Growing mindful reflection

Director of Studies Miss Julia Wilson gives some insights into strategies being used at Edgecliff to assist effective learning and promote resilience and perseverance.


Reflecting on Learning

The start of a new school year tends to produce a rush of emotions for us all. Excitement, joy, relief, anticipation, and anxiety are just some of the natural feelings the boys feel. The start of a new school year also offers fresh opportunity for setting goals and targets. Likewise, the start of each new term is a great opportunity for this, and to build on achievements from the previous term.

Within each boy’s 2022 diary there is space allocated to note termly goals. Setting academic goals in line with our whole-School Key Attitudes to Learning play an important part in helping Edgecliff boys become courageous learners, assisting in transferring their passion for learning and genuine interest to deep understanding that can be built on as they progress through their School journey. Weekly ‘reflecting on learning’ opportunities are also featured in each boy’s diary, in the form of ‘two ticks and a target’.

All Teachers build in ‘reflecting on learning opportunities’ for their class, whether it’s a one-on-one conference on a piece of writing, shading in an emoticon, or writing back to their Teacher’s feedback in their workbook. However, this diary addition encourages boys to personally identify their learning successes from the week as well as identifying a target for the upcoming week. Written or verbal feedback from teachers may inform this reflection, or it may be self-identified. This may assist in facilitating discussion at home between son and parent, assisting connection with boys’ day-to-day learning experiences. For example, useful questions might be, “Tell me two things you did really well this week” or “What were two things you enjoyed learning about?” followed by “What would you like to get better at?” or “Is there anything new you’re looking forward to learning?”

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Boys use their diaries to identify ‘reflecting on learning’ opportunities

As staff guide boys through the selfreflection process, they emphasise the School value of Resilience, a trait which goes hand in hand with the learning process. Trying always to give your best effort, learning from mistakes, and adopting a ‘can do’ attitude will all contribute to achieving both long-term and short-term goals. Rumour has it that Walt Disney was rejected hundreds of times and even fired from his job at a newspaper as he ‘lacked creativity’.

Thomas Edison is reported to have ‘failed’ a thousand times before finally creating the lightbulb. When asked how he it felt to fail that many times Edison replied, “I didn’t fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with a thousand steps.” Noting the ‘ticks’ can assist in staying buoyant whilst keeping your eye on ‘target’.

Grow Your Mind

2022 saw the introduction of Grow Your Mind (GYM) throughout the School. This whole-School programme focuses on the development of positive mental health strategies that assist our pupils to build resilience and flourish. GYM complements our implementation of brainbased learning from K-6, as well as Edgecliff’s Key Attitudes to Learning.

Together these initiatives combine resilience building and promote the development of a growth mindset towards both learning and life. Grow Your Mind is an evidence-based programme, based on research across the four pillars of positive psychology, neuroscience, social and emotional learning and public health. Lessons focus on understanding the brain, emotional literacy and regulation, mindset and problem-solving skills. Strategies such as mindfulness, building character strengths, changing thought patterns, and developing compassion and kindness to self and others are explored. The boys have also been learning about the different parts of the brain through animal characters and animations.

Whilst it’s normal for us all to feel setbacks and disappointments, GYM lessons reinforce the value of understanding why these experiences are important and developing the skills to embrace and manage the related feelings. As examples of the programme, boys learnt about ‘Shark v Dolphin’ thoughts to understand mindset, were taught a variety of mindful breathing strategies, and explored what ‘tact’ is – telling the truth but doing it in a way that does not upset or offend people.

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Brain-based Learning

At the start of last year, the staff and boys at Edgecliff started a journey of looking at how the structure and function of the human brain relates to learning, with the intention of integrating brain-based learning into our pedagogical approach.

Being a student-centred approach, our long-term aim is to equip the boys with an understanding of how they learn and how they can learn best – through becoming familiar with terms such as working memory, long-term and short-term memory and cognitive load. The aim was also to gain an understanding that frustrations, challenges, and procrastinations around learning are normal things we all encounter.

The boys learn that the brain has two modes of thinking

Learning started with tailor-made videos by Professor Barbara Oakley of Oakland University, Michigan, which introduced the boys to the idea that the brain has two modes of thinking. In her work, she simplifies this as “focused” mode, in which learners concentrate on the material, and “diffuse” mode, a neural resting state in which consolidation occurs, allowing the new information to settle into the brain. In diffuse mode, connections between bits of information, and unexpected insights, can occur.

By using a pinball machine analogy for the brain, an animated cartoon allowed the boys to better understand how learning involves going back and forth between the two different modes. When the inevitable frustrations appear when stuff gets tricky, it can be time to step back and allow the diffuse mode to go to work! This is why it’s helpful to take a brief brain break after a burst of focused work. After the initial sessions and discussions, each class collaborated to create many intriguing questions to send to Professor Oakley in preparation for Zoom Q and As. The function and structure of the brain prompted a lot of interest!

The boys started learning about working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory through cartoons and metaphors; with emphasis on the importance of practice and process. The boys understood that learning is individual and takes place in different ways and over varying lengths of time. Brain-based learning continued, reinforced by class discussions, images around the School, and Assemblies. It won’t come as a surprise that the Edgecliff boys love learning about neuroscience. Learning within our ‘Grow Your Mind’ programme complements this by showing how the brain helps to regulate feelings and emotions, opening opportunities to discuss mental health and wellbeing, and exploring the ‘what, how and why’ of the learning process.

The boys learned that the attentional octopus lives in their prefrontal cortex, that it doesn’t like handling too many things at once, interruptions or distractions and can become overwhelmed!