Progress in the Classroom: Developing Pupil Resilience

Michael Harpham is an ex-headteacher, author and education consultant. Having worked in some of the most challenging circumstances with students, he shares his thoughts about resilience here.

From a teacher’s perspective, there is an old Chinese proverb which summarises developing pupil resilience clearly and simply: “Give someone a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach someone to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime.”

This blog is therefore not about how teachers can manage the challenges presented by their pupils (and pupils can be challenging!) but about teaching pupils how to manage and overcome those challenges themselves, and as a result, work more successfully for longer.

So, while we all await being quarantined and for the Coronavirus to blow over, our pupils have some important assessments looming on the horizon. Between now and the summer, it will be important for them not only to develop their subject-specific skills and absorb the knowledge they need to be successful in those assessments, but to successfully demonstrate that oft-forgot skill of resilience and successfully cope with the added pressures they are going to face.

To be clear, resilience is about the pupil’s ability to face and overcome the problems and challenges they face, and as a result, continue to make progress in their work; in other words, work more effectively and for longer. To put it succinctly:

From the Teacher

From the Pupil

Numerous opportunities to be resilient

Increased practice at being resilient

Clearer explanations of resilience

Greater understanding of resilience

More feedback on pupil resilience

More confident at being resilient

Incrementally difficult challenges set

Opportunities to practice being more resilient

Resilience then, is measured and taught differently, in the sense that a subject-specific skill is an active, demonstrable measure. Something is harder, more complex. Similarly, knowledge is a more intangible measure, less demonstrable. Pupils either know something or they don’t, they know more, or they don’t. This measure of progress, resilience, is very different in that it focuses on helping pupils to overcome the issues or problems they face. This therefore requires a different teaching technique. A technique which is about teaching problem-solving and perseverance. The measure for resilience is therefore about how challenging the activities are and the pupil’s ability to successfully manage and overcome those challenges, subsequently able to work harder and for longer.

Alongside optimism and self-control, resilience can be central in helping pupils make improved progress (Hanson 2004, Tough 2012), with a direct link between a pupil's academic attainment and high levels of resilience (Hanson 2004). Similarly, charisma and the ability to be compassionate, explain work clearly and help pupils understand, are qualities of the very best teachers (Coates 2015, Tomsett 2015).

Consciously teaching resilience: How resilience is taught

Progress in resilience requires much patience from the teacher.

From a starting point of assuming that pupils can’t show much resilience in their work, much explanation and demonstration is needed by the teacher at the start. Managing this adeptly through effective routines and a consistently helpful, approachable teaching manner early on will get the pupils quickly through an important learning stage that can be reinforced and used well in subsequent lessons.

Resilience is the pupil's ability to be able to persevere with their work, to not stop, to keep going, to not let distractions and difficulties get in the way of completing the work to the expected standard.

As such, being resilient is a skill that can be trained.

Activities and strategies that promote progress in resilience

STRATEGY 1: “Show me that was skill, not luck!”

A significant challenge that faces most teachers at the start of a new project is when the pupil gives up after barely starting. Here, the pupil has tried and understands what to do and how to do the task in hand but doesn’t necessarily have all the skills needed to complete the task set.

By the end of this strategy pupils are more confident about what to do, how to do it and able to complete the work set.

Use of the Strategy: During an activity
Useful during an activity when a pupil is off task or doing the task in the wrong way.

A useful strategy for also developing: Skills, independent learning.

How It Works

  • This is different from the previous strategy in that the pupil has started but lacks confidence. The strategy is therefore about checking and clarifying for the pupil what needs to be done and giving them the clarification and confidence to do it.
  • The teacher asks the pupil: What needs to be done and if they understand how to do it.
  • If the answer is “No”, then the teacher revisits this.
  • If the answer is “Yes”, then the teacher asks the pupil to show them the activity.
  • Here the teacher is looking for errors or hesitation.
  • If the pupil shows hesitation, this needs encouraging and confidence building. If there is inaccuracy, this needs correcting with a few short exercises to help, if necessary.
  • The teacher asks the pupils to then do a similar exercise saying, “Show me that was skill and not just luck.”
  • The pupil repeats an exercise, and should this time be able to more confidently do it on their own.

How will the teacher ensure learning has taken place?
Through clear instructions, adept problem-solving and strong behaviour management. Through carefully managed support and ensuring the student tries to complete the work set.

How will progress be seen to be made?
When a pupil is more confident and able to continue with an activity and not give up.

STRATEGY 2: Strengthening working at pace – speed

When we are working slowly (or slower than we ought), sometimes we do not know that there are quicker ways to do something, or we haven’t needed to do something quickly before and as a result have got into slow habits. In this case, the pupil knows what to do and is confident in what they are doing. The issue here is that they need to put more energy and effort into doing it and being confident at working at a faster pace.

Pupils are more confident that they can work at a faster pace than they would otherwise have done.

Use of the Strategy: In the middle of an activity / topic
Useful when pupils are working too slowly and getting behind in their work.

A useful strategy for also developing: Skills and accuracy.

Sign of resilience being needed: Pupils don’t complete all the work set in time.

Teacher response: The teacher should reduce the time taken to complete the same number of activities. As a result, the pupils work faster but with no reduction in the quality of their work.

How It Works

  • The teacher sets timed activities to help cover more curriculum, more quickly and build stamina. For example, first setting fifteen minutes to do three activities, then setting ten minutes to do three similar activities, followed by setting eight minutes to do a further three similar activities.
  • This incrementally helps build pupil confidence in working at pace, strengthening their stamina and resilience in securing similar amounts of work completed in less time.

How will the teacher ensure learning has taken place?
By clarifying the skills needed to complete the task and checking the accuracy of the work completed whilst reducing the amount of time set.

How will progress be seen to be made?
When pupils are more confident in their work and able to complete the same amount of work in a shorter period of time.

Mike Harpham

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn here.
Discover Michael’s website and courses here.
Read Michael’s book “Progress Plain and Simple” here.

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