A child should be defined by her own unique strengths, not her deficits
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy”, Mrs Wilson thought as she drove to her daughter’s primary school, tightly gripping the steering wheel. “Her third week in school and I’m already being summoned to the headteacher’s office. No big surprise there though. The poor thing didn’t exactly win the genetic lottery. But I wish she could‘ve been spared what I had to go through.”
“I still remember when I was in primary school and the target of Miss Fletcher’s dismissive looks and her constant Try harder and Put your back into it. She had me written off as lazy. Why could no one see that I was trying my hardest? I’m sure I tried harder than anyone else. It just didn’t work for me,” she thought, fighting back angry tears.
“We’ll probably have to make an appointment with a specialist to find out what’s wrong with Emily. It’s not going to be cheap, but perhaps it will make things easier for her. The afterschool lessons helped me a bit. The pills were ok, too. But should I really do this to her?”
“I felt so worthless when I had to go to all those appointments, while my precious older sister sat at home basking in the glory of her A* report card. All those words they used when talking about me – problems, deficits, disorders, ‘dys-’ this, atypical that, … it just made me feel like a failure. And now it’s happening to my daughter”, she murmured to herself as she pulled into a parking space at the primary school.
“All those words they used when talking about me – problems, deficits, disorders, ‘dys-’ this, atypical that, … it just made me feel like a failure.”
“Good morning, Mrs Wilson. Thank you for coming in. I thought it would be best to talk in person”, the head teacher said with a smile. “My colleagues and I wanted to waste no time before discussing Emily’s progress with you. I’m not sure if you’re aware that we use games the pupils play on their tablets to monitor their learning. We feed the results into a system that matches pupils with similar former pupils and then generates instructional recommendations.”
“We used the system’s recommendations and observed Emily in different learning environments. The teachers have found that your daughter is progressing very well in her reading when she learns in small groups and acts out what she is reading. We have a teacher who specialises in combining reading instruction with acting. With your permission, we will assign your daughter to her programme. We have a similar interactive class for early maths that should also work well for her.”
“Of course, we will monitor how she responds to this sort of teaching and keep an eye on her progress. We can always make adjustments to keep her happy and engaged. Do you have any questions?”
“The teachers have found that your daughter is progressing very well in her reading when she learns in small groups and acts out what she is reading.”
Our current school system often confuses the learning process with assessment, which can make pupils feel bad about themselves and leaves many behind. Joe Bathelt, the author of this blog post, envisions a world in which pupils learn at their optimal level and are not compared against one another, but against a target achievement level. Everyone can build on certain unique strengths and weaknesses. To achieve the best possible results, children take computerised tests that recommend a specific level of learning, and those with similar profiles are given assignments that match their preferences and talents.