One of the first things that really shocked me about teaching when I started training was how much some teachers go into a learning ‘cycle’ with an almost unconscious bias about their children’s ability to achieve the learning.
I don’t disagree that as teachers, we get to know our children really well over the time we teach them, but, unless someone is hiding a crystal ball or some mystical power that is yet to be made public, I really don’t see how someone can decide the ceiling of learning that a child may achieve in a lesson or sequence of lessons.
When I was a physiotherapist, we used to get handovers from different wards when a patient was transferred over to yours. Now, it was nothing to do with not respecting another professional, but I must admit, I completely ignored most of the ‘oh they can’t do this… and they’ll never … again’ because quite frankly, as a professional, if I didn’t believe that I couldn’t get that person back to their pre-morbid independence level, then what hope did they have? Of course, the reality is that not everyone left with the same levels of independence that they had before they were poorly but did I believe they could get back to that and did I pour my heart and soul into trying to help them regain it? Hell yes. If I didn’t believe that, then they would have no chance at all.
I feel the same as a teacher. Do I believe that every one of my children is capable at accessing the learning of my year group? Yes. I have to. Because if I don’t believe they can, how can I expect them to believe they can?
I’ve talked about it before, but I honestly believe that EVERY child is capable of learning. You just have to find the ‘key’ that unlocks that learning for them. Some children are lucky enough to have their learning locked by locks that can be opened easily by any ‘key’. (I think these would be Ofsted’s ‘Rapid Graspers’!) But some children have locks that can only be unlocked by a very specific key that can be hard to find. Again, I’ve said it before, but these children are perhaps the deepest of thinkers. The ones that need to fully understand a concept before they ‘get it’.
The brain is one of the most incredible organs in the body with such an under-researched capacity. We really need to believe that all children can and will learn if they are given the chances. I have seen CT scans of brains that have been damaged beyond belief. Where there is so much black on the scan that there is barely any brain actually left. Yet, go talk to the person and you would barely notice. The brain is plastic. It can remodel itself. It can build new pathways. It’s incredible. Given chances, children will learn.
It astounds me that it is sometimes considered standard practice to preempt what groups of children can and can’t do before the lesson. That certain groups of children are sometimes given different objectives, different tasks, different expectations. I strongly believe that, again, as a professional, we should know the progression of the skills we are teaching and know how to either support access to them or extend them. I also believe that this should be fluid and done within a lesson, when the learning is happening and when the teacher can see what each child needs.
Any demands for lessons to be differentiated ‘three ways’, any demands for different tasks for ‘lowers’, ‘middles’ or ‘highers’ or any criticism that a person looking through books can’t see ‘three clear levels of differentiation’ I will never understand.
All my children are individual. What do I hope people see when they look through my books? I hope they see that all children are given the same opportunities to achieve the learning, that the learning has been made accessible to each child through appropriate means for them and that each child has been challenged appropriately and effectively.
My Mam always used to despair at me and say that I was so tenacious: like a dog with a bone! In teaching, I’m proud of that. I’m glad I hold the belief that every child can achieve. I’m glad that I never give up that hope. I’m glad that I don’t lower the goalposts for children who perhaps need them raised the most.
On a training course today, we were told about a study (I will try to find out the details!) where teachers were told a number of children in their new class were gifted and/or talented for different subjects and when they revisited, many of the identified children had made accelerated progress and were above ARE. It was then revealed that the children had just been selected at random …
I believe my children can achieve. And guess what … they do. 🙂