the most articulate and charming way imaginable. I wanted to strangle him and bang his head against the wall...

The other is Paris. He features in this clip, in which he recognises clearly that his (mildly) disruptive behaviour in class is a defence mechanism—he is afraid that he will fail. Indeed he expects to, and he is is determined to embrace it. If his fate is to be "failure", he will make it happen and hence retain some illusion of being in control.

Obviously we have only a highly selectively edited version of the story, but in the end they—thanks largely to the tough love of their teachers—come through.

But there is a theme underlying these cases, broadly fitting with Dweck's theory of  "mind-set". Reading between the lines, Oscar does seem to have acquired a "fixed" mind-set about his abilities, which bequeathes a degree of insouciant confidence (even arrogance), until he encounters a challenge he can't easily rise to, or the possibility of failure. If you believe your abilities are innate and fixed but you do not achieve at the level they predict, then you need to seek an external reason for that—even if it involves playing a self-defeating game such as procrastination.

Paris is the mirror-image, possibly with a hint of learned helplessness?

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