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Linda J. Graham

@drlindagraham

On misdiagnosis…

Twitter was writhing again this week in response to Tom Bennett’s latest TES piece in which he linked the recent fidget-spinner craze to “crypto-pathologies” in education. The two examples offered were Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia.*

It’s an interesting piece because – like many pieces by teacher-blogger/edu-celebrities – there is a vein of truth in what Tom says and I have sympathy for what I think is his main argument. But, his overall treatment of a really serious issue is ham-fisted and I fear it will do more damage than good.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve felt concern that research about over- and mis-diagnosis is in danger of being misinterpreted. I also received a request to blog on this issue from a concerned mum, so here goes!

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Diagnosis and ADHD

I’ve spent much of my life in close orbit to ADHD and have always been scrupulously careful to stay away from the myth or reality debate. My research focus has always been the function the diagnosis serves and the implications it has for the education of kids who fit the diagnostic criteria.

There is legitimate concern in education research that ADHD will be held responsible for any and all issues a child experiences at school, perhaps detracting attention from the quality of education that child is receiving.

By the same token, quality teaching – in the form of clear and explicit instruction, with liberal doses of structure, routine and repetition – can help children with ADHD focus and retain what they learn. On this, Bennett is right.

However, rates of ADHD diagnosis have levelled off in many Western countries and it is no longer the “blink twice and there’s another kid diagnosed” disorder that it once was. The UK has always had lower rates of diagnosis and medication than the United States, Australia and Canada, so it does feel a little like ADHD is being used as a strawman in this case. That’s not very helpful to the kids and families involved.

The other thing that has interested me in this latest UK debate has been the framing of parents. In the various articles I’ve read, parents are being positioned as too stupid to be able to see through sham diagnoses and/or sham products, or looking for medical excuses for why their child can’t or won’t behave/learn rather than looking at their own parenting.

That’s just parent-bashing, to be frank. There is a very broad spectrum of parents out there with some who refuse to acknowledge their child is having any difficulties and others who see everything through the prism of the DSM.

Most are in the middle ground and most just want to find answers so that they can help their child make it through 13 years of school, so that they can get a decent job and live a happy life.

Yes, some will cop a bum steer [sorry for that Australianism… it’s Mother’s Day here and I’m too full of Yum Cha (thanks kids!) to think of an English alternative] and may latch on to fidget-spinners or wobble chairs or fish oil or brain training in the hope that it will help, but they don’t deserve derision for the effort.

None of these things are going to “cure” ADHD and I’ve yet to meet a parent who truly believes that. Teachers and parents are right to be cautious about the claims of these or any other gadgets sold on a promise.

Speaking of which, an excellent book to help parents and teachers navigate this minefield is Caroline Bowen and Pamela Snow’s Making Sense of Interventions for Children with Developmental Disorders.

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The one caution that I would add is that research always lags reality by several years and only certain types of research get funded. Pharmaceutical research is where the big bucks can be found, so it’s not surprising that the majority of research relating to ADHD is pharmacological.

The point to note here is that medication doesn’t cure ADHD either and the side-effects can be significant enough to persuade many parents to try other options.  At the end of the day it is the parent’s prerogative and whether they diagnose or not, medicate or not, or buy their kid a fidget-spinner and dose them in krill oil, is no one else’s business.

Happily, teaching and learning IS teachers’ business and, whilst a diagnosis can guide teachers’ sense-making, as Jules Daulby put it in her excellent blog post on this topic, at the end of the day:

It doesn’t matter if the child has ADHD or not… recognising behaviour traits and responding is the same, label or no label.

This is just one reason that I have recommended education systems move away from categorical SEN funding models.

A diagnosis is only ever a starting point and children with the same diagnosis can have very different support needs. Similarly, some children with different diagnoses (e.g., ADHD and Developmental Language Disorder) can have very similar support needs.

What matters at the end of the day is the interpretation of the presenting behaviour and the adjustment required. Get those two things right and everyone wins. 

This is what I fear will be missed if teachers are influenced by well-meaning but naive interjections that associate very real problems like ADHD with the term “crypto-pathologies”.

These children don’t receive enough support as it is. A more positive contribution would be to address the reasons they don’t because that is what will make a difference to educational outcomes.

Anything else is just noise.

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* I will restrict my comments to ADHD because that’s my area of research. For experts in dyslexia, visit the pages of Macquarie University’s Centre for Human Cognition and its Disorders. They have published a statement on what they mean when they use the term.

Bowen and Snow (2017) also cover the dyslexia terminology debate in their book, Making Sense of Interventions for Children with Developmental Disorders, see p. 231 (excerpt below).

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Will whole school behaviour policies & corridor etiquette lessons fix classroom disruption?

A report on school behaviour citing very little peer-reviewed research evidence was this week released in England; you know, that place from which Australian governments regularly import education policy ideas despite researchers having already identified their perverse effects?  Yeah, that one.

The bibliography makes for interesting reading. In fact, I found it to be the most illuminating section.

Neo-traditionalist faves, like Doug Lemov’s “Teach like a champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college” feature large. But recent and highly relevant peer-reviewed studies like this one by Andrew Jenkins and Akiko Ueno, which was published last November in the British Educational Research Journal (the British equivalent to AER), do not.

This is disappointing, given that their study (which used TALIS and PISA data to examine classroom disciplinary climate in English secondary schools) found “only a small proportion – less than a fifth – of the overall variation in classroom climate occurred at the school level” and that “most of the variation was within schools rather than between schools”.

In fact, school level factors (such as clear behaviour policies and their consistent application by school leadership) were only weakly related to classroom climate.  Of more salience were classroom level factors: specifically, classroom composition and teacher characteristics.

Classroom composition

Jenkins and Ueno’s analysis indicates that the higher the proportion of academically gifted students in a class, the lower the level of disruption. Similarly, the higher the proportion of kids with behavioural problems in a class, the higher the level of classroom disruption.

This places a great big spotlight on practices like ability streaming (or “sets”), even though we’ve known for donkey’s years that this is a bad practice and one that disproportionately affects lower-achieving students.

Strangely, the report – authored by England’s Behaviour Tsar, Mr Tom Bennett – makes absolutely no mention of such practices. In fact, the report champions another form of streaming by recommending that schools siphon off disruptive kids to “inclusion units” (a case of special education ventriloquism at its worst!) for some form of re-education.

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Conveniently, evaluation of the evidence in support of such a recommendation is put off to some future date. Probably because the weight of the research evidence does not support the use of such settings, although we already know that some schools are quite happy to ignore the evidence when it comes to improving their position in the league tables…

Teacher characteristics

Not surprisingly, Jenkins and Ueno found that teachers with higher self-efficacy and more years of experience reported fewer disciplinary issues, although readers should bear in mind that this was self-report and tolerance may grow with experience.

Less experienced teachers reported higher levels of disruption in their classes, however, within-school practices such as streaming and lack of adequate induction for early career teachers may be implicated here as well. It is not unknown for early career teachers to be chucked into the lower sets and for more experienced teachers to be reserved for teaching the higher sets, particularly in those high-stakes senior secondary years.

Less experienced teachers certainly stand to benefit from clear behaviour policies and their consistent application by the school leadership, but most school leaders are aware of this and many schools have already adopted whole school frameworks, such as Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL).

Frameworks and policies are only as good as their implementation though and I’ve observed many a classroom in total chaos within an otherwise well-functioning PBL school! I know this next point won’t be popular, but the difference in many cases is the capability of the individual classroom teacher, which is sometimes stretched beyond capacity by the decisions made by those higher-up.

Should Australians read Tom Bennett’s behaviour report?

If you want but you need to be aware of its limitations. I’m also not sure how Australian principals and teachers will take to stuff like this:

Any behaviour that should be performed identically, most or all of the time, should be made into a routine, for example, which corridor side to walk down, how to queue for lunch. (p. 8)

On reading this advice, I was immediately worried, given that my children attend one of Australia’s largest high schools. So I asked them:

  • How on earth does this hormone driven swill navigate the narrow corridors of your bursting-at-the-seams school?
  • Have you been explicitly taught which side to walk on?
  • No???  Omg, how do you know what to do?  How do you make it to class every day and why doesn’t every change of period end in fisticuffs?

They each looked at me witheringly (in a way that lets you know that you are both stupid and old) and my eldest replied: “We just follow each other and take turns passing, Mum. It’s, like… not hard!”

People can fuss about which side of the corridor students should be told to walk (even though kids are not zombies and seem to be able to deduce this for themselves), but techniques such as this are small beer and won’t work when practices such as streaming, which are consistently shown to have negative effects (including the creation of unmanageable behavioural ghettos), continue unabated.

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What’s missing?

There is NO acknowledgement in the report of the role played by curriculum and pedagogy. Perhaps that is because it is more politically expedient to blame the kids rather than take a good hard look at what is being taught and how well?

According to one teacher-blogger encouraging Australians to heed the advice in this UK Report, the idea that teaching practices might bear some relation to classroom behaviour has “had its day“.  As much as he might like that to be the case, the truth is that disruptive school behaviour is complex and multi-faceted, and it occurs within an ecological context of which teachers are an integral part.

It is both irresponsible and unscientific to ignore factors that shape that ecology, such as curriculum and pedagogy, just because some people would prefer us not to go there. Whilst it is only one study (of many), Jenkins and Ueno’s research suggests that classroom level factors may matter more than the school level factors on which England’s new behaviour report focuses most.

It would be a pity if their work is dismissed because it doesn’t fit the preferred narrative or because they aren’t teachers…

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On Literature (with a capital ‘L’)

What makes literature great? According to Katie Ashford, Deputy Head and Director of Inclusion at *that school* in England, it’s got something to do with “aspects of the human condition that transcend time, place and personal interest”.

That, dear reader, is what is known as “motherhood statement” because it doesn’t really tell us very much. We have to deduce its meaning from clues elsewhere in the article. To me, the most telling clues are the statements indicating what is NOT great literature.

The Hunger Games, a three-part series written by Suzanne Collins, is offered as an example of teenage “pap”, which I find fascinating given that my daughter wrote about it in her final year of school.

In a speech responding to the prompt “Is Young Adult Fiction just for kids?”, she compared The Hunger Games and Orwell’s 1984 (an author who apparently does meet with Ashford’s approval). I think her points are highly relevant here:

Is Young Adult Fiction “just for kids”? *

Young Adult Fiction doesn’t have a great reputation. It isn’t considered high class literature; literature with a capital ‘L’. Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, Macbeth: these are all considered great works of literature and each are named in the literary canon. The canon is a body of literature that is considered to be of superior or artistic merit; the type of literature that engages with deep ideas about what it means to be human. This is what gives great literature its ‘timeless’ appeal. For example, the jealousy and ambition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is still relevant today. That’s clear from the TV series, House of Cards. Frank and Claire Underwood could have been modelled on Lord and Lady Macbeth! But, literature that entertains is often called “popular” literature, as if there is something wrong with being entertaining.
Young Adult Fiction is dismissed in much the same way. Some people make the mistake of assuming that kids’ books aren’t capable of dealing with deep ideas. For that reason, Young Adult Fiction is perceived as a waste of time. Something that is “just for kids”. YAF typically focuses on a young lead character and explores themes that are important to adolescents. Things like relationships, jealousy, love, power, betrayal, class, and loss. As a reader of well-known Young Adult Fiction novels such as Red Queen, Outlander, Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games, I am here to persuade you that YA fiction is not “just for kids”. What most people don’t understand is that some YA novels deal with the same timeless themes as the great works of literature. I will demonstrate this today by comparing George Orwell’s 1984 with The Hunger Games, a now famous example of Young Adult Fiction, written by Suzanne Collins.
1984 is a dystopian novel that was written in 1949, just after the second World War. It tells the story of Winston Smith who lives in a country called Oceania, which is in a state of perpetual war and ruled by a ruthless political party: IngSoc. The head of this party is the infamous ‘Big Brother’ who is never actually seen in person but who is on posters and statues everywhere. We’ve all heard of the TV show ‘Big Brother’ and it may surprise you to know that the concept came from this novel.
1984 was futuristic in that it tried to predict what life would be like in 35 year’s time. On the wall of virtually every room is a ‘telescreen’; a big flat-screen that can never be switched off. It is a two-way telescreen and has two functions: it can broadcast propaganda, like the outcome of trials and the number of people killed in the war, and it can also watch what everyone is doing. No one knows when they are being watched or by who. This means that people begin to police their own behaviour, as well as distrust one another. The central point is that people in fear of each other are people who are easily controlled.
There is a clear parallel here between 1984 and ‘The Hunger Games’. Also set in a dystopian future, the totalitarian nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts and the Capitol. Each year two “tributes” – one boy, one girl – are picked at random from each district to participate in the “Hunger Games”. The televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem. There is only one survivor from the 24 tributes and the districts are pitted against each other. As in ‘1984’, the footage of the games is played back to the people. This is in the form of reality TV to supposedly “entertain” but it actually increases the distrust between the districts. If the Districts fear each other, they’re hardly likely to rise up against the Capitol. Does this sound familiar?? Like I said earlier in relation to 1984, people in fear of each other are people who are easily controlled.
Every morning and afternoon on the train, I see grown adults reading Young Adult Fiction. It may not be for everyone but, as I have just demonstrated, some YA books deal with the same timeless concepts as classic adult literature. Concepts like freedom, power, and manipulation. The difference is that YA fiction engages with these concepts in ways that are more engaging and relevant to young people. It doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as juvenile, simply because it is entertaining.

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Anyway, if my daughter’s right and The Hunger Games, and other YAF novels like it, touch on “aspects of the human condition” like freedom, power, manipulation, love, fear, jealousy and more, what makes the works of someone like Orwell or (god forbid), Chaucer, superior?

To borrow Ashford’s metaphor, why should we force our children to chew through these literary greens?

What makes these books preferred reading material for adolescents in the first few years of high school (as Ms Ashford’s students are)?

In other words, are Chaucer etc appropriate for 12-14 year olds?  Does it matter?

I think it does.

I was a voracious reader as a young person. My mother used to buy me stacks of books from the second-hand bookstore, but she could never buy enough to keep pace with me. So, when I had nothing to read, I would raid my Dad’s bookcase.

By the age of 10, I was reading Jane Austen, Wilbur Smith, Harold Robbins (!), George Orwell, James Joyce, Jeffrey Archer, Maeve Binchy, Daphne Du Maurier, Robert Ludlum, and more.

I didn’t really understand much of what I was reading, although the experience vastly expanded my vocabulary. A common childhood memory is my older sister sniping, “Don’t use words you don’t understand”. To which I’d smugly reply, “No, I think I’m using words you don’t understand”.

The concepts though, were well beyond my comprehension and it wasn’t until I was much older that I appreciated the subtext. Yes, we could have “discussed” the meaning over broccoli (bleuh), but for the most part Dad’s books didn’t interest me. In fact, some (Ulysses, WTAF??) just confirmed what I had long suspected: adults are weird.

I have two teenagers of my own now and all reports suggest that opinion of adults hasn’t changed. So what then is the purpose in making young people read books that were never actually written for them?

Let me phrase that another way to make an associated point: could there be value in the books that ARE written for them?

I think there is. And some of the books that my children’s teachers have selected have been outstanding. Not only are they age appropriate but they deal with complex concepts. You know, the kind supposedly only covered by “great (adult) literature”?

The ones that have stuck in my mind over recent years are:

Nanberry: Black Brother White

Pavana

Chinese Cinderella: The true story of an unwanted daughter

Once

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

In a diverse and complex world, these are the types of books I want my children to read and I’m grateful to my kids’ teachers for selecting them. There’s plenty of time for dead white guys, should they ever choose to read them. In the meantime, they get to learn about each other and the heritage of their friends.

They learn that everyone – no matter where they’re from, what they look like or what culture/religion they embrace – feels pain, sadness, joy and love.

They learn that people can do unspeakable things when one group feels superior to another.

They also learn that they – as white, middle class children of professional parents living in Australia – have freedoms and privileges of which some children can only dream.

And if I (or my son’s teachers) have to use The Day my Bum went Psycho covered in macaroni cheese as a gate-way drug to get my rugby-loving, school-hating son to read in order to learn these truths, that’s what we’ll do.

Because there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that he’d read Chaucer, let alone develop a life-long love of reading from the experience.

And that’s not the result of low expectations, people.  That’s reality.

Try it sometime.

 

 

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* Shared with my daughter’s permission and, yes, she had my help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Inclusion

Tom Bennett, secondary school teacher of philosophy and religion, English EduTwitter doyen, director of ResearchED, writer for the Times Education Supplement and the UK government’s “Behaviour Tsar” (who will be in Melbourne for ResearchED this coming weekend), said in the TES yesterday that “exclusion shouldn’t be a dirty word“. Apparently Tom is an advocate for exclusions as part of an effective school behaviour policy and has been for some time. I can’t say all that needs to be said on this subject in just one post, so I shall have to leave exclusion for another time. For now, I’d like to concentrate on inclusion.

Inclusion At All Costs?

In his TES article, Tom criticises something he calls “Inclusion At All Costs” (IAAC). This is not something with which I am familiar, perhaps because it is not a real policy and no one has ever advocated for it. From what I can gather from his article and a similar piece in The Conversation, “inclusion at all costs” is a phrase that one of The Guardian’s Secret Teachers used to describe the cost that the inclusion of a student with disability has for others; e.g., classroom teachers and the other 29 students in their class.

I can understand where Tom is coming from and have no doubt his frustration resonates with a great many teachers. But, there are a number of problems with his article, as well as the Secret Teacher piece, that I feel duty bound to point out. These problems revolve around the uncritical use of words like “mainstream”, the way that inclusion is being conceptualised, and the conflation of equity and equality.

These are common issues in the field of inclusive education; ones that we discuss with teachers completing LCN629: Inclusive Education, Theory, Policy & Practice as part of their Masters degree here at QUT. I first wrote about this back in 2008 with Roger Slee but it seems the situation has only gotten worse since then. So, perhaps it is time to make the point again (in plainer language)… 😉

Language matters.

Critiques of inclusion are revealing. Not only do they indicate how poorly governments have enacted inclusive education but they also give us an inkling as to why – after 20+ years – we’re (still) not there yet.

Let me turn to the Secret Teacher piece to illustrate what I mean.

Inclusion in principle is the right sentiment but, at best, it can come at a high price and, at worst, it can be a complete injustice. Children are individuals so the solution needs to be individual. There are plenty of examples of children with SEN who are successfully integrated in mainstream schools to the benefit of themselves and their peers. But if we want children with SEN to have the same opportunities to succeed as others, we should not feel guilty about admitting they may need a different environment in which to do this. Furthermore, our responsibility is to all children equally, not just those with SEN.

My first issue with this paragraph is the faulty conceptualisation of inclusive education. Whilst some might dismiss the conceptual slippage in this piece as pure semantics, that would simply reinforce the error.

This is because there is a difference between integration and inclusion. Anyone with knowledge in the area knows that the inclusion movement came about because a former movement, called integration, had failed. One of the reasons that integration failed is because students with disability were being placed into an unreconstructed “mainstream” with little support and next to no training for classroom teachers (sound familiar?) Another term that was used to describe this practice is “main-dumping”. Not hard to understand why it failed.

Inclusive education — as Len Barton, Roger Slee, Mel Ainscow, Suzanne Carrington, myself and many others have argued — requires the reconceptualisation of schooling. The problem is that this reconceptualisation hasn’t happened. Along the way, governments have given lip service to the ideals of inclusive education and have recognised the potential benefits for students both with and without disability, but most haven’t genuinely embraced the philosophy.

Why?

Well, this is going to sound cynical but I suspect the cost of reconceptualisation lost out to the savings that could be achieved by adopting the language of inclusion but leaving structures in place that meant only something resembling a rebadged form of integration was possible. This is why I said yes when Jarlath O’Brien asked me the other night if I thought New South Wales deserved an ‘F’ for inclusion. Instead of “Inclusion At All Costs” we should be talking about “Inclusion At Low Cost”.

When I said that inclusion requires us to reconceptualise schooling, I didn’t just mean building schools with ramps or retrofitting existing schools (again with the ramps). And I also wasn’t referring to more Integration Funding Support (small bundles of money to support individual students).

I meant thinking about students with disability and learning difficulties from the get-go.

Keeping them in mind when writing curriculum, designing assessments, providing teachers with release from face-to-face teaching to plan their lessons, as well as providing quality professional development (not just policy compliance infomercial sessions), and honestly assessing how much resourcing schools actually need to redevelop their practice, rather than providing only what Treasury will allow them to have.

It means governments recognising the perverse incentives inherent in their own policy concoctions, changing them and making sure that these never see the light of day again. For an example of what I mean, just consider what comparing students’ NAPLAN performance on the My School website does for the marketability of students with disability and/or the academic reputation of the inclusive schools that embrace them. Consider too the effect of a crowded curriculum within a high stakes testing culture on the ability of teachers to actually be inclusive.

Truth is, there has been a reconceptualisation of schooling in the last 20+ years but it has taken a completely different form than that argued by the proponents of inclusion. The relentless intensification of teachers’ work resulting from standardised assessment accountability frameworks and the pressure to achieve ever higher standards in contexts affected by increasing social inequality has contributed to an environment that is hostile to inclusion. Why aren’t critics of inclusion critiquing that??

Shifting the deckchairs

My second issue with the above paragraph from Secret Teacher is the uncritical reference to “mainstream schools”. It raises many questions for me, like:

  • What exactly is a mainstream school?
  • What do we mean when we say that?
  • Does the use of the term “mainstream” risk reinforcing the notion that there is a one-size-fits-all?
  • Might this be why we need “somewhere” (as Tom put it) else for all the students for whom that one-size doesn’t work?
  • What would need to change for us to instead use the term “inclusive schools”?
  • Local schools would actually have to be inclusive, right?
  • Could/should they be run as your local school is now?

If mainstream means “business as usual with teacher aides for students with disability”, as I suspect it does judging from what I have seen in my last 12 years of research in this area, then criticism should be directed at the right culprit (re-badged integration and an unreconstructed mainstream) and not inclusion, which argues for something else entirely. This too is something we have discussed in LCN629.

Equality, inequality and equity

My final issue with the Secret Teacher paragraph above – and Tom’s TES piece which covers similar territory – is the appeal to equality.  Thinking in terms of equality means everyone gets the same and it is a problem because it can lead to discrimination.

In the words of Felix Frankfurter (and no, he wasn’t the lead character in the Rocky Horror Picture Show), there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.

In previous writing, I’ve drawn on political philosophy and the metaphor of cutting a cake to explain the difference between equality and equity. Rather than giving everyone the same, equity means giving each what they need. Appeals to equality for all students – disabled and nondisabled alike – is either the result of ignorance or it’s an attempt to justify giving disabled students less.

Again, this is something that we’ve covered in LCN629 and the number of students who have used the graphic below to illustrate the difference between equality and equity suggests that they totally get it.

It’s about time everyone else with something to say about inclusion did too.

equality-equity cartoon

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Hypocrisy & double-standards…

The Twitter Edublog-O’sphere is a fabulous playground for scholars interested in the politics of language. Perhaps that is why I follow so many English, history and humanities teachers on social media. People like @debsnet, @DrNomyn, @DrSRiddle and @GFThommo…

Oops, sorry!!  #mybad

Alice-facepalm

According to the rules (being rewritten daily), my colleagues Stewart Riddle and Greg Thompson* are no longer teachers. Although they were both secondary school teachers for a decade or more, now that they’ve joined “The Academy”, they are now mere “educationalists” (like me).

As I understand it, this is something akin to being a potato.

Stew Riddle was so inspired by this clever caricature that he wrote a one-act play called “On being a ‘real’ teacher or perhaps a potato“.

Personally, I’d like to crowdfund a Stew-debut at the Brisbane Powerhouse. It could be like those Rocky Horror/Sound of Music re-enactments where the audience sings along? We could dine on a feast of creatively cooked potatoes and throw the dodgy ones at the non-teacher actors.  Right now, frankly, it feels like we’re chucking them at each other…

Just another day at the Potato Olympics

Surely an Olympic standard potato-throw was this week’s charge that I am a “non-teacher” “educationalist” who doesn’t like teachers.

Non-teacher tweets

An excellent throw!  I score it a 10.00   🙂

In all seriousness, I’m grateful to @greg_ashman (a real teacher at a real school in Victoria, Australia, which is also a real place in the real world) for pointing out my non-teacher status because it gives me an opportunity to point to the double-standards that I see being mobilised in the discourse around education, particularly when it comes to research.

Should ‘non-teachers’ be banned from education debate?

Teachers are absolutely central to education and no one would ever deny that. But teachers are not the only stakeholders and theirs, therefore, is not the only perspective that counts. Students are the largest stakeholder group, even just in terms of sheer numbers, though sadly their influence is disproportionately weak.

Despite the relative lack of consultation about all things educational, students’ views matter. For the most part, it is their lives we’re dissecting. Their learning, their struggles, their achievements, their emotions, their experiences, their worries, their future. Their “excuses” that we’re not having a bar of

I think most teachers would agree that students matter. After all, many of the teachers I know (and like very much, thank you) went into teaching because they want to make a difference to young people and, through those young people, make a difference to society itself. This centrality of students to all things education is why people like me*, Pat Thomson*, John Smyth*, and many others research student experience and value student voice.

Whilst not central in the same way as teachers and students, parents are also important stakeholders. Their values, perspectives and decisions matter too. They are the ones who choose the school that their child attends, they make the decisions upon which the logic of school markets depend, they are the ones who secure tutors. That’s why education researchers like Helen Proctor*, Karen Dooley* and Cathie Doherty* involve parents in their research.

Parents also know their children best, as most parents of a child with disability will tell you. They have that child’s medical and educational history etched into their memory and their child’s future is constantly in mind. That’s why education researchers like me*, Kathy Cologon*, Katherine Runswick-Cole* and others include parents in their research.

But, if we are to take these new parameters of educational discourse as directed, research by someone like me – indeed, all of the researchers that I’ve mentioned – is somehow irrelevant because we are not (or are no longer) school teachers. Further, it seems that any educational research that does not focus on “what works” within the four walls of a classroom (even if it wasn’t tested there) is also irrelevant.

It’s a very insular view and whilst I know it isn’t shared by the majority of teachers or even researchers, I think it needs to be called out anyway. It is also strikingly inconsistent with the bulk of the research that is being drawn upon to validate claims by these self-proclaimed revolutionaries. Research from the field of cognitive science, for example.

Getting (hypo)critical about non-teaching Members of the Academy

Now I, as a non-teacher Member of The Academy (hereafter n-tMoTA), have absolutely no problem with research from cognitive science. I respect what they do and, in my experience, the feeling is mutual. Some of my closest friends and colleagues are experimental cognitive scientists, psychologists and speech pathologists 😉 and we’ve learned a lot from each other in the years that we’ve been working together.

We also have a LOT of fun because we think so differently and there are genuinely funny moments when we each try to explain what we mean or what we want to do. It isn’t easy and respect for each other’s knowledge and expertise is essential to avoid a relationship-destroying paradigm war.

But – in public discourse about education, not within The Academy itself – it seems we have now arrived at a point in time where an op-ed piece by one n-tMoTA is considered valid evidence but the peer-reviewed research of another is not, simply because the latter’s area of expertise is education.

Yep. That’s right.

The views of non-teaching Members of the Academy who have not completed up to 9 years of study in the field of education, many of whom do not conduct school-based research, are those privileged in this brave new revolutionary world.

Meanwhile, the views of the ones who have completed up to 9 years study in education and who do school-based research (often with teachers) are dismissed with the derisive name of “non-teacher”.

Hypocrisy much?

No doubt my protagonist’s response will likely be that n-tMoTA’s in education (e.g., “educationalists” like me) do crap research, but that is a massive generalisation.

Even if there are some quality issues in education – and I agree that there are some – that is no justification to junk an entire field, along with the depth of knowledge and breadth of expertise within it.

Rather, I think there’s another strategy at play. One that aims to drive a wedge between education researchers and the teaching profession.

As a sociologist of education, this raises a number of questions for me, like:

  • Why?
  • Who benefits from these new arrangements?
  • And what will happen when ex-teachers (potato educationalists like Stewart Riddle, Pat Thomson, John Smyth, Helen Proctor, Karen Dooley, Cathie Doherty and Greg Thompson and maybe, one day, even you) are excluded from research in education?
  • What types of questions will not longer be asked??
  • Whose voices will be heard then?

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* Each one of these researchers has been successful in securing external research funding from the Australian Research Council or the UK’s ESRC, including prestigious fellowships that are extremely competitive. Quite frankly, crap research doesn’t get a look in. External grant success is just one indicator of research quality… Research metrics is another but I shall write on that another day.

What “no excuses” & “zero tolerance” really means…

I’ve been watching the debate over the not-so-new “get tough” approach to student behaviour in England with a mixture of frustration, boredom, fatigue and just-can’t-help-myself fascination.

The truth is that this isn’t a new debate and these ideas have had their day in previous eras, with occasional bursts in from the cold in various jurisdictions.

Republican states in the US have been the most ardent supporters of zero tolerance approaches to school discipline, prompting extensive research that has provided evidence to show just how dangerous these approaches are. Just do a brief Google Scholar search on zero tolerance, disproportionality, early school leaving, and the school-to-prison-pipeline. You’ll see what I mean…

“No excuses discipline” is ineffective, in addition to being dangerous. Despite being dressed up as a new kind of social justice – one that promises to rescue the hapless chav from their bleak working class existence – the reality is that such an approach will not work with every young person. In fact, it is particularly unsuccessful with a certain type of student.

Sure, there are a lot of kids who will reward these approaches with compliance. They’ll keep quiet in the corridors, they’ll wear the correct uniform, they won’t talk in class, they’ll arrive prepared, and they might even do their homework!

But, and it’s a BIG but, this will not necessarily make them learn.

Ultimately, this is the one trump card that a kid has and it is extremely unwise for adults to forget that. In fact, if I had to point to one common characteristic among the young people I’ve worked with, in what we here in Australia call “behaviour schools” (somewhat like PRUs), it’s that these kids have worked out that there is NOTHING that anyone can do to make them learn.

Just in case some folks don’t get this, let me spell it out.

Eventually, after several years of school experience, some kids master task avoidance. They may do this overtly:

  • by disrupting others, deliberately derailing the lesson, not completing work and so on

…or they may do it covertly:

  • by going through the motions, by junking the information they’ve just heard and not attempting to encode it in their memory, by putting in minimal effort, by doing the littlest amount possible just for it to be seen to be done and to get the adults off their back.

Oh, and this isn’t a uniquely working class thing either. There are plenty of kids underachieving in our schools and I’m happy to speculate that a goodly number of them are of the second type.

When confronted with this reality many adults try to rationalise, saying that “Well, that’s not very sensible… pretty self-defeating… why would a kid do that?”

My answer to that is because sometimes to refuse to learn is the only power they feel they have. Plus, it has the added bonus of payback. A teacher’s job is to get students to learn. Refusing to learn is the ultimate rejection of teacher authority. Maybe that’s why it stings so much…

Rather than recognise any of this and thinking of ways to work with the kids who’ve actually figured this out, we have a simplistic debate about “no excuses discipline”. Ironically, this is the best way to create and/or exacerbate the problem I’ve just described.

What disturbs me about this latest debate is the “my way or the highway” discourse which is code for “if they don’t do what they’re told we have licence to abdicate from our responsibility as educators”. PHEW!!

In other words, we can abandon with impunity now because the student has exercised choice. They’ve chosen not to comply, they’ve chosen not to learn, so they can also choose to leave if they don’t like it. We can give up and live a peaceful existence teaching only the kids who want to be taught. DOUBLE PHEW!!

i see what you did ther

That’s what I read between the lines of the recent “no excuses discipline” debate and it’s wrong. It’s weakness, dressed up as strength. It’s capitulation rearticulated in solid sounding words that seek to make it acceptable to consign some young people to the scrap heap because, well, we’re right, they’re wrong and we always know best. And, besides, they chose this. They could have done what they were told to do!

Jarlath O’Brien referred to this as professional vanity and, I think rightly, pointed to the fear and professional insecurity feeding the “get tough or get out” mindset:

To completely refuse to look beneath the veneer suggests to me professional insecurity and, in some cases, fear. You would have to be professionally secure enough to admit, like the best schools do, that they don’t know it all, that improvements, either academic or in terms of behaviour, take an investment of time, energy and love (yes, I said it) in the child. You have to be professionally secure enough to know that the changes need to come first from the adults and the school, starting from where the child is at, and then celebrate the improvements and achievements that will surely follow.

Jarlath’s post was the catalyst for me to pen what I’ve been thinking, as it is similar but perhaps a little more pointed.

To my mind, the other thing that this “no excuses” discourse masks is the complete and utter refusal to consider that just *maybe* the kid has a point.

In other words, with a “no excuses”, “zero tolerance”, “like it or lump it” approach, systems, schools and teachers – who are that way inclined – can excuse themselves.

Teach badly?  No matter.

Curriculum is mind-numbingly boring and irrelevant?  So what.

Treat young people like they are indentured servants with no opportunity to exercise or extend their developing identity?  S’ok.

It’s okay because our uncompromising standards mean that those young people will have to leave and when they do they will become someone else’s problem. Then we can get on with teaching the kids who like or who can at least endure mind-numbing irrelevant curriculum taught poorly by autocratic teachers who know best.

That’s what I see lurking behind the latest strain of this particular discourse and it ain’t pretty.

It reminds me of something I wrote a long, long time ago. Such a shame that we’re back here again…

It is a discursive tactic that firmly positions the incorrigible child as the site of the educational problem, demarcating between children who “choose” to conform to prevailing norms and those who supposedly choose otherwise. This suggests not only equality of choice but that the “approved” choices are relevant and desirous to all. Ironically, it could be argued that the child who “chooses” otherwise is demonstrating more autonomy than the child who chooses the choice already made for him/her. Such is the chimera of “choice”. (Graham, 2007, p. 209)

Relationships…

I’m writing this blog whilst preparing for a 50 minute undergraduate lecture on relationships in primary and secondary school education. Let me repeat that… a 50 minute lecture on relationships in primary and secondary school education. Not much time, hey?

I began the slides with a plan that my lecture would have 3 Acts:

  • Act I: Teacher-Student Relationships
  • Act II: Teacher-Parent Relationships
  • Act III: Teacher-Teacher Relationships

All three are important. And they affect each other. Teacher-student relationships won out though, because when I got to 43 slides and was nowhere near finished, well… something’s gotta go, right?

I suppose I *could* have spent 15 minutes (about 5 slides) on each. In the end, however, my decision to cover only one of these three topics in the lecture was based on the belief that covering something as important as teacher-student relationships inadequately is just as bad as not covering it at all.

So what to do?

Well, this morning I will give my lecture on teacher-student relationships*, but I will cover the other two topics via this blog. In this current post, I shall have a say about teacher-parent relationships and, within the next week, I’ll say something about teacher-teacher relationships. Hopefully with the input of some of my teacher friends… 😉

Teacher-parent relationships

I’ve already made some of my thoughts known on teacher-parent relationships and the impact that staff room chatter can have. I wrote that post in despair after reading yet another click-bait article on “bad parents” at the beginning of this school year and my aim was to implore teachers to dismiss the “us vs them” thinking that such articles promote.

However, neither my post nor the article I was responding to provide any advice on how to approach parents to discuss their child but it’s a critically important skill. Here are my thoughts on it – both as a parent with 13 years of school education and 4 years of ECE experience under my belt and as a researcher who has conducted research with parents of children with disability and severely disruptive behaviour.

Approach is a biggie.

Parents love their kids and the vast majority are doing the very best they can. It is true that parents are not perfect, but I’ve never met anyone who is. We all have our own beliefs about parenting and what the best approaches are. I often have to tell myself that when I see my kids’ friends Facebook/Instagram feeds and catch myself thinking, “Where on earth are their parents??”

It’s very easy to feel superior at times, but I’m sure there are things that those parents are better at than I am. Put it this way, we don’t have a swear jar in our house… I’d be broke if we did. And I’ve made my share of mistakes, if dropping my kid off to school on a pupil free day is any indication. But, if I had to sum up one thing I’ve learnt in my 17 chequered years of parenting, it would be that what works with one of my kids doesn’t necessarily work with the other.

Let me explain…

Pretty much every time I leave town I receive a phone call from my son’s school. I’d like to think that’s because I’m a stabilising influence but in reality it’s probably just timing. For example, a few months ago when I was in Sydney, I received a call from my son’s Design Tech teacher and it was a great call. I mean that!

The subject matter was serious (like, if my son didn’t get organised and write/submit his written assessment he’d fail the subject), but his DT teacher was so down to earth and friendly that we had a bit of a laugh and agreed that together we’d do our best to sort it out.

Early in the call, it became apparent that my son’s DT teacher is also my daughter’s Graphics teacher. It was a great ice-breaker because my two kids are like chalk and cheese. Perhaps if all of my son’s teachers had my daughter before him they’d begin our phone conversations a little differently…

The point I’m making here is that parents can be a teacher’s strongest ally – or not – depending on how they are brought into the conversation and how that conversation positions them. A call or an email that is imbued with subtle blame is just about the most unproductive thing anyone can do. And that is the same whether the blame is directed towards the child or the parent (or the teacher, take note, parents!)

Constructive teacher-parent communication is positive, solution-oriented and respectful – on both sides. It should be informed by the recognition that parents may be fearful for their child and any communication should avoid raising their protective instincts.

Similarly, teachers should take great care to not come across as though they are talking down to parents. I’ve had many occasions to think about this over the years because I suspect that the difficulty some schools have engaging parent communities in disadvantaged areas may be partly affected by this issue.

That said, there are so many teachers and principals who do an outstanding job in this regard and I’m fortunate to have interviewed many who have worked hard to develop inclusive school communities.

But, my research with parents suggests that this is not as widespread or uniform as it should be. In 2012, I spoke with parents of boys from my behaviour school project and was struck by how desperate they were to get help for their child, but also how frustrated they were by the difficulties they experienced in successfully advocating for that child. In their view, this was because they were perceived as the problem and rarely as part of the solution.

Each spoke of only being contacted when there was a problem and of never receiving any positive feedback, until their child began attending the behaviour school. At the National Summit on Student Engagement, Learning and Behaviour last year, presenters talked about making a deliberate effort to catch kids being good and to make positive reports back to those kids’ parents. Morayfield State School in Queensland was one of those schools and their presentation is well worth watching.

wad of pound notes

I have had SO many phone calls from my kids’ schools and I’m glad to say that the ones that stick most in my mind are the positive. The subject of the call wasn’t positive, rather it was the manner in which the contact was made.

It’s not everyday (thank goodness!) that you receive a phone call to politely inquire whether you’re missing any money because your 8 year old daughter has just tried to purchase carob drops at the school canteen with a wad of notes totalling £85.00!!

Or when you receive an email from your son’s Year 4 teacher with a screenshot of his self-chosen Mathletics account name “F**kanator”(you can fill in the blanks) under the subject heading “Your son’s behaviour today ;)”.

Or when you receive an email from your son with the subject heading “I’ve been very bad today and I’m going straight to bed when I get home”, learning only when you reply, “What did you do?” that your son accepted a dare to do a nudie run around the school and then ran full-tilt into the Principal.

These are some of my most cherished memories of my kids being at school over the last 13 years, and much of that is because they involved moments of genuine warmth and affection between me and my kids’ principals and teachers.

On those days I truly felt like we were part of a team, that my husband and I weren’t in this alone, and that these intelligent, thoughtful, warm and caring adults cared about our children, could see past that particular brain explosion to who our children are, as well as who they could be — albeit, with a little (or in some cases, a lot) of guidance from their parents and teachers.

In fact, the best part about these spectacular brain explosions is that they explained so much about other less amusing actions. They provided opportunities for dialogue, for conversations about the future, and what we could all do to make sure that future was as good as it could possibly be.

The school’s response to each of these events could have been stern and reactive. It could have been punitive (there have been a few of those, trust me), it could have been tinged with parent-blame, but it wasn’t.

Instead the response was supportive, my husband and I weren’t treated as progenitors of the devil’s spawn, and it meant that the next time there was a brain explosion, neither party picked up the phone with gritted teeth or bated breath.

I’m grateful to each and every one of those teachers and principals because they’ve enriched mine and my kids’ lives. And I know that they’ll never forget my kids. 😉

Speaking of which, I just received two texts while I’ve been writing this: one about an after-school detention, and the other about a missed after-school detention.

Sigh… better go!

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* BTW, I prefer to say T-S rather than S-T relationships because adults have more power to set the tone of a relationship than kids do — and that incidentally is what my most recent research with Penny Van Bergen and Naomi Sweller suggests kids may think too.

 

Acknowledging the little things…

I’m writing this blog post on a flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles because I was so moved whilst analysing statements made by the participants in our behaviour school study that I just had to share them with my teacher colleagues.

You see, my research doesn’t often have positive things to say about schooling because I work with very disaffected and disengaged young people; kids who really haven’t had positive school experiences.

These kids typically have quite conflictual relationships with their teachers and for most (in our research at least) this started in the early years: K-2. In another project tracking children from prep, which was recently funded by the Australian Research Council, we’re getting some idea of how this happens and I have to say it isn’t all one way traffic.

By that I mean that classroom conflict takes two. It is the product of interactions between particular children (involving their temperaments, abilities, beliefs, likes and dislikes) and particular teachers (and their temperaments, abilities, beliefs, likes and dislikes).

In our longitudinal prep study, for example, we’re finding that children’s ability to self-regulate has a large bearing on educational outcomes and that self-regulation is affected by many things, including age and gender. Unfortunately, this sets some kids up for conflict with their teachers, some of whom find it difficult to understand why some of the children in their class find it difficult to control their bodies and emotions, whilst other children seem not to have any problem at all.

In the next few years I’m sure that we’re going to be reporting a lot of data on what goes wrong in the interactions between kids and teachers but, for now, I’d like to take this opportunity to share something about when it goes right.

Students’ recall of positive teacher-student relationships

My colleagues, Penny Van Bergen, Naomi Sweller and I are currently writing a paper analysing students’ memories of their relationships with past teachers. The lovely thing about this paper is that when we asked students to tell us about the first teacher they remember having, the vast majority remembered that teacher for positive reasons.

This doesn’t mean that the first relationship that they had was positive, rather that the teacher that was front of mind when they were asked to remember a relationship is a teacher they connected with.

This was true for students in behaviour schools as well and it is these stories that I want to share with my teacher colleagues. Teaching is hard work and I know that the hardest part of all can be working with challenging young people who often seem as if they do not see or care about the effort that their teachers are making.

The reason that I was incredibly moved today is because the recollections of the challenging little people in our behaviour school study show that they do see and that they do care, even if they may not acknowledge it to the teacher who made the difference at that particular point in time. This is why I’m sharing this data via a blog.

Yes, we’ll publish the paper and it will be evidence-based and it will feature rigorous statistical analysis backed up by the research literature, but I believe that researchers in education are in a position to provide feedback to the teaching profession that may meet other needs too: emotional needs, the need for affirmation, or just some acknowledgement that the efforts you’re making are being noticed. By someone and not least your students.

Data on these teaching contributions might not feature on My School but, well, somehow I don’t think that’s why you’re doing it… 😉

Anyway, the recollections that I’m reading as I analyse our data on the 5+ hours flight from Philly, show that kids notice the *little* things: a teacher who “always smiles at kids”, a teacher who “had time for me”, teachers who would smile when she/he spoke to them, who would say “hello” and talk to that child regardless of how they’d behaved, whether they were ever in that teacher’s class, or whether they’d had that teacher years before.

Because she had time for me… When a bunch of year sixes were picking on me and I went to her and she told me to come in and I told her what was going on and then she told someone, someone told the principal and…

(Rory, age 13, behaviour school)

These actions are the little everyday things that we all know teachers do but which teachers may not always be able to tell are registering with the little people those kindnesses are directed towards. Well, let me tell you, given that almost 90% of our students’ responses focused on positive teacher actions such as those I describe above, I’d say that those little everyday actions are registering. Remember that the next time your nemesis gives you a rough time…

Positive relationship with teacher meme

 

But, the big actions are also remembered

This is what made me cry. We hear all the time about teachers paying for children’s lunches and school supplies out of their own pocket, but I think maybe the general public either doesn’t believe it or they’re so used to hearing it that it’s kind of expected and so it goes unnoticed. Or maybe they think teachers just say this and that it’s not really true… Who knows.

Well, this comment by one of the boys in our research near broke my heart. In describing the first teacher he remembered, this boy (let’s call him Harley) talked about Miss H. Whilst his is one of the most poignant recollections, it should be noted that almost two thirds of student responses were in the same category: positive memories of the teacher because of something that the teacher did for the student. The other category, into which the remaining third of responses fell, was: positive memories of the teacher because the teacher was generally “nice” (e.g., nice to everyone).

In this case, Harley – whom I remember very clearly and who was enrolled in a behaviour school when he was interviewed – described the first teacher he remembered having as someone “who helped me with my anger”. But it was his response to the question “do you think she liked you?” that moved me to tears.

Yeah. She always used… um, like, every time I’d go there without food because my mum couldn’t afford it, she had to pay rent, because they do her money, like, different every week. She doesn’t get paid the same every two weeks, or something. One day she only got paid a hundred bucks, and she owed four hundred on the rent, and she couldn’t pay it – she paid a hundred dollars off the rent, left us with no food and no money, nothing. Just meat – she had meat and that in the fridge, but she can’t just give me raw meat or nothing, so Miss H always used to buy me lunch, let me go on excursions, because at [school name blinded] I’d never been – I was never allowed to go on an excursion because of my ADHD….and…yeah.

(Harley, age 13, behaviour school)

This made me cry because I know this boy lived with serious domestic violence and that he often watched his mother get beaten up by his step-dad. I also know that he, his mum and sister had been evicted many times because his mum couldn’t pay the rent in their housing commission home, and he’d had to move schools every time.

I know that the principal of the behaviour school had to call the police and women’s refuges to take the three of them in because Harley’s mum had come to the school with a depressed skull fracture, two kids, no money and nowhere to go. Like a number of our behaviour school boys, Harley had deep reservoirs of anger that manifested in a “don’t care/fuck you” attitude. This attitude was directed most vehemently to anyone who tried to lay down the law to him… Not hard to understand why once the context is known, hey?

Whilst this 13 year old was no angel and the actions of one kind and caring primary school teacher wasn’t enough to protect him from the overwhelming odds characterising his life, it was an action he still remembered many years later. It’s an action that – if repeated enough times and by enough of his teachers – could possibly have made a difference. It may still. I live in hope that he escapes the future I fear for him.

The difficult thing for teachers is that they seldom see the end product of their work. So much of the focus is about achieving academic benchmarks and handing on children who are sufficiently on the way to those benchmarks to the teachers of the next grade.

That’s absolutely important work. But helping the Harley’s of this world to cope with (justifiable) anger, to overcome the dreadful hands they’ve been dealt, to show them kindness, tolerance, understanding and love — well, that’s just as important. Without it, the other benchmarks might just become irrelevant.

So to all of you who’ve had a Harley in your class, who’ve lived the acts of kindness that these kids are talking about here, I acknowledge you. Keep doing it. Please.

It is noticed and it does matter. Support each other, build reservoirs of kindness in tough schools. Even if you’re rebuffed by the kids or the parents, keep going. These kids tend not to show it but even our toughest boys remembered a teacher who cared about them. And, you never know, that teacher could have been you.

 

Opting out of NAPLAN

I read Robert Randall’s defence of NAPLAN tonight with interest, but was annoyed by the moralising tone and the assumption that parents need NAPLAN to know whether their child is performing academically.

My children attend a government high school that sends very comprehensive reports home at the end of every term. Their results for each subject are depicted in graphs that show how many children in their year scored in each grade level and where they sit relative to their peers.

It is very clear to me which subjects my children are doing well in, as well as the subjects in which they need to work harder. But that’s not why my son won’t be doing NAPLAN this year.

naplan image

I have to admit I’ve never been a huge fan.

My dis/engagement began six years ago when my son was in Year 3 and had to learn the narrative structure: orientation, complication, resolution, CODA. I remember it clearly but he doesn’t. To me, that’s the first clue that we might be on the wrong track educationally.

His next brush with NAPLAN was relatively uneventful. My only real memory is that I was asked to sign a permission form allowing the school to place him in a separate room for the duration of the three tests. This, I was assured, was not to improve his performance, rather so he didn’t disrupt the performance of others. Fair enough, I thought.

Year 7 was a different story.* On the second day of testing, he arrived home asking whether 21/50 was a good mark for reading in NAPLAN. Obviously it isn’t, but that wasn’t why I was stunned.

So, I began asking questions. What was he talking about for a start?  How did he know his mark?

He told me that his teacher had read their marks out in class and that he had said publicly that “21/50 … 42% isn’t good”. I knew immediately that something was up because my son didn’t know how to work out percentages.

So, I asked more questions. Lots of questions. Like how his teacher knew the marks?

“Oh, well, when we did our tests, he did his”.

More questions.

Turns out that there was a spare test and when the kids were at lunch, the teacher marked theirs using his own answers as a guide. He then read the marks aloud when they returned. ALOUD.

When my son’s was read out apparently there was much jeering. He asked the teacher later if he could please not read his marks aloud in class, but the response was that he should try harder if he was embarrassed by his results.

The teacher also told the kids that they couldn’t tell anyone (including the other Yr 7 students) because the marks “weren’t final”. This was to be their “class code”.

I had a sleepless night wondering what to do. I was tempted to pull him from the third day of testing (numeracy) and report the breach, but decided to give his teacher the benefit of the doubt.

The next morning I sent my son off and said that if it happened again he should write the mark and percentage down.

He was late home that afternoon and when he arrived at the front door, I knew immediately that something was wrong. He looked a total mess.

It transpired that the same thing had happened but the teacher had caught my son taking notes of what he, the teacher, was doing. In a bid to avoid another interrogation from me, my son decided he needed evidence. As a researcher, I was secretly impressed.

His teacher wasn’t. My then 12 year old son was kept in for lunch and asked repeatedly if I’d put him up to it. After lunch, the other students asked for their marks but the teacher said that “someone had broken the class code” and told about the marks, so now no one could have theirs. Of course, everyone knew who that “someone” was.

At the end of the school day, the teacher again kept my son in, determined to find out if I knew. He was released only after he admitted that he’d told me, but he swore the idea to record was his. The teacher threatened him that it is against the law to record anyone without their knowledge.

My son was petrified. And I was absolutely furious.

After consulting some principal friends, I contacted the school. The breach was investigated by the Department which, after some months, confirmed that yes, this was indeed a breach of NAPLAN. Life went on as normal and the teacher continued to read marks out in class.

Upon entering Year 9 this year, my son declared that he is not doing NAPLAN. He is adamant that it is a waste of time and I have to agree. I know him better than anyone and I know what he is capable of. I’m not sure he knows what he is capable of, but I know that he doesn’t read questions carefully and that he rushes.

I know that his academic results reflect his approach and his attitude. I know this because when I review his work and ask him how to spell the 15 incorrectly spelt words in the stream of consciousness that he has penned, he can spell them all. He just doesn’t bother writing them correctly in his rush to get his work over and done with.

The truth is that NAPLAN doesn’t serve kids like him well. And I feel for teachers and principals because all the “NAPLAN Turbo Day’s” in the world won’t help when the issue is a mix of poor self-regulation and don’t care factor.

So, whilst I don’t agree with schools asking parents to keep poorly performing kids at home, I’m not going to make my son do something that he is dead-set determined not to do. Who on earth is that going to help?

I also can’t support something that makes a nice guy do something completely hare-brained in an effort to get his class to try harder. Whilst I’m sure this is an isolated case and that NAPLAN runs without a hitch in thousands of classrooms around the country, in this case it didn’t and I’ll never forget the experience. Nor will my son it seems.

_________________

* In 2014, Year 7 was still in primary in most of Queensland .

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