Sharing joy and knowledge from an ordinary life

Frames of Mind

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with the Olive Grove teams @sheffcol: Motor Vehicle, Engineering and Electrical Engineering staff.

We’ve so far explored a range of the following:

  • Resources related to their chosen theme (from our 13 T&L themes: safe, reflective, supported, challenging, successful, embeds English and maths, respectful, creative, tech-enhanced, positive, personalised, collaborative and inspiring).
  • Starters and plenaries (click to explore a list of ideas)
  • Activities to stretch and challenge (presentation embedded below)

On Tuesday, I was able to facilitate a session on their team day to a number of staff from each of the three teams. As a result of development work so far, a lot of the challenges and barriers we had been discussing were related to learners’ attributes and habits of mind. I concluded that tackling these should be our focus for the hour we had together.

I began the session by getting their brains thinking with one of Ian Gilbert’s ‘Thunks’. I had re-discovered these the day before and had a lot of fun tormenting my office with questions:

How do you know you have a head?

Is it ever possible to learn nothing?

Does a goldfish know it’s your pet? Could it think it was the other way round? Could it think you were its slave?

After this short opening activity, staff were then asked to share a successful lesson activity with someone from another team in 1 minute.

We then began exploring the kinds of habits of mind staff would really love the students to develop during their time at The Sheffield College. Further Education students often, but not always, arrive to college with a lack of optimism and resilience, and under-developed resourcefulness: these ‘frames of mind’ are helpful when they begin college and enter the workplace with employers, resit classes for English and maths and a more professional learning environment.

‘How to Teach Vocational education’ (click here to read this report) includes a diagram of the Centre for Real World Learning’s 4-6-1 Framework that I used as the basis of the remainder of the session.

Thinking in the Making: A Preliminary Study of Vocational Learning and Pedagogy by Ellen Hodgkinson (click here to read this report), describes the 4-6-1 model in more detail.


‘Frames of mind are the broader dispositions of character that enrich, direct and support a person’s learning activities, and the evidence also suggests that these are learnable’ (Lucas and Claxton, 2010).

Each member of staff selected a ‘frame of mind’; they were grouped accordingly and they then set about researching how they could develop this ‘frame of mind’ in students as well as sharing ways in which they already develop it currently.

What follows are:

  1. Descriptions of each ‘frame of mind’ that staff produced
  2. Possible approaches to developing each ‘frame of mind’, which staff came up with


Staff would be expecting students to display ambition. They’d be engaged in their studies, interested in feedback and would be focused on success. They’s encourage themselves and feel a sense of pride upon accomplishing tasks.

Possible approaches to use: Growth mindset would support students to begin enjoying learning for the pleasure of learning. Students would realise that with dedicated efforts, their skills and efforts could develop over time.


Staff felt that determined students would turn up to college on time and arrive, despite other distractions in their lives. They would ask questions and would work outside of their timetabled contact time. These students would learn from their mistakes and ensure other students aren’t afraid to make them. They’d put in a great amount of effort and would achieve against the targets set for them (and perhaps well beyond these too).

Possible approaches to use: Promote the use of the learning resource centre and online support made available via the VLE. Make explicit links between determination and achievement; recognising those students who are examples of that. Rewards and encouragement for positive behaviour should be made rather than sanctions being given. Set independent learning tasks and recognise when these have gone well- set students a challenge of researching a topic outside of class and returning to class with three questions they couldn’t find the answer to- the best questions are awarded points and a leaderboard is created. 1-1 coaching could be used to help students in forming questions.


Staff felt that resourceful students would find the answers to challenges for themselves. They’d bring the correct equipment to all of their classes and staff might see a change in their questioning attitude.

Possible approaches to use: Staff focused on the resources and equipment side of this and a variety of approaches were discussed in terms of folder and uniforms being supplied or not from the start of the year. Some experiments will be tried from September within teams.


Staff felt that students’ communication skills would develop; they’d be better able to articulate their meaning and social circles would vary a little more: they wouldn’t always be found in them.

Possible approaches to use: Sharing employers’ expectations was seen to be a valuable approach that should be taken in encouraging more behaviour akin to ‘communities of practice’.


Staff would expect to see students making use of their prior learning to work on new tasks. Students would be able to think laterally and look at how processes might be used elsewhere; they’d be able to analyse any process used and make improvements next time.

Possible approaches to use: After completing activities (especially in the workshop), students would fill in a document with what was good, what they could do better and on thing they’ve learned. They could (instead of or in addition to) complete a weekly personal reflective journal with questions as prompts for their thinking: this journal could then be used throughout the year as a measure of progress for both teacher and student. Asking questions after learning opportunities was seen as being of value: what did I do well? What could I do better?


Staff would expect students to recognise how their college activities link to future successes in the workplace or otherwise. They might feel a belonging to the team and they’d be driven by a sense of achievement. They’d be concerned with their destiny: where they might end up in the future. They’d have clarity about their starting point and the end result of the efforts. When completing self-assessments, they’d respond honestly.

Possible approaches to use: Share case studies of previous students’ success, inspirational videos, exciting projects and employer promotion.


Staff felt that wise students would be positively engaged in their studies and they’d approach challenges with a positive attitude. They’d apply knowledge gained and they’d have strong reflective skills.

Possible approaches to use: Positively reinforce that students are making progress so that they can identify how their knowledge base is expanding. Encourage students to respond to feedback and interactions with others in a measured way.

What’s Next?


Image available from here

Staff left the session by providing me with approaches they felt should be taken forward in the department from the start of the new academic year- it’s now all about making these things happen:

  • Positive Mindset
  • Engagement
  • Research for next week and come back with 3 questions- league table on best questions
  • Use the frames of mind with students- relate them to employability
  • Develop the use of personal reflective journals
  • Encourage students from day 1 to do work and have pride in it
  • Positive mindset of both staff and students
  • Making students believe they can achieve higher grades with hard work
  • Make students aware of industry expectations
  • Share with students my experiences in the trade
  • More inspirational teaching by: visits, speakers, competitions and practical examples
  • Continue to develop ‘frames’ of mind
  • Continue to meet as a team to share how this is developing students
  • Identify a half-termly theme for development so that learners hear consistent and repeated messages
  • Set tasks, research questions for start of next lesson
  • Develop strategies to enthuse students; create a positive atmosphere
  • Belonging and confidence
  • Reflecting on students’ performance and ours. Build on the positives and scaffold the negatives
  • Target setting needs to be more robust
  • Involve students in the delivery of the course- give them some ownership
  • Share SOW with students and book exams at the beginning of the year
  • Personal reflection tasks
  • Clarity- make sure students are clear on why they’re doing the course/ what will be required of them/ what they can expect of us/ how and when they will be assessed
  • Positive engagement with learners
  • Set research task for following session- Q&A/Quiz
  • Set clear targets

Some top reads I would suggest in taking some of these forward would be:

My approach to learning journals

An interview with Carol Dweck on the right mindset for success

Some ideas for moving students to a growth mindset

My reflections on Grit and Growth Mindset

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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