Friday, January 15, 2010

A short story : Why isn't Sione in the dance group.

This short story was sent to me by a 'teachers' friend' from the North. It poetically illustrates the dangers of imposing a narrow standards based approach to learning. Schools need to tap into the interests, culture and motivations that students bring with them and not try to fit them into middle class boxes.

“Isn’t Sione in the dance group?” asked Margaret, as her class from Term 1 filed onto the stage for the assembly item on the final day of Term 2.

Margaret had been the new entrant teacher in Room 1 for the first term of the year and had taken maternity leave over Term 2 so I was rather surprised to see her at assembly. None the less I remembered that she was really committed to her class and those kids who she had started in Term 1 and had a particular fondness for those who needed rather more encouragement in their start to school.

In fact it would be true to say that on many days walking past Margaret’s room in the mornings you could hear lots of laughter, music and happy voices as she provided a programme that encouraged the kids to act, to experiment and to demonstrate their talents. Unfortunately this happening in the Literacy block meant that the principal also heard the noise and often questioned at senior teacher meetings whether all teachers were aware of the fact that the first block of the day was for Literacy based activities and the afternoon could be used for dance, drama, music etc.

What was also obvious was that Margaret had a particular affinity for Sione and the other kids who came to school with little pre-school education yet lots of natural talents. It was at dance that Sione shone and Margaret encouraged him to show off this talent to his classmates. When I spoke to Margaret about this she was always adamant that Sione would begin learning to read when he was ready and he needed more time to develop vocabulary and to share his successes with his classmates. So the laughter continued and the children continued to be encouraged to experiment, to play, to use concrete materials and to learn to read.

At the start of Term 2, when Margaret had been replaced by a relieving teacher, it was clear that things would be different in the room. The noise stopped and the class was able to work through the Literacy and Numeracy blocks as expected with the expected Success Criteria being met by most children. It wasn’t until assessment data was collected though that we realized Sione and two others in the room were not meeting National Standards and so it was decided that they would work in a Reading booster programme on three afternoons a week. The times for this booster programme fitted well as it would operate when the rest of the syndicate was covering The Arts strands in a syndicate wide cross class grouping format that allowed for Visual Art, Dance , Drama and Music to be undertaken so that curriculum requirements were met. This all worked well and we were able to show the necessary coverage as well as the progress, mainly, in Reading that the booster group had achieved.

Except for Sione!

I found it difficult telling Margaret that her special student has become somewhat of a problem in the school and had been in trouble frequently with unacceptable behaviour such that his parents had been called in on more than one occasion. This always seemed to be worse after lunch and particularly after his attendance at the Reading booster programme. Yet the rest of the group were fine and had made progress in Reading and the Teacher Aide taking the group was very good with the children. We never did discover what the problem was though because Sione’s parents took him out of the school and enrolled him in the other school in our area. In some ways that was good because our National Standards’ results look better now and we are still ticking all the curriculum boxes. We have heard too that Sione’s parents are helping the other school on a regular basis with their cultural group so perhaps that was a good move for them all.

It was hard to explain all of this to Margaret and I was quite moved that she had tears in her eyes as the dance group concluded their item. She didn’t seem too bothered though when I talked to her about the assessment results for the end of the term and the fact that our achievement tail was slightly better than it had been and that those in the booster programme across the school would be able to benefit from another term of assistance.

I was also quite surprised to learn later on that day that Margaret is not returning to our school next term as planned and has left us with the problem of finding another teacher to fill her place until the end of the year. Secretly though I think the principal is quite relieved about her change of plans and is currently looking for a new teacher strong in The Arts and able to document a school wide programme.

We all hope Margaret is happy with her change.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and perceptive story - shows the power of an art form.

Bertie said...

Personally I think it's a very sad story, where a teacher, who was obviously in touch with her pupils was let down by the teacher covering her class. And for the boy as well who obviously had a teacher who had understood him and any notes she'd left on him were obviously not taken into consideration by anybody in the school after the teacher had left. Not all children are ready to read at the same age and schools seem to have trouble understanding this. My daughter is currently 4 and is learning to read along with the school's program, in fact alot faster than alot of her class mates. My son is 6 and is still not really interested in reading, he is picking up bits and pieces but not at the speed expected by the school. His teacher seemed quite concerned about this, especially because he is quite an intelligent boy and his general knowledge is good. I, however, am unconcerned he will ppick it up in his own time, when he is ready.

Bruce said...

Bertie - a very sad story but all too often true for many kids.

Boys in particular need more time and all too often begin a career of failure if rushed into formal reading too soon.

Anonymous said...

This short story ilustrates powerfully the effects of standardisation of schooling. More please.