5c. Lincoln College

Mindset Over Mastery

Lincoln College

This project set out to investigate the effect of mindfulness activities on learner mindset and confidence. How important is the ability to remain calm and focused when writing compared to knowledge and skills? Which matters most – mindset or mastery?

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Learners currently face challenges related to their English skills which are preventing them from success in their vocational studies and gaining entry to their preferred next steps, be that employment, HE or Further Education. We wanted to explore the impact of tenacity and resilience on the achievements of learners with entry qualifications of GCSE grade 3 or below; not only as a way of improving grades but with the aim of encouraging learners to feel pride in their efforts and an increased confidence in their English ability, no matter what grade they achieved. A proportion of learners each year attend college following incomplete or non-traditional secondary education and there is an increase in the number of learners who have English as a second language in addition to those who did not achieve their desired grade. All of these learners face particular challenges which we hope will be improved with strategies for confidence and resilience.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The action research took place in the English department at Newark and Lincoln, initially with a group of learners at each site which then developed to incorporate all 16-19 Study Programme learners. As a team, we met bi-weekly for an hour’s discussion and reflection as well as trialling mindful meditations. This enabled us to exchange ideas and support each other on a regular basis which resulted in increased confidence, engagement and commitment to the project.


  • our team at the college welcome eventThe project started with a general focus on positivity, reminding learners that failing is a part of learning. Our first lesson was writing a letter to our future selves using and encouraging learners to be reflective. We also had a presence at the college welcome event where we started building relationships with learners with fun games.
  • The next step was to trial a short meditation with a group of learners (one in a remote session and one face to face.) We identified what worked well and what didn’t and fed back to the team in our OTLA 8 meetings. We also read the same meditation to staff so they could see how to deliver it and to enable them to experience the possible benefits.
  • Learners in different classes at both Newark and Lincoln sites took part in meditations before writing activities. Some teachers felt more comfortable playing relaxing music instead of a meditation and we asked learners to submit ideas for a mindful music playlist. This was part of a Paper 2, Question 5 assessment on Viewpoint writing. Their a learner from our projectresponses, along with reviews of their favourite songs as well as the play lists were developed into a pamphlet to celebrate students’ work. (Appendix 2)
  • We developed a ‘mindful’ lesson and all the team tried it with their learners. This incorporated a nature walk in the college grounds using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding approach. Back in the classroom, we gave learners an image to use as a visualisation, asking them to ‘put themselves’ in the picture describing what they could see using the senses. The learners’ work was collated and incorporated into the Association of Colleges Creative ‘LoveOurColleges’ Writing Project which was then turned into a ‘souvenir’ book, created, and designed by media learners. (Appendix 2)
  • We collected feedback from learners using a range of methods. Firstly, with a face-to-face discussion which we recorded and transcribed and secondly with an electronic Microsoft Form with qualitative questions which we shared with all learners. A short video interview was also recorded with learner A (Appendix 3) who found mindfulness to be particularly beneficial and was keen to share her views.

A flowchart documenting our research project approach

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

As a team, we committed to improving our knowledge and awareness of mindfulness through our dedicated time for teaching, learning and assessment (Golden Hour). We used this space to try out meditations, reflect on our research and create resources. It was particularly our team doing some relaxation tasks (yoga)effective for encouraging and supporting the team, especially those teachers who felt less confident to deliver meditations but were happy to contribute in other ways in the form of reading texts in a slower, more mindful way.

Golden Hour also allowed us to share ideas such as the best YouTube videos for music for concentrating. Teachers reported that students responded well to Lofi (a blend of chilled out beats without lyrics) which suits most musical tastes.

Towards the end of the project, the English team took part in a yoga and mindfulness workshop delivered by an external professional which gave us a new crop of ideas such as the importance of re-energising students through movement or by clapping their hands or arms in addition to calming them.

students practicing relaxation tasksEnglish teachers were given a Mindfulness resource kit (Cards Against Anxiety) and we are currently assessing how to use them most effectively in the classroom.

As a team, we realised collectively, that the biggest gains of mindfulness came from using it with writing skills. This led us to link the two ideas using visualisations. We used a carefully chosen image and asked learners to imagine they were in the picture by reading out a set of questions encouraging them to think about what they could, see, hear, feel, taste and touch. Later on, we added sounds and music to enhance their experience further. This had a noticeable impact which became apparent in the mock exams.

It showed that learners have connected with the idea of writing using the senses following the work on visualisations and ‘putting yourself in the picture’. We developed this further to use in our Easter revision sessions called ‘Classtonbury’. The session was delivered in a sensory room with low lights and comfortable seating to induce a mindful atmosphere. We used a picture of a circus to coincide with our festival theme and this changed midway to represent the inside of the tent and at this point we introduced a short burst students practicing relaxation tasksof overwhelming circus music. It was also used within the classroom after Easter for those who didn’t attend Classtonbury.

Work samples show that this method of writing in class has been well adopted by students who struggle to start a story or description. They can transplant the ideas created in the classroom directly into their writing and can re-use or adapt a phrase each time they begin writing. An example from the case study of Ben Harris (Appendix 2) clearly shows this: ‘the wind rustling the fallen leaves next to the dilapidated wall’ in the mock exam also appeared in his most recent question 5 practice: ‘I can hear the rustling of the leaves on the trees’ In the May example, Ben was then able to develop his response by adding more detail about what he could see ‘I look around and see a squirrel running up a tree then a family of owls nesting in the trunk.’ In his baseline assessment, Ben struggled to add this level of detail which minimised how much he could write.

Organisational Development

Within the organisation there has been continuing interest in the project and we have been sharing our findings through cross-college Golden Hour and workshop led training days as well as delivering short meditations to staff in other departments. The Construction department has expressed an interest in developing techniques to support bricklayers as thereflections from a teacher on the project workshop is such a noise filled environment. One of the bricklaying tutors shared this relaxation video of brickwork sounds and we will be working together to see if it helps with learner focus and concentration.

The exams office has also been keen to work with us to incorporate elements of mindfulness to reduce exam stress. They investigated with JCQ the possibility of playing mindful music as learners enter the exam hall and although this was not possible within the regulations, we will be working together to provide a calming environment for learners immediately before they enter the exam. Members of the English department are delivering a training session to the exams department after Easter on how to support learners in distress, which will begin with a meditation delivered to participants so they can appreciate the benefits of mindfulness. (Appendix 4, shows feedback from the examination manager following the session.)

Throughout the project, updates have been shared on the organisation’s internal Facebook (Workplace) to promote, highlight and inform others about the project.

A member of the quality team has also expressed interest in setting up a college mindful ‘community of practice’ to share and support the introduction of mindfulness in the classroom.

reflections from a teacher on the project

Learning from this project

The action research project has changed the way, as an English department, we think, plan and approach our lessons. Low impact music without lyrics such as Lofi (Appendix 5) has become a staple in our classroom whenever there is a period of concentration required. Learners enjoy being given a calm environment to work in and most learners actively ask for the music to be put on. Students have submitted songs that help them study to a Padlet which we will use to give students a choice in what they listen to (Appendix 5). We have also learned to slow down in our speech and especially when reading texts. This came directly from reading out meditations during the project and it has a dual benefit in that it not only helps the learner to focus on the text more clearly but also acts as a mini meditation to calm and focus them.

We will continue to use visualisations and layer them with sounds to create an almost 3D experience as a stimulus for writing and we intend to create a resource bank with different settings. It has proved an invaluable method to not only increase confidence but as an accessible activity for all levels of learners. Walks outside or visits to The Collection (a local museum) will also become a more regular element of our lessons.

Some teachers will continue to develop their delivery of mindful meditations at key points within the year, such as, before assessments or at the start of term. However, others now feel more confident to approach it in their own way or simply play mindful music.

Personal reflection

As we near the end of the project, it has moved on beyond our initial aim of encouraging learners to be more resilient and mindful. Two separate branches have developed from the Mindset Over Mastery Tree. Firstly, the organisation is increasingly recognising the value and potential of mindfulness as a tool to combat stress and anxiety – not only for students, but equally for staff. It is a bold statement; however, I am confident that this project has increased awareness of mindfulness in the classroom and encouraged discussion and creativity about how it could be best employed. The second branch is specifically connected to English and the effectiveness of using mindful techniques as a method of improving writing. Using images, sounds and thinking about the senses acts, in some small way, as a replacement for cultural capital. Students who have not been to the beach, or walked in a wood, or visited a circus have nothing in their memory banks to call on when asked to describe these images. Giving learners additional stimuli immediately before the act of writing frees them from the embarrassment of not knowing what to write.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to create opportunities for mindfulness, not only in our own practice but in those of our students. By engaging in research activity and asking learners for their perspectives, we were able to understand how much learners valued being given a quiet time for reflection as well as the importance of a calm learning environment.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of leaners through your enthusiasm and knowledge

    Throughout the year, learners have had access to a range of experiences not normally associated with the English classroom. Going outside the classroom to walk through nature provided them with a memorable link that they have been able to call on repeatedly in their writing.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners

    As a team, the project has given us an opportunity to meet regularly to discuss and feedback on teaching and learning. We felt revitalised by the freedom to try something different and reflect on its impact.

  • 11. Manage and promote positive learner behaviour

    Using meditations with students was, at times, challenging. However, the result afterwards was always a calmer and more focused classroom which improved learner behaviour.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    Students have begun to feel more confident after seeing their writing skills improve. Where once they would have struggled to start, they have reported that writing about the senses greatly helps them feel in control of what they are doing. This in turn, motivates them to do better and creates an enthusiasm to keep aiming for a higher grade.


Appendix 2: Learner Work

Appendix 3: Feedback

Appendix 3: Team Feedback

Appendix 5: The use of music as mindfulness

Appendix 6: Visualisation Resources


Duckworth, A. (2017) Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, London: Vermillion

Dweck, C.S. (2012) How you can Fulfil Your Potential, London: Robinson

OTLA 7 (2021) Resilience, Sheffield College. Accessible at