I completed a SCITT course in the 2015 – 2016 academic year and was extremely lucky, not only to have an outstanding provider but also outstanding schools and mentors to work with. (I’m not only talking about O-grades there either!)
It wasn’t long after I begun my training that I started to hear the most disturbing language. Straight away it put my teeth on edge and straight away I absolutely disagreed with this kind of language being used in education. I couldn’t believe that this was a ‘thing’ and that people openly talked about this like it was OK.
What on earth am I talking about?
“My lowers are going to do this.”
“My middlies will find that hard.”
“I’m going to give this challenge to my highers.”
“Any ideas of an activity I can give my lowers?”
Even typing that makes me cringe.
How on earth can a teacher have a pre-determined view of a child’s ability I asked myself? I pondered this for a while during my course but the more I heard it, the more I absolutely did not agree to it nor would be a part of it!
I can only compare it to my previous experience, that being in the world of physiotherapy.
Now, never would I have read a patient’s notes and thought, “Right, the previous physiotherapist told me not to bother trying to help this person learn to walk again because they couldn’t do it last week, so, you know what, I’m not even going to bother, I’m just going to work on sitting balance.”
No! Of course not! You go into that treatment room aiming for the moon. That patient will absolutely get back to full function and you treat them as if they have all the potential in the world (because, you know, they do!)
If they can’t quite manage to stand, you don’t abandon and think they never will. You think, right, they can’t quite stand today so we will x, y and z first, but you always aim for standing.
This is my approach in teaching. I absolutely believe every child can achieve (and will if they are given the time and opportunity to!) I often think of children’s brains as having little locks all over them. Some children are lucky and have locks that any keys can and will unlock that area of learning for them. They are the ‘quick graspers’ for want of a better term!
Then there are children that have much more specific locks. Where the teacher needs to find that very specific key that unlocks that learning for that child. I believe that every child can learn anything. We just have to find the key. I often think that perhaps these children are our deeper thinkers. That can’t and don’t just accept a concept on face value. That need to investigate it, play with it, practise it before they ‘get it’. I was a ‘quick grasper’ as a child and it wasn’t until I learnt about pedagogy that I realised how superficial some of my knowledge was. My ‘number sense’ in maths, for example, was woeful – I had just learnt all the ‘tricks’. Perhaps it’s the children that just take a bit longer (NOT who are lower ability!) that have a much deeper understanding of concepts once they unlock that learning? I like to think so. (Now whether our current education system is set up to cater for these children is a whole other blog post but that’s for another day!)
So, in my classroom, I don’t ‘group’. We don’t talk about being clever. We work hard and we try our best because we know that effort will give us results. I expect every child to achieve and, do you know what, they do!
There are no ‘glass ceilings’ on my children. There are no ‘special challenges’ for any children. We all complete the same task, but, just as I did when I was a physiotherapist, I know how to modify and adapt the task so that it is accessible and appropriate to all.
I am an avid overthinker. I need to understand the ‘whys’ before I can fully grasp an idea or concept. I spent a long time feeling like my thoughts on the above were wrong or misplaced because I was new to teaching and trying to apply previous experience into a new career that didn’t match.
Happily, mainly through the world of Twitter (and wise mentors and tutors), I have discovered the most amazing teachers who have absolutely given me confidence in my approach. That when I refuse to ‘differentiate 5 ways’ that that is OK. When I give my whole class the same task in maths, that that is fine. That we can all read the same text in reading lessons… I can go on and on!
We have the power to develop the next generation of doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists, performers, artists, parents and just general human beings. I want every child to leave me with a sense of self belief that they can and they will achieve, not that they are not clever because they always have to sit on the ‘circle’ table and complete the ‘mild’ chilli challenges. (Surely ‘mild’ is spicy to some anyway!)