Yeah, but what about the ‘less able’?

By now you all know I believe in words not pictures. You all know that my constant refrain will always be, ‘If a kid can’t read, showing him pictures is the last thing he needs! Teach the poor kid to read! That’s the very least he deserves!’

I think some people on Twitter have the impression that the stuff I teach is too hard, too heavy, too wordy for the ‘less able’. See, that’s where I think we’ve gone wrong in teaching. We’re too focussed on the instant, the fun factor, the ‘anything but effort’ paradigm.

You know from personal experience, be totally frank now, anything of value you’ve ever achieved in life, it came as a result of prolonged effort. That’s how life is. To teach kids that life is one endless cavalcade of mirth where it’s your boss’ job to entertain you and you can just jettison the effort – it’s disingenuous, massively harmful and just plain daft!

So I must be a cruel teacher, right? The kids sat in serried rows, bolt upright, eyes front, arms folded. Teacher as dictator! Well actually, yeah! A lot of that is true. I am the font of knowledge in my classroom. I tell kids what to do and how to do it. I don’t seek their opinions on how they learn best. I don’t ask for their feedback as to which activities they most ‘enjoy’.

A cruel, unrepentant child-hater? Not really. No. And I think you’d be hard pressed to find a single one of my pupils who’d describe me in those terms. Kids like my lessons. Kids like me. And I like them. And they know I like them. And everything I say and do in and around school screams that. If you knew me, which you probably don’t, you’d know I think the world of the kids I teach. You’d know I’m a big softie and there’s barely a day goes by I don’t get all misty-eyed at how fantastic our kids are. You’d know I tell my kids daily how immensely, immensely, immensely proud I am of them. Peu importe.

Yeah, they listen lots, they never interrupt, they read and write  in silence, they do weekly spelling tests, and yes, when they’re lazy, I don’t allow them excuses. But I’m no despot. I’m not cruel. We laugh together. We do that a lot.

So, what is ‘cruel’?  Letting kids day dream, doodle, drift and generally doss. That’s cruel. On the other hand, making kids work hard so, very soon, they see the connection between effort and accomplishment – that’s the very essence of kindness – well, it is in my book.

By the time I meet my kids they’ve been on the planet eleven years. They’ve had six years trundling their way through the education system. Very often they’ve been labelled as dyslexic, adhd or kinaesthetic. They’ve been told, ‘Never mind. You did your best.’, far too often. Their tantrums, laziness, apathy and excuses have been indulged. Teachers and parents have colluded. Adults have failed to protect many of these kids from their own indolence and sloth. That, in my book, is where the ‘cruelty’ really lies.

So, who exactly are the ‘less able’? Very often, though not exclusively, they’re the kids who’ve been allowed to drift. They’ve been allowed to give up when a task wasn’t an instant effort-free success. They’re the kids who’ve learnt half-hearted, inconsistent, half-throttle application is tolerated, condoned, even awarded its own ‘medical’ diagnosis in some cases.

Of course there are some very, very weak kids. But compounding that, many have been subjected to a constant diet of excuse culture, feel good fuzziness. Many of our ‘less able’ aren’t ‘less able’ at all. They’ve simply been held back by the low expectations of adults.

Yeah, whatever! But beyond the rarified little world of the tub-thumping twitterati, what do you do to ‘motivate’ the ‘clueless’ and the ‘couldn’t care less’?

I teach. I teach in a way that they remember stuff. I teach in a way that doesn’t allow self-indulgent excuses. I teach in a way that ensures there are no hiding places.

I teach kids to read with their worksheets flat, reading every single line with a ruler. They’re actually looking at the words on the sheet. That’s key. It’s also more rare than you might imagine.

I teach kids there’s no such thing as a ‘new’ word. French is easy! Only 26 letters! How hard can it be? And besides the French keep using the same letters all the time: au, ai, eu, ou, ille, re, im, in, re. Sœur, professeur, beurre, cœur, fleur, lapin, dessin, informatique, histoire, patinoire, travaille, il faut que j’y aille, famille, fille, feuilleton, chambre, centre, septembre, ils ont/sont/font/vont/regardent. It’s all so easy!

I teach them the Magic 9 – j’ai joué, je vais jouer, j’ai fait, je vais faire, je suis allé, je vais aller, c’était, ce sera, parce que. Use these and I’ve got to give you extra marks. It’s the law! I’ll go to prison if I don’t!

I teach them easy mark winners. Look, they’re almost identical, they’re easy. Y11 in other schools are rubbish at these but you can do them now and you’re only in Y7!

J’ai fait, ayant fait, après avour fait, je vais faire, j’aime faire, je voudrais faire, en faisant, il faut que je fasse.

It’s easy! Look! You can do it with ‘aller’ and ‘jouer’ too. Get these structures sorted with aller, jouer and faire and you’re cruising towards an A*!

This is a blog. There’s no way I can go through everything I do to ensure kids work hard, remember what’s taught and learn that effort is indispensable.

In short: kids generally have a lot more potential than we often give them credit for. If they can’t read they need to be taught to read. If they’ve learnt that laziness is acceptable, we have to set up lessons where laziness simply isn’t an option, we have to prioritise what we teach so every lesson they walk away thinking, ‘wow! I’m learning stuff. I’m good at that! When I do as I’m told I really learn stuff!’ And of course, for any of this to work, the teacher has to accept that he’s the boss, the expert, the adult.

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2 thoughts on “Yeah, but what about the ‘less able’?

  1. Julia Whyte says:

    You’re not wrong, Barry! I really can relate to much of what you say. When stuff is uber easy there is really no point. I don’t think it’s cruel. However, teaching in this way was ultimately exhausting I must say.

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