About the college
City College Norwich is a leading college of further and higher education with over 14,000 full- and part-time students. Rated as Good by Ofsted, the college provides excellent preparation for students’ career development and progression – including a strong focus on entrepreneurial skills as a founder member of the Gazelle Group of Colleges. In 2014/15 City College Norwich has record numbers of students studying for GCSE English and Maths, with over 1,000 students taking GCSE English and over 800 taking GCSE Maths
Phoenix Plus is a one year, full time GCSE provision, offering students a range of ten GCSE subjects. Typically, students are aged 16-18 and have missed out on the required GCSEs for level 2 or level 3 courses across the college. The aim of the provision is to act as a bridge for further progression into academic and/or vocational areas. Formerly, the course offered 70 places to students with interrupted statutory education but has since expanded to offer provision for students with more typical educational backgrounds who have not yet achieved desired GCSE grades for entry to further education.
The Phoenix Plus teaching team comprises of nine tutors who look after 220 full time students and are supported by four tutorial supervisors who work closely with students in a pastoral setting.
In recent times, Phoenix Plus offered the largest provision of GCSE English and maths across the college. However, with changes to GCSEs, the college has also developed the GEM Unit (GCSEs, English and Maths) and now has around 2,000 full time GCSE English and maths students across academic and vocational areas.
With these sorts of numbers in mind, the GCSE English and maths teams turned their attentions towards issues around motivation and attitudes to learning. They measured their students’ approaches to previous exams through questionnaires and interviews. The findings from this suggested that students are aware that they need to work hard and develop their attitudes to learning but not all of them have worked this way in the past. This further indicated to the team that attitudes and motivation were areas they must develop, alongside subject specific knowledge and skills, in order for students to make significant strides in both their studies and life in general. From this, the action research project, GRIT, was born.
This action research project centres on the development of academic motivation and attitudes. The acronym ‘GRIT’ means:
- Generous (collaborative working and students learning from each other)
- Resilient (not giving up, recognising that learning is a process that you need to work on)
- Inquisitive (wanting to know more, wanting to be able to find out things that are of interest or that will help us)
- Thoughtful (developing evaluative thought: have I tried my best? What could I do to achieve even more?)
The Phoenix Plus teaching team are using Carol Dweck’s ‘Growth Mindset’ model along with her theory of motivation to induct students into thinking in this way. The English and maths team at the college, like many in further education, report that they often encounter negative attitudes and poor motivation towards their subject areas where students appear to feel ‘defeated’ as a result of previous perceived failures.
The approach began with a period of mindset coaching during the college’s induction week and then continued into subject sessions. The intention is that during sessions learning activities consider how to use and develop the GRIT approach with students. There is a clear drive to make GRIT learning visible so that students are always aware that the emphasis is on the development of their attitude to learning and motivation and not just the development of skills.
Previously, they had found that students not being coached in resilience, or lacking in‘GRIT’ in general, were unwilling or unable to participate in learning activities which required a level of autonomy. They would become disengaged and distracted, needing the teacher to put them back on track. Teachers often commented that they had to constantly motivate and start students off in sessions, which took them away from developing and challenging others. With this in mind, the subject specialist lead teachers for English and maths have developed ‘GRIT Toolkits’ for use in sessions. These toolkits are aimed at helping students to begin activities and tasks. The toolkits also provide students with questions to consider when they think tasks are complete. In English, one of the aims is to try to extend learning by posing alternative viewpoints for the students to consider.
Impact and success factors
This is obviously the first cohort of students with whom this approach has been trialled. The team, however, report small increases in attendance and retention and are looking ahead to this year’s GCSE results as the biggest indicator of GRIT’s success.