• Andrew Stork
• Ben Walker
We sought to address the difficulty many students have expressing how they feel they are progressing and were particularly interested in a tool from within solution-focused coaching, ‘scaling’. This is where a student is asked to rate themselves on a scale from one to ten, where the desired outcome is ten and one the complete opposite. For example:
“On a scale from one to ten, where ten is you have achieved all this (the future perfect) and one is none of this is happening and you have no idea of how to get there, and you have never managed to achieve any goal, where are you now?”
Our experience suggested such tools have positive impact, on both students and institutional key performance indicators, and we were keen to enhance teachers’ and personal tutors’ practice by increasing the evidence base.
Our research question was ‘how does the use of the coaching tool of scaling impact upon student progress and emotional well-being?’. Groups involved were full time 16–18 year old students across a range of vocational subject areas and levels at a large Further Education college. Of the thirteen tutorial groups involved, seven were ‘control’ groups (where scaling in ‘one to one’ conversations between the student and personal tutor was not used) and seven ‘experiment’ groups (where scaling was used in the same conversations). These ‘one-to-ones’ were undertaken by the personal tutors over a twelve-week period and quantitative data was gathered from three questionnaires completed by students at the beginning, middle and end of this period. Qualitative data was gathered from focus groups carried out by us with all research groups.
The statistical analysis of questionnaires showed no significant difference between the scaling and non-scaling groups in terms of students’ perception of their performance and well-being. The thematic analysis from the focus groups showed some students felt that scaling in one-to-one conversations helped to clarify their priorities, made it easier to assess their on-going progress and helps others (personal tutors and teachers) to take action on their behalf. Students generally found it easier to articulate current progress through a number than through description and some students commented that scaling helped to improve their confidence and motivation. Scaling was found to be useful for some students to self-evaluate their performance; however, SMART targets were seen as important for progress to be made to move up the scale and reviewing of targets was seen to be most effective if this was done within a short time frame.
On the negative side, some students questioned whether scaling worked and the reliability of the scale since feelings change every day, stated they could ‘lie’ or make up a number because they didn’t want to admit weakness, stated the relationship between improvements and scaling is hard to prove and that if they are doing well scaling is not meaningful. Some commented that their motivation and emotion didn’t change due to the scaling.
The most significant finding of the research was the overwhelmingly positive response of students to their experience of ‘one-to-ones’ with their personal tutor. Many had no experience of this type of meeting before. Feelings of motivation, being appreciated, comfortable and relaxed leading to them being more open, honest and that they could offload negative emotions were conveyed by many. Personal tutors were described as ‘open minded’, ‘personal’, ‘calm’, ‘caring’ and employing an informal approach and that the tutor actively listened and made them think differently about an issue they were facing, and that it felt like a two-way conversation. The ‘equal partner not superior’ approach came across on many occasions. The content of one-to-ones helped students to ‘look forward’, identify areas for development and achievable targets to be reviewed within a short time frame. Some students stated their attendance, behaviour and time-keeping improved as a result of the conversations. Of the small minority who did comment negatively, they felt the conversations should have been longer, that they told the personal tutor ‘what they wanted to hear’ and that they were not useful if not focused on their future plans.
Conclusions and recommendations
The research suggests the following benefits of such approaches to your students and, thus, your educational organisation.
- Scaling makes it easier for many students to articulate and assess their progress, to see ways they can improve by moving up the scale through improvements (particularly if used alongside SMART targets) and for others to take action on their behalf.
- One-to-one conversations can help students ‘open up’ about barriers to learning and to find ways to overcome them.
- One-to-one conversations can lead to positive emotions being elicited in students such as increased motivation, feeling more relaxed and open, and reduced feelings of inferiority.
- One-to-one conversations can help improve a students’ attendance, behaviour and time-keeping.
The research suggests the following good practice tips for your practice.
- Schedule regular ‘one-to-one’ conversations with students about their progress.
- In these conversations, take a coaching approach which is open and non-directive.
- Use a tool such as ‘scaling’ so students can express how they feel they are progressing.
- Don’t forget the importance of using SMART targets alongside this approach.