Julie is quite a bright girl in her class, whereas Jim struggles at the moment. As is shown on the class tracking document, their achievements to date put Julie higher than Jim, especially in reading and writing activities. Julie is a better reader and goes places, while Jim prefers to play with his friends on his bike or his skateboard at the weekend and after school and doesn’t willingly read, because he finds it hard. He’s actually won prizes for both cycling and skateboarding, but hasn’t mentioned it at school. Jim can be a bit of a daydreamer, not offering a great deal to class discussions, while Julie puts up her hand every time and is regularly asked to answer. She doesn’t always like the more practical activities in the class.
One day the teacher challenged the children to design and make a crazy golf hole, as part of a mapping topic. They could use whatever they wished, as long as they wrote on their plan what they wanted, so that it could be checked before they started. Julie and Jim were in the same group.
During their discussion time, Julie tried to tell the others what they should do, Jim was quieter, thinking about the problem, while some of the others started to argue with Julie. The teacher noticed the argument and the fact that Jim had been quiet, so joined the group and asked him what he was thinking about. At this point, Jim articulated clearly and thoughtfully what he thought that the group should do, while the rest of the group listened respectfully. They had not heard Jim speak as much before. When he had finished, the group decided to use Jim’s ideas and drew careful plans based on them.
By the end of the short topic, not only had the group designed and made an effective golf hole, but they had measured it, drawn it to scale, tallied and collated a list to show the number of hits each member of their class had taken on the hole, from least to most, created a bar chart to show the frequency of the hits, as well as writing a report on what they had done and how they had done it.
The teacher and Jim’s peers realised that Jim did have great ideas, especially for finding ways of solving problems. While it was clear that Jim still had problems with aspects of recording, his enthusiasm for working in this way, embedding knowledge verbally, encouraged him to persist with the aspects of learning that he found harder. It was clear that, while his performance outcomes suggested one level of ability, he was able to think as deeply as peers whose measured achievements were greater.
Fletcher and Stanley
These two boys, in the same class, were achieving differently. The (trainee) teacher could identify that Fletcher, on a range of evidence was regularly achieving higher than Stanley. When asked for some details, the conversation focused on reading, maths and social issues (concentration). All of these were global statements, so were teased further. It became clear that there was a lack of understanding about the processes that underpinned each of the areas of concern, which, in turn, diminished the ability of the trainee to intervene appropriately, or to appropriately challenge so that each of the children could make progress in a range of learning areas.
Unpicking the issues led to the creation of a training plan, the need to meet with the English and Maths managers and the SENCo, with the specifics of the two children at the centre of the conversation, then devising, with the help of each manager, a continuous training programme to secure a deeper understanding of subject development.
The two aspects have to come together, as does the ability of a teacher to understand the needs of the different children who make up the class(es) for which they have responsibility, together with the capacity to investigate those areas that cause concern. It is not someone else’s job to take on every child who is identified as possibly having a problem with learning.
Comparison is not diagnosis.
X is “better than” Y might have superficial appeal, but learning depends on the ability to fine tune the challenges and the interactions that might lead to security in learning. Unless the teacher has the appropriate language to underpin the development needs of each child, some will persist in having difficulty, but this may not be of their making.