I have worked with over twenty sixth forms to introduce some of the ideas behind The A Level Mindset and we are now beginning to see its activities and approaches pay real dividends, so it was with great anticipation that I read The GCSE Mindset and considered how the previous approaches could be applied to students at Key Stage 4. What Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin do in this book is make sense of the research into areas such as meta-cognition and growth mindset and come up with a practical and no-nonsense approach to supporting students' learning through the GCSE years.
As the authors point out, in too many schools our students have become -˜passive learners' in such a way that short-changes them and their progress. As a consequence, schools often fail to develop in students the skills and mindset they will need in their future academic and working lives. The focus of The GCSE Mindset, put very simply, is to tackle the question, -˜How do we make better learners?' and the authors provide a thorough and thought-provoking attempt at addressing this issue.
Their VESPA system provides a clear umbrella under which schools can reflect on how they support student learning - so that rather than teachers pushing students, the students themselves develop their own approach to pull through their GCSE years. The authors provide a whole host of concise and practical activities that develop effective systems for learning, offer scaffolding for the setting of meaningful short- and long-term goals, and lay out what effective practice and revision really looks like. One of the changes from The A Level Mindset is to tackle the GCSE year on a month-by-month basis, tailoring activities to particular challenges and demands during this period. This is easily adapted to schools' own experiences and it aims to support student learning more effectively; so in the run-up to mock examinations, for example, the focus is upon practice and resilience.
The activities themselves are brilliant, fun and engaging: each has a clear purpose, is easily adaptable to individual schools' needs, and will encourage students to reflect upon their own learning as well as equip them with essential skills for GCSE study.
In the final two chapters the authors provide sound and practical advice on how schools can implement and tailor The GCSE Mindset's content to their own particular challenges, and the questionnaire at the end of the book provides a really good starting point from which to start the discussion about how we best support our learners, move them away from passivity and raise academic performance whilst at the same time equipping them for further study and the world of work.
The GCSE Mindset is a really timely book that will help all schools facing the challenges of GCSEs' linear assessment and the huge demands in terms of content to be learnt and the sheer number of hours now spent focusing on examinations. If nothing else, it forces all schools to ask some very serious questions about how they deliver the GCSE programme to their students, and how they nurture the skills required for success and the coping strategies needed within a more stressful assessment culture.