Metacognition & the Growth Mindset by Rebecca Tusingham

This article was originally printed in the November 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine

Click here to freely read the full version

Metacognition or ‘thinking about thinking’, as I like to call it, forms the basis of the Growth Mindset theory. As a society we seem to have moved away from the truth that no matter what your starting point you can always make a huge amount of progress if you apply the right kind of effort over time. Struggle is a natural part of learning, take a shortcut and you don’t learn as much; why then do we equate struggle with failure?

At Hanham Woods Academy we believe that getting the right mindset underpins the long-term success of our students and staff. We have highly valued resilience in our learners and have observed time and time again our ‘grittiest’ students overtaking those who may have had the initial advantage; thus proving the formula of effort over time = progress. We want all of our students to benefit in this way which led us to the work of Carol Dweck ( and Growth Mindset.

Getting the right mindset is the key to enabling students to make the most of their learning. The right mindset means that we can raise our expectations even higher in lessons and see students enjoying the challenge. It means that students are more open to taking us up on all of the extended learning experiences that are on offer because we want them to love our subject as much as we do. In short, the issue was never with what we had on offer, the sticking point was that we perhaps weren’t laying the metacognitive foundations for the learning behaviours we wanted to see.

One core long-term goals is to progress from metacognitive knowledge (being aware of how we think) being explicit in lessons to metacognitive regulation (the ability to manage your thinking process) being skillfully used as a means of maintaining learning discipline and ‘grit’ during challenging times. It goes without saying that this is hard to do but it won’t surprise you to hear that part of our Growth Mindset culture is tackling the hard stuff first, so what do we do? The staff agreed upon some key teacher behaviours that should form the bedrock of our pedagogical approach:

  • Establish an ethos of ‘multiple attempts’ at improvement and success.
  • Provide effort focused feedback.
  • Explore and understand the role of metacognition in the classroom though dialogue.
  • Offer choices to promote autonomy and independence in learners.
  • De-bunk the myths surrounding failure.
  • Prioritise challenge over ‘safe’ success.

We have been doing this for about a year now and a student voice exercise showed some pleasing results:

‘What is Growth Mindset?’

  • ‘A new way of thinking that helps you realise what your goals are and how to achieve them’
  • ‘Not giving excuses’
  • ‘Turning jealousy into inspiration’

‘Why do you want to have a growth mindset?’

  • ‘To know that I am strong’
  • ‘To have pride in myself’
  • ‘Because my character matters more than what I accomplish’

This is not true of every student and we still have a distance to travel, but we are starting to see the positive effects of our Growth Mindset culture. This has fuelled our motivation to keep going with our journey, which has evolved into a series of staff leadership projects that aim to dig deeper into the ways in which Growth Mindset could be used to drive further improvements:

  • Updating GAT provision; often our most able students get stuck in a fixed mindset rut. Can we support them in developing their attitudes towards challenge further?
  • Developing the voice of Growth Mindset in the classroom using students to take the lead.
  • Homework excellence as the path to mastery. Raising the profile of home learning through visibility and effort focused feedback.
  • Metacognition as part of the mentor/mentee relationship.
  • Growth Mindset Leaders as part of the student leadership model.
  • Growth Mindset isn’t magic, tailoring our approach for our weakest students.
  • Growth Mindset parent group – what are the challenges and solutions to GM at home?

Most of these projects are in their infancy and are likely to evolve as we get to grips with the unique set of problems and …

Click here to continue to read this article freely in the November 2014 Edition of UKEdMagazine.


Rebecca Tusingham: Associate Assistant Principal at Hanham Woods Academy. My role research and development with a focus on developing a Growth Mind-set whole school ethos. My work is informed my an MA that I completed with Bath Spa last year.

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