Review by Mehwash Kauser

25 Feb 2018, 5:00

The Character Conundrum, by Matt Lloyd-Rose

The character conundrum, written by a former Teach First associate director, is touted as a “practical guide” for teachers to support their pupils in developing the “skills and mindsets that underpin success in learning and life”.

I’m not sure I would consider Matt Lloyd-Rose’s text a guidebook, more an exploration of the research he completed over three years of school visits, and a tentative proposal for some ideas.

The author himself states that “given the gaps in existing research, this book does not claim to be comprehensive, definitive or even totally correct”.

The book’s theoretical underpinning is the widely-known research by Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth, on “growth mindset” and “grit”, respectively.

Lloyd-Rose sets himself the challenge of working out how these can be taught practically in schools, and uses observational examples to support his ideas.

I’m not sure I would consider Matt Lloyd-Rose’s text a guidebook

Except for the clarification of how he is defining character, as the qualities of confidence, independence and resilience, the introduction is fairly self-explanatory. A long-winded explanation of process in chapters one and two are equally skippable, which brings us to the really juicy and more useful part of the guidebook: the case studies.

For time-pressed practitioners, the true value lies in reading and (shamelessly) stealing ideas and strategies, of which there are plenty – under headings such as ‘Celebrating mistakes as opportunities for learning’, ‘Making the steps to success visible to pupils’, or ‘Encouraging pupils to consult one another when they’re struggling’.

The case studies reassured me that everyone is experiencing the same problems I am. Lian’s year 2 pupils, who stopped at “I’m stuck” and thought their teacher was more responsible for their learning than they were, are no different to my year 11s who believe their GCSE grades are solely determined by me.

Rose’s key tenet is that non-academic outcomes should be centred in academic learning and these outcomes should be prioritised all the way up to post-16. This more than anything else resonated with me; I am an English teacher at my core. Running intervention sessions or extra days is futile if they are not reinforced through the academic learning in my classroom.

However, realistically, this needs to be a whole-school goal and until the culture and ethos of a school prioritises such qualities, I fear lone teachers fighting this battle would feel like they’re losing.

These qualities are seen as part of a hidden or secondary curriculum which is not even clearly defined, let alone measured, recognised or valued as much as academic GCSE and A-level results are.

Some of Rose’s strategies feed into the workload problem

The most superfluous parts are the chapters following the case studies: ‘Knowing where you’re going’ and ‘Creating the right conditions’. Lloyd-Rose’s insistence that the strategies that work are applicable cross-phase, and his consequent refusal to label them for a particular age-group, is unhelpful, and negated by suggestions such as creating “personalised stickers”, which, for every single student we teach in the secondary classroom, is simply unrealistic. Weeding out the strategies which impinge on whole-school or faculty-level policy would make this section much more usable.

The reality is teachers like myself read books to magpie ideas: we need high-impact, low-workload solutions.

Some of Rose’s strategies feed into the workload problem rampant in education, which is the last thing we need. All it takes is one senior leader to think personalised stickers are a good idea and before you know it hours of a teacher’s weekend are taken up trying to keep up with a new whim.

However, I do concede that this is maybe more of a problem with the culture of fads in education than with this book in particular.

For me, the book was interesting as a tool for reflection, but offered nothing that will overhaul or dramatically change my practice.

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