Tougher Minds Research

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Can you build character and resilience in students?

I go to bed earlier, even when I am tempted to stay up and watch a movie …

Context:

In October 2015, I blogged ‘How Can We Make Our Students Tougher?’; this post shares the results of our school-research.

The Tougher Minds Personal Change Management (PCM) programme, explicitly teaches self-control and resilience for improved academic and personal performance.

We were very excited to be the first state school in the country to be working with Tougher Minds. We wanted to support our pupils in developing their own habits of self-regulation; strong evidence shows that Tougher Minds and their programmes for students, dramatically improves all aspects of school work; including learning, homework, concentration, behaviour, exam performance and extra curricular sport.

Andrew Foster said: “We will be helping QK staff and pupils to understand neuroscience of learning, concentration, motivation and confidence. We have been in the school observing lessons and meeting with both teachers and pupils. We are confident we can all work together to achieve something very special.” (Source)

Question:

Can school pupils be taught how to improve their self-control?

shutterstock_309774551 Funny strong child. Girl power and feminism concept

Image: Shutterstock

This is the report on the Tougher Minds programme at our school during the Autumn Term 2015. The research has been kindly shared by Andrew Foster and Jon Finn and focuses on a two, year 7 tutor groups.

Project Overview:

Background: There is compelling evidence showing a correlation between one’s ability to deploy self-control*, and their health, happiness, resilience, creativity and performance – core qualities that we value in the 21st century. Further, there is strong evidence that people can learn, and therefore be taught, how to improve their levels of self-control.

Current project aim: The aim of the project was to pilot the Tougher Minds performance psychology programme within the school, which was designed to increase participating pupils knowledge and understanding of self-control and help them to develop better self-control habits. The result would be young people who were empowered to take more control over their behaviour and learning at school and in their broader lives.

Method: A randomly assigned year 7 tutor group engaged in a seven-week intervention. teaching them how to improve self-control. A comparison year 7 group was also selected. This group did not receive the intervention, but data was collected about their behaviour, before and after the intervention, concurrently with the pupils who did receive the intervention.

Findings: Pupils who participated in the Tougher Minds programme developed a better understanding of self-control, and were better able to deploy sophisticated self-control strategies than pupils who not participate in the Tougher Minds programme. This evidence shows that school pupils can be explicitly taught how to improve their self-control.

* Self-control relates to the following understandings: having the self-control to resist temptation and not act impulsively; to think before we speak or act so we don’t do something that we will regret; wait before making up our minds so that we do not jump to a conclusion or pre-judge; discipline in perseverance; having the discipline to stay on a task and complete it; to resist temptations to quit because you are bored, you are frustrated, there are a lot more fun things to do; continuing to work even though the reward might be a long time in coming; not beating yourself up when you have messed up; recognising when you are not working as effectively as you can, and proactively regulating your behaviour (Diamond, 2014).

Programme Methodology:

27 pupils were selected, made up of 14 boys and 13 girls aged 11 or 12. A comparison group was also selected. They did not receive the intervention but data was collected about their behaviour, before and after the intervention, concurrently with the other class. The programme took place over seven weeks and had two components:

  1. Daily planning and reflection in tutor periods using their bespoke Tougher Minds Performance Planner.
  2. Weekly sessions focused on pupils’ knowledge and skills to improve their ability to deploy self-control.

Pupils received a single 50 minute Tougher Minds lesson (seven in total) each week in small single-sex groups.

Programme Content:

  • Week 1. An introduction to your brain
  • Week 2. How to boost motivation
  • Week 3. Overview/Reflection
  • Week 4. How to focus concentration
  • Week 5. How to supercharge learning
  • Week 6. How to take control of confidence
  • Week 7. Overview/Reflection

Attendance:

The attendance rate for the ‘weekly session’ component of the programmes was 95%; 23 (of 27) pupils attended all seven sessions. Three pupils missed one session, one missed two sessions and one requested to take no further part in the programme after three sessions.

Delivery:

The group size varied throughout the programme, mainly in response to the requirements of the pupils and the content being covered. Where previously taught material was being reviewed, smaller group sizes created novelty and opportunities for more detailed dialogue. Pupils with particularly unhelpful learning habits were placed in smaller groups to give them and their classmates a better chance of learning efficiently and effectively.

Tougher Minds

(Data period: October-December 2015)

Pupil Feedback:

Pupil response was generally very positive. Pupils regularly commented on how much they enjoyed the lessons, how interesting they found the material and how useful they found the techniques that they learned. One pupil wrote an email requesting that other tutor groups be taught the Tougher Minds programme as well.

Here is a video-link to pupils and parents talking about the impact of the programme.

shutterstock_102463487 Confidence that can only grow out of a strong heart

Image: Shutterstock

Recommendations:

Based on this evidence, one group of pupils (participating in the Tougher Minds programme) developed a better understanding of self-control, and where better able to deploy sophisticated self-control strategies than the other pupils (the comparison group, who were not participating in the Tougher Minds programme). Therefore we would suggest that the participating-pupils are better able to regulate their own health, happiness, resilience, creativity and performance levels than comparative pupils.

This understanding indicates that [Quintin Kynaston] pupils are better able to develop and deploy self-control – leading to the type of behaviours that the school wants pupils to display – if they participate in the Tougher Minds programme, than if they do not. Therefore more [school] pupils could benefit from better self-control, and all of its associated benefits, if the Tougher Minds programme was scaled across the school.

A great deal was learned about the practical considerations required for operation of a Tougher Minds intervention within the school. There is good reason to think that an extended intervention, taking note of this experience and better integrated into the existing structures and systems that [the school] operates, would have an even greater positive impact on participating pupils. A programme for all Year 7 pupils might be the first logical step to growing Tougher Minds within Quintin Kynaston.

TT.

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*This post is copyright of www.tougherminds.co.uk

 

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of being most influential in the field of education. He remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing resources and ideas online as @TeacherToolkit, he has built this website (c2008) which has been described as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the UK Blog Awards (2018). Read more...

8 thoughts on “Tougher Minds Research

  • 6th February 2016 at 5:29 pm
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    Very impressive. It sounds like Mariale Hardiman’s Brain-Targeted teaching model. I think many schools want the same results but don’t tackle this systematically. Thanks for the insights.

    Reply
  • 7th February 2016 at 1:26 pm
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    Hi Ross, who delivered the 7 sessions? QK teachers or outside facilitators from Tougher Minds? Thanks!

    Reply
  • 13th February 2016 at 6:15 am
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    And no doubt a follow up will ensure that this isn’t just a short-term effect.

    Because I bet there is none.

    Reply
  • 14th February 2016 at 8:25 am
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    Hi Ross,

    Can I ask a couple of questions about this small pilot:

    what are the ‘sophisticated self-control strategies’? What is the logic model for what these behaviours cause, or indeed what causes these behaviours?
    Are you able to share the pre and post test openly?
    of course, given any such intervention you’d expect there to be an initial capacity for students to explain what they have just been told, or adjust their behaviours – therefore, does the research account for sustained changes 3 months later; 6 months later?
    what is the logic model of students exhibiting these behaviours? Is it that self control will lead to better academic outcomes? If so, is there any academic evidence in this small pilot?
    given the very small sample size, is there any plan to share what difference you found between this treatment group and the control group?
    was there any randomisation in the selection of the groups?
    how big was the control group? Did they receive any intervention at all? Was the pre and post test accessible to the control group and could they viably make any changes to their habits over a short span without any support?
    is there any independent evaluator, or it is Tougher Minds evaluating themselves?

    Cheers Ross – it is good to see research being undertaken to evaluate impact.

    Reply
    • 16th February 2016 at 4:40 pm
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      Hi Alex, some of the research is with TM, hence my delay in responding.
      The research is based on 3 months of progress.
      Both groups were selected at random for a pilot, although one class/individuals did have ‘a reputation’ for showing less control.
      Both classes are 25-30 in size.

      I didn’t blog all of the details, as I wanted to ensure some confidentiality with parents/students. I do believe some students and parents feature in a TM video.
      Will share more when back at desk with research document in front of me.

      Reply
    • 22nd February 2016 at 2:40 pm
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      Hi Alex, it’s taken some time to get all the information to your questions – this is a blog in itself really – but here you go. Some text is provided by TMs and I have edited in (small) parts. Thanks Ross

      The current context is that most strategies deployed by teachers and schools have no or very little scientific basis, i.e. they are not drawn from randomised control trials (RCTs). What seems to be more compelling in contemporary education is to examine and explore the outcomes, processes and impact that teachers can learn and begin to deploy within their normal classroom practice. Our preference has been to deploy an approach drawn from translational research which has two key components that feature in all planning from the outset. These are:

      1. Build on and retain the best of the science.
      2. Optimise the fit with the circumstance within which the science needs to be applied.

      By combining these two themes, the resulting interventions retain the scientific concern for rigour and the practitioner concern for ‘fit’. Many of the following questions – from the comments section of your blog – are relating to an experimental design research programme, and therefore they are not relevant to the Tougher Minds project at QK. The data that we collected at QK is more reflective of a natural experiment, which does not include a control group, rather a comparison group. This makes some questions – from the comments section of your blog – of reduced relevance.

      Control groups within the context of a working school are largely unrealistic for ‘within-school’ interventions. Interventions between schools can run RCTs but here a comparison group was the best available means for assessing the impact of this intervention, at this level of resourcing, and this will be the case for most in-house innovation in secondary schools in the UK.

      Q1. What are the ‘sophisticated self-control strategies’?

      Answer: The examples are detailed in the blog: for example on concentration, pupils that received the intervention reported making using of meta-cognitive techniques such as self-designed focus words and pictures. These are drawn from the process model of self-control. What characterises them as particularly sophisticated is that each individual, having being introduced to the core approaches, was then able to deploy that understanding in a way that is most meaningful to the individual.

      Q2. What is the logic model for what these behaviours cause, or indeed what causes these behaviours?

      Answer: The logic model is that once a skill is understood and planned to be deployed, the individual then needs to self-watch and refine deployment.

      Q3. Are you able to share the pre and post test openly?

      Answer: Pre and post testing did not fit with the research design, which would break the ‘fit’ concern, a requirement of the translational approach.

      Q4. Of course, given any such intervention you’d expect there to be an initial capacity for students to explain what they have just been told, or adjust their behaviours – therefore, does the research account for sustained changes 3 months later; 6 months later?

      Answer: We would take issue with the suggestion that ‘of course… there (would) be an initial capacity for students to explain what they have just been told”. Further, we are not observing pupils explaining what they have just been told. We are observing pupils internalising this knowledge and being able to explain idiosyncratic deployment of that understanding, framing this in a manner that demonstrates its positive impact on their lives.

      Q5. What is the logic model of students exhibiting these behaviours? Is it that self control will lead to better academic outcomes? If so, is there any academic evidence in this small pilot?

      Answer: See Mischel (2014) for an overview of contemporary self-control research. Broadly, better self-control – as it is defined in our report – results in more positive life outcomes – including academic. The school’s purpose (i.e. the intended ‘fit’) was the pupils learn to be better ‘self-managers’ and the evidence strongly suggests that this was the case. Indeed the vocabulary and articulation of these twelve years olds would be impressive for people much older and further advanced in their education.

      Q6. Given the very small sample size, is there any plan to share what difference you found between this treatment group and the control group?

      Answer: It was not a control group, rather a comparison group as explained above. Both groups were understood by the school to be homogenous. The differences found after the treatment are well-evidenced in the original report, as demonstrated by the volume of changes made to the aspects of self-control, and their sophisticated responses.

      Q7. Was there any randomisation in the selection of the groups?

      Answer: The school selected the two groups, understanding them each to be typical Year 7 tutor groups. This was randomisation as far as allowed by the need to ‘fit’ with the school’s existing structures.

      Q8. How big was the control group? Did they receive any intervention at all? Was the pre and post test accessible to the control group and could they viably make any changes to their habits over a short span without any support?

      Answer: The comparison group was of the same size as the treatment group (27). They received the school’s regular interventions. Some pupils from the comparison group did report changes to their habits but these tended to be vaguer and less helpful than those made by the treatment group, as detailed in the original report. As a consequences, these questions do not fit with our research design.

      Q9. Is there any independent evaluator, or it is Tougher Minds evaluating themselves?

      Answer: Quintin Kynaston and Tougher Minds worked together to assess the impact of the intervention on the pupils.

      Reply
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