Monday, March 01, 2010

Kids from Chaos - our achievement tail?

In education we are often quick to label students with the intention of assisting them but all too often labels end up as an excuse for not helping such students by placing the blame outside of the teaching learning process- deficit theory. One writer has added another group to the list KFC kids( kids from chaos). Kids with no boundaries - like living in spaghetti!

I have always thought that it is the lack of authenticity about our programmes that all too often create the various categories of failing students in our society. Such students do not fit into 'our' preplanned programmes - success being assessed as students going along with what is offered. 'One size fits most of the students' - the rest are sacrificed; standardization only suits standard kids!

Even so called child centred primary classrooms , as friendly as they look, are strongly teacher determined as a result of imposed formulaic 'best practices'.

Students of chaos have their own definition. Like other 'at risk' students kids from chaos suffer but they have some important differences. They are frequently from poor or historically marginalized families but in addition to this they came from where chaos reigns.

In such homes adults are often absent busy working at low paying jobs, unemployed, or simply emotionally struggling to survive. As a result such students miss out on substantive relationships with powerful adults. Their lives are full of turmoil and unpredictability.

Such students struggle academically ( not having acquired the pre-requisite literacy skills schools demand of them) ; they have no experience at self organising skills gained through positive parental routines; as a result they feel alienated from school and all to often fall back on their default behaviours of acting out or withdrawing; they relate to similar peers for approval; rarely experience school success and, when all is added together, have little vision of a positive future and live for the moment.

If teachers reflect back to the needs of students, as outlined by William Glasser and others, some ideas of how to help such students succeed might come to mind. Whatever is decided a personalised approach to learning will be required - one that really values the experience each students brings the learning experience.

Glasser outlines five basic needs that all students need to be able to learn: power, mastery, belonging, safety, and fun. Unfortunately 'kids from chaos' ( KFC) all too often satisfy such needs with behaviours that are counter-productive to school learning.

When students behave inappropriately, as defined by the school, such students are labelled as 'at risk' and begin their career of school failure. From a personalisation perspective it is the schools that fail.

To ensure such children succeed teachers need to appreciate the circumstances that have created 'the areas of concern' and then to do everything they can to hep the KFC students gain the learning attributes that other students already have in place before they even enter school.

These students (all students) need benign routines to help them structure their day and any learning tasks. It helps such students to break down complex tasks into 'bite sized bits' ( 'scaffolding' or modeling learning) and for teachers to interact with them providing specific and immediate feedback.

Any such help needs to value each students 'voice' and point of view. If this is not a focus students can lose their individuality and creativity, a mark of a standardised programme.

The best studies will be those that come form the students own interests and questions (an 'emergent' curriculum) , so that, with appropriate help, students can feel their views are valued. This is important for all students and is the essence of personalised learning.

To gain involvement in class studies, or explorations, students need to be encouraged to make use of all their senses as, through such experiences, missing oral,and language pre-literacy skills can be developed. This is far preferable to remedial work using disconnected phonics approaches.

Such studies are a means to teach KFC students the basic research approaches that underpin discovery learning. With appropriate teacher assistance students will be able to produce work that they are proud of and that will inspire them to do better next time. This also applies to the various expressive activities that 'emerge' as possibilities . Students need to be reattached to the idea that they are their own 'meaning hunters and makers'. Displaying the work they have achieved will further reinforce the idea that they are all creators.

Such a personalised programme, combined with positive teacher assistance and benign routines, will provide the opportunities for KFC students to develop their own set of unique gifts and talents and help then see learning ( and school) as positive experience affirming their sense of self.

Such teaching, important for all students, is particularly vital for KFC students so as to fill the gaps that their chaotic lives have developed.

For me this is a validation of the discovery type programmes that were once a feature of our schools in 60/70s before the imposition of the standardised curriculum of the 80/90s.

We need to return to such powerful pedagogy - a pedagogy that values the 'artistry' of the teacher and the real lives of the students. If we do this we can make classrooms powerful learning environments for all students - but especially for 'at risk' and neglected kids.

It is these kids that will eventually contribute to the so called 'achievement tail' - one created by the impoverished teaching our schools provide, and one that will not be solved by further standardised teaching.

All students need to be helped to develop strong learning identities though such enriched experiences.


Anonymous said...

You are so right - even the best of primary classrooms have lost the plot.Literacy has replaced authentic student inquiry/creativity as the focus. The standards are simply the final conclusion of such an approach.

All students require personalised help to develop lost learning power.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I am coming to the conclusion that the literacy (and numeracy) programmes have all but killed off the creative spirit in many classrooms. Once this time was called the 'language arts' and integrated a wide range of expressive activities - most centred around the energy provided by the class study.

Claxton's 'learnacy' and Sir Ken Robinson's creativity have lost out to current technocratic formulaic best practice teaching and testing. The standards are just another step down the wrong trail.

Anonymous said...

You are right -we seem to have lost more than we have gained the past decades.

Andrew Shelley said...

One thing about nostalgia is that it seems it was always better in the good old days. But, honestly, when I compare my experiences in the 70s with my children's experiences in the last decade, I would have to say that the more creative programmes are those that are offered now.

And that comparison is not just based on a single school, but three separate schools for me, and three for my children. Certainly not a comprehensive sample, but enough for me to doubt the assertion that the 70s were somehow better.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Hi Andrew. I guess it is all relalive.I have been working in, and visiting, classroons since the 60s and, in my opinion, it was easier to be creative in those earlier days - not so much compliance nonsense and obsessive assessment etc. If it is still creative then it is great - we need all the creativity we can get.

Today I see that literacy and numeracy have all but taken over the whole day and a lot of the art is too teacher dominated. As well in depth inquiry - real inquiry, not using 'google etc, is also rare.

Andrew Shelley said...

Ah, yes, google is another problem entirely!