Conor Slater


St. Andrew’s High School

  • Growth Mindset

What happens when specific ‘self-reliance’ time is introduced into the classroom?


The ability of pupils to successfully complete tasks within my classroom, varies greatly, depending on the task and the pupil themselves. In many instances, pupils require instructions to be repeated more than once and then, individual support, before they feel confident enough to attempt the task. These students often end up being capable of working through the tasks themselves, meaning that my time is being used ineffectively, helping walk them through their insecurities, whereas it would have been better employed supporting students that truly are struggling.

This “learned helplessness”, as identified by multiple academics (Dweck et al, 1978; Peterson, Maier & Seligman, 1993), hinders pupil performance through their motivation and reaction to failure. However, this helplessness also extends beyond classroom activities into questions regarding how they set out their jotters, and with what utensil they write with. Answering these questions, and reissuing instructions, take up class time and serve only to reinforce this helplessness.


The aim of this enquiry is to see if introducing specific segments of self-reliance time (SRT) in the course of a lesson – for example, during the starter activity or during the first part of a main activity – would allow more time to be devoted elsewhere. This should also build the confidence and resilience of pupils who repeatedly feel unable to attempt this, without what is effectively individual supervision.

As aforementioned, this “learned helplessness” is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy and confronting it head on is the only way of breaking the cycle (Peterson, Maier & Seligman, 1993). As mentioned by Berger (1983), there may also be further, knock-on, effects relating to this sort of intervention, such as greater contribution to all aspects of the class, as well as greater motivation to apply themselves to the work.

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