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Independent Learning

The way that you approach and consider academic writing can have a huge bearing on how you write and your result. In this section we will go through different mindsets that you can apply to your academic writing to improve your performance.

Use the tabs above to learn more about the different mindsets for academic writing.

Having a growth mindset means believing that you can develop in a certain area, rather than believing that your abilities are fixed. This mindset will help you develop other skills, particularly ones that you are not as strong with. As a growth mindset aids in skill development, it is the perfect skill to start your journey towards success as a student with.

Our Success as a Student Podcast series has two episodes dedicated to developing a growth mindset. Audio and transcribed versions of these can be found in the resources column. Below is a summary of some of the key points made in both of those episodes.

The first key point to make is that a person can have both a fixed mindset and a growth mindset at the same time. A fixed mindset is where you categorise yourself as being at a certain level in a skill and that level is fixed in your head and cannot change. This could be, for example, thinking that you are bad at maths, but it can also extend to things that you are good at. It is true that you can be successful with a fixed mindset, but you will only be successful in the areas you are already strong in and would be less skilled elsewhere. A growth mindset is where you believe that you can develop, particularly in weaker areas. Someone with a growth mindset may say "I can't do that yet" rather than "I can't do that". With a growth mindset they will look towards how they can develop rather than avoid that skill. These two states of mind can exist at the same time, as you may have a growth mindset about developing one thing and be fixed in relation to developing another thing. Therefore, try to be aware of when you are being fixed, and to challenge yourself to grow and develop in that area.

Dr Fiona Shelton discussed how as children we have a freedom to fail. When we learned to walk, for example, we likely fell down over and over again. As adults we have lost that ability to persevere and instead box ourselves into those things that we are good at and those that we are not so good at. So when we start to develop our growth mindset, we need to be willing to fail in order to learn and develop through challenge.

Associate Professor Melanie Pope discussed how failure is often found in those who are successful. The key is how we respond to failure and feedback. Melanie described how James Dyson tried over 2000 times to get his vacuum cleaner to work before finding success and how Walt Disney lost his job for not having enough imagination! Success is often built on the foundations of failure. If you have failed, use it as an opportunity to learn and to reflect to ensure that you improve in the future. See our reflection guide  for further information on how to use failure to power success.

In Academic Writing having a growth mindset means not allowing yourself to be settled into categories of ‘I am good at this, but not as good at this’. Each year at University your are expected to perform at a higher level with the criteria for a first increasing. More often than not students are able to develop quicker through their experiences writing and the feedback that they have received. However if you have gotten a first in your first year, this does not mean that you can continue writing at this level to achieve a first next year. You need to challenge yourself to continually develop. Likewise, if you have received feedback highlighting that you haven’t used enough critical analysis in your essay. This does not mean that you cannot be critical, it just mean haven’t applied enough critical analysis yet.

The Shoot for the Stars mindset asks you to not limit yourself to a certain level of potential. This links to the growth mindset discussed on the previous tab. If you have a fixed mindset, you'll only do as well as you fix yourself to be. If, however, you aim high, you may just achieve that. You don't know what you're capable of until you try it.

If you want to come out with a 2:1 at university for example, it may be worth shooting for the stars and attempting the criteria for a first class instead. This can create a safety net and mean if you make a mistake or fail to meet the criteria for a first fully, you will be more likely to get the 2:1 that you desire. It is likely that in your first few essays with this mindset that you will not in fact get a first. However, as you attempt to hit the first-class criteria you will start developing your understanding of what is required through feedback and reflection. The result may be that over time you start achieving the criteria that you may not have considered aiming for in the first place!   

The Shoot for the Stars mentality is discussed further in our podcast titled ‘Failure is an Opportunity to Grow’ with Dr David Robertshaw. You can find this in the below.

Failure is often viewed with a negative stigma and is something that students try to avoid. Failure should instead be viewed as an opportunity to improve and grow. Behind every successful student is a series of failures that they have reflected on and learnt from. It is important to define failure here. What is (or is not) a failure is personal to you. Failure can mean getting below the pass mark on an assessment, but it can also mean getting a lower grade than you wanted (for example 60% and not 70%). Failure occurs outside of academic grades and is essentially when you don't get your intended result.

Having a good relationship with failure and viewing it with a growth mindset as an opportunity will help you to grow, to take opportunities and to push boundaries. Failure occurs most often when we are challenged, and if we aren't challenged, we won't develop. The key is to be willing to put yourself in positions where you can fail (or succeed) and then if you do fail to reflect and learn from that failure.

In the Success as a Student podcast episode using ‘Failure as an Opportunity to Grow’,  Dr David Robertshaw discuss how failures have helped us to grow;  how A-level results do not translate to future attainment; how failure is part of the journey; why students should shoot for the stars and how we can learn from failure. Here are the key highlights from the podcast.

The first key highlight is that failure is part of the journey of a successful person. Successful people learn from their failures and use them to make their future successes. Past failures do not mean that you cannot be successful. Instead learn to persevere, reflect on failure and use failure as a foundation to build success.

The second key highlight from this episode is that prior attainment does not mean success or failure at university. If you found success in your A-levels, don't expect that you’ll just breeze through your degree. Make sure to put the effort in and continue to develop. If you did not do well in your A-levels, or if you're doing your first assignment and it's not gone well, you can still do well in the future. At the University of Derby there are numerous examples of students who struggled in their A-levels before coming to university, and then, at the end of their degree, they came out with strong grades. You can succeed if you reflect, have a growth mindset and put the effort in, rather than just relying on your past attainment, good or bad.

 In the resources section you can find two further podcasts on learning from failure. In the episode ‘From A-Level Failure to University Success’  Joel Boulter explained how he achieved a first class degree and several awards after getting two poor A-Levels.

In the episode ‘Passion, Purpose and Perseverance Anisha Johal explained how she failed to get an internship, before reapplying for it the following year and receiving it after reflecting on her application and improving her skills and experience. These are two great examples of using failure as motivation to improve. 

When starting academic writing it can be difficult to get your ideas down in a clear, coherent way whilst using academic language, meeting the marking criteria and being suitable for your target audience. At times this can slow progress and can cause writer's block. If this is something that you struggle with then using the first draft mentality may be useful.  

The first draft mentality is understanding that first drafts are not perfect and can be improved in the proofreading stage. The first draft can be seen as a way of getting your ideas down and having a starting point to go from. This builds momentum and means you are not bogged down by trying to achieve too much at once.  

Therefore, aim in your first draft to get your ideas out clearly and in a structured approach, but do not worry about making it perfect, using the right language or making mistakes. These can be fixed with a diligent and active proofreading approach. See our proofreading guide and workshops for information on how to use proofreading as an opportunity to improve your work and hit the marking criteria.  

Developing a habit of reflecting on your academic writing will help you to enhance your writing and how you manage your assignments. You may find it useful to find a short (30 mins) regular weekly slot to reflect upon your progress against your time plans. This allows you to take stock of where you are at, what steps are next, how your progress compares to your time plans and to make actions to ensure you can complete your assignment. These regular reflections can be done alone with a sheet of paper, or done with a friend/family member, (although do be careful to avoid plagiarising when working with friends who are also completing the same assignment). Reflecting alongside others can create a level of accountability and can encourage you to complete the reflection. 

Whilst your reflections should be honest, you should not be too hard on yourself if you have not made the progress that you wanted to achieve yet. Instead you should be solution focused and consider, given the circumstances, what can be done now in order to achieve your goals. Your reflection can be used as a reset point to correct bad progress and create a more positive momentum.   

After you have completed your assignment you should reflect on the feedback given to you by your lecturer. This feedback is incredibly useful for you to see how your finalised writing compares to the marking criteria. However your lecturer feedback is limited as your lecturer often does not know how you time managed, how you found your sources or how you motivated yourself. So in addition to reflecting on your lecturer's comments, spent some time reflecting on how you completed the whole assignment and consider what actions you will take to improve for your next assignment. 

See our reflection guide for more information on how to reflect, including information on how to complete reflective writing assessments. 

Mindset Videos

Self Motivation and Independent Learning - 15 mins

Alex from the Skills team outlines tips and advice for independent learning, beating procrastination and self-motivation at University.

The Mindset of a Successful Student with Eliza Patrascu Video Podcast - 36 mins

Alex interviews Eliza Patrascu about her reflections from her time at university. Eliza discusses her mindset that she held at the start of university and her mindset towards university now that she has graduated. We also discuss learning your limits, and going to the world with an open mind

From A-Level 'Failure' to University Success with Joel Boulter Video Podcast - 40 mins

In the final success as a student podcast, Alex and Joel Boulter discuss how they found success after underperforming at A Level. They also discuss how to you can get the most out of your student experience to turn A Level disappointment into university success.

Failure is an Opportunity to Grow with Dr David Robertshaw Video Podcast - 42 mins

David Robertshaw and Alexander Wood give our own examples of where we have failed in the past and how we have used these failures to shape our future successes. We will discuss how failure is part of the journey, why you should aim high and how we overcome imposter syndrome.

Boldness and Taking Opportunities with Sue Jennings Video Podcast - 55 mins

Alex and Sue Jennings (Head of the Law School) discuss how you can take opportunities and learn to be bold. Throughout the series a consistent theme of the advice given by other staff has been to take the opportunities that come your way and in this episode dedicated to the topic, we will discuss how you can evaluate the opportunities that come your way, how to find opportunities and how to be confident and bold enough to take them.

Creativity and Problem Solving with Professor Ian Turner Video Podcast - 55 mins

Professor Ian Turner discusses how you can develop a creative mindset, problem solving under pressure and advice for being successful as a student.

'Believing that you can Improve' - Growth Mindset with Dr Fiona Shelton Video Podcast - 25 mins

In this episode Alex discusses how to develop a growth mindset with Dr Fiona Shelton. A growth mindset means believing that you can develop in a certain area rather than your abilities being fixed. It is a skill that will help you develop other skills, particularly ones that you are not as strong with. We will discuss, what a growth mindset is, how you can grow through perseverance, and the relationship between growth mindset and feedback.

'Are Geniuses Born or Made?' Growth Mindset with Associate Professor Melanie Pope Video Podcast - 41 mins

In this episode Alex further discusses how you can develop your growth mindset in an insightful interview with Associate Professor Melanie Pope. In this interview we discuss topics including are geniuses born or made, how you can develop through failure, and much more. This interview builds upon the discussion that I had with Dr Fiona Shelton in Growth Mindset Part 1 but can be watched as a stand alone episode.

Beating Procrastination Video Podcast - 32 mins

Alex, Naomi and Diana from the University of Derby Skills team discuss how you can beat procrastination, sharing their methods, tips and tricks.

Finding Your Passion and Purpose with Anisha Johal Video Podcast

In this episode, Alex interviews recent first class graduate Anisha Johal about her experiences as a student. Anisha got involved throughout her time at university to develop her skills and find her passions.

Finding Your Feet at University with Katie Harrod Video Podcast - 42 mins

Recent foundation year Law student Katie Harrod and host Alexander Wood discuss their experiences in finding their feet at the start of university. We discuss our reflections from our first year, how you can settle in and make friends, and how you aren't alone if you are feeling overwhelmed in your first few weeks.