Isn’t it strange how conversations you have with your kids can transport you back in time? A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I headed off for a girlie day out. As is usually the norm in our car the radio was turned on and we settled back to enjoy the drive. After a short silence she began to tell me about school. She told how the teachers have favourites. Kids who happen to be confident and brash. She explained how they are seen as clever because they aren’t shy. She also explained how other kids are clever too but are just shy and less willing to put themselves forward. I heard of kids who can write the music for Star Wars so it can be played on the tin whistle and a little boy who can name all the mechanical parts to his scooter. Multiple intelligences are what we educators call it. Regardless of the name, she had hit the nail on the head. In the hustle and bustle of a busy classroom some kids get overlooked and it’s just not right.
As I listened I was transported back to when I was in fourth class. I went to a convent school in a country town. I remember clearly how the class was divided into groups. These groups supposedly represented the ability of the student. We had the A, B and C groups. A being the clever kids, B the kids who needed a little support and C being the group that even with scaffolding was never going to go far. I vividly remember sitting in that classroom and thinking that the system of division had very little to do with ability and much more to do with what your parents did for a living! Yes, at ten even I could work out that the girls who’s parents owned businesses or farms where in the A group, the girls who’s parents worked where in the B group and the C group was for those who had parents who where unfortunate enough not to be working. Listening to my little girl describe her school experience illustrated how little has changed in the Irish school system.
When I returned to education a number of years ago it was to pursue a degree in Psychology. As an undergrad I got to choose three subjects for my first year. I choose Sociology and English along with Psychology. It wasn’t long before I realised that I wouldn’t be continuing with Psychology in year two. Sociology was where it was at for me. I soon discovered that there where theories and names for the thoughts and feelings I had regarding the inequalities in society and I couldn’t wait to find out more. The education system has always fascinated me so it was no surprise when I choose post graduate study in this area.
While listening to my daughter explain about her experience within the classroom I wondered why has the passing of time and changing practises in teaching training done nothing to foster a more equal and inclusive learning environment for the next generation? Research in the UK has shown that if kids are not encouraged to participate and speak out in class that their academic development can be affected. During the study teachers were encouraged to ask every child to answer a question rather than relying on the few who are more than willing to answer. To help ensure that every child had an equal chance of being asked, all names where written on lollipop sticks. The teacher would then draw a stick from a jar rather than choose from raised hands. Resistance came from teachers as well as kids. It is much quicker to ask those who you know will answer. The shy kids went as fair as removing their names from the jar. The kids who always answered resented the fact that they were no longer getting the attention. Eventually after overcoming the initial resistance the study got underway. The findings? They probably won’t come as a surprise. Those kids who had been seen as less able where just as able as their more confident peers!
We really need to remember that with a little time and encouragement all kids shine. It is more important now than ever when education is facing into years of cutbacks that we don’t lose sight of the fact that multiple intelligences exist. Just because a child is quiet and reflective doesn’t mean they are lacking in ability. Isn’t it time we embraced difference? I know my little girl is not going to transform into an over confident brash ‘clever’ kid ever. I also know that by assuming she isn’t ‘clever’ because she’s quieter than others is a huge mistake on her teacher’s part. I was that quiet reflective child once upon a time.