I am very privileged to be a primary teacher in an outstanding primary school where our ethos is one of nurture and growth for staff and children. As a staff, we learn and grow together. We know in our profession that we must never stop learning – we owe it to the children.
One of the ways we do this is by selecting and reading literature about current new thinking in education. It was in a book by Shirley Clarke ‘Outstanding Formative Assessment,’ that I came across the concept of growth mindset – and its flip side – fixed mindset. Having a growth mindset means understanding that learning is not a fixed phenomena. We now now that, with the optimum conditions, we have the capability to reach a given level in any subject or skill. If we are already a ‘natural’ at it then we could reach expert level! These optimum conditions involves our attitude to learning and how we tackle it. We need to learn HOW to learn most effectively.
These ‘learning superpowers’ really interested me and I wanted to put them into practice in my classroom. They are self-belief , resilience, courage, reflection, concentration, curiosity, co-operation and creativity. I wanted a way to get these concepts across to children in a fun way they could relate to and therefore understand. I decided to write eight stories. Each story had a key character with a key message or capability.
As I slowly introduced each character and capability, I saw my group of learners transform before my eyes. They became so motivated to learn well. Their concentration and self-belief sky rocketed as did their other capabilities. Giving them learning points for each skill meant that I wasn’t praising them for ‘being good’ but was rewarding meaningful shifts in their attitude to learning. Incidents of misbehavior we’re greatly reduced because the classroom climate had become one of positivity – with everyone striving to grow and change.
I shared my successes in the classroom with the staff and showed them how the stories worked to develop growth mindset in a fun way. Soon the whole school adopted this approach and it is embedded in the ethos of our school today. Our house point system and award certificates are all based on our learning characters – a child may for example get a Cooper Crab certificate for being a focused learner or receive a Roger Robin point for sharing cooperatively.
Learners that are leaving us this year have practiced ‘being’ all the learning characters for 5 years now. They are an amazing bunch of children who have achieved outstandingly. They are reflective, independent learners who have self-discipline and self-belief. They will tell you they know exactly HOW to learn. We feel so happy to be sending them up to high school with the learning capabilities ingrained inside them. They will be lifelong learners.
I also noticed how I could use the stories with my own children at home. They too love the characters and use their messages in their everyday life. For example, when learning to swim they try,try try like Sadie Spider. When my 4 year old was learning to fasten his own seatbelt he kept on improving like Lizzie Ladybird. Many comments from parents at the school were that children talked about the characters all the time and loved to use the messages at home. They even encouraged their grown ups to try,try try to catch that fly!
One day, my brother was round with his two girls and he heard me using the approach with my boys to encourage them to tidy their bedroom. He was really impressed with how they concentrated and persevered. As he and his wife began to use the stories and concepts with their girls, we realized how powerful and life-changing this could be for all parents and educators. We truly believe that it gives children a gift – guiding them to become lifelong learners. We wanted to share this approach with everybody, so together we pooled our ideas to make this a reality.
We have a friend who is a truly magical illustrator, and so after many meetings, Cape Ability was born. We named it this because of our vision – for children to feel empowered that they have the capability to learn anything they set their mind to. As they adopt the Cape Ability approach, they will.
Our learning characters have made their home on the Cape of Ability – just waiting to be discovered!