Fixed Ability: Number 4 and Dignity

I like English! I don't like English. Where do these statements come from? How can you like or dislike English? Young people use words/phrases and hopefully sentences every day! They talk; they certainly do talk! Surely, they realise, every word they say, every letter/word they write in school, at home, on their phone – it's all English! Sadly, I have heard these statements: I like and I don't like too many times. (Hold this thought for the moment!)

The triplet that teachers and students see every day when young people come into school are: Respect, Resilience and Responsibility. They are all equally important – so why does the word Respect appear first and what does it mean? What is a synonym for RESPECT? (sorry the English teacher is always hovering!) (Dignity) . This is a new word that I have learnt recently. Yes, I know the word well but I have not used it when I have been planning lessons. (Get to the point, I can hear you say!). Young people are placed into sets and often those sets have an impact on young people. Ability: low or high comes with expectations and of course that is easy to spot but dignity was not easy to spot. Some young people, I think, feel as though when they are in a Set 4 class and that they are somehow at the bottom of the year group. They may have had their dignity taken away, especially if they have had a difficult relationship with English. We know differently as teachers. We know that we will ensure that young people are facilitated to grow and achieve as much as any other student regardless of set. But what I think I definitely forgot or took for granted was how someone may or may not feel and how they might misconstrue what that number 4 means. It's our job to make sure that Set 4 does not mean bottom set. It's our job, I believe, to have high expectations of all children. There is no point teaching any child unless we believe and know that it is possible to educate the child who sits in the classroom. Yet, how can I really teach them if I forgot what the number 4 may feel like to them? Dignity. If I believe it is possible to educate the young person, then I need to make sure that being in a Set 4 English class, the young person has their dignity. Therefore, my next question is: how do I do that? I have decided to perform an experiment (nothing scientific – no laboratories needed!). My experiment is to task the young people with adopting the role of being the cleverest in the school and hopefully over the next academic year, their confidence will grow, their English skills will flourish but most importantly, they will have their dignity.

So maybe we/I can help to dispel I don't like English alongside the number 4 because I have learnt that you can talk (dignity amongst friends); you can communicate on Social Media (dignity – loads of likes! – it's open to all) and now there is dignity in every class because every child is clever and when a child knows he/she is clever, a child has dignity. I love English!

By S Douglas-Davies
Teacher of English

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