We so often hear about the benefits of personalised learning. We are told by our respective Departments of Education to respect students and teach them where they are up to. We are told to be mindful of each child's stage of development and champion the cause of natural and contextualised learning. As a teacher of children aged 5 - 8 I wholeheartedly support this style of teaching and learning and find joy in seeing children comfortable and engaged in their everyday learning environment. I celebrate the small victories that come together to create larger achievements and these moments touch my heart even more considering that the children I teach are typically at least 3 years behind their mainstream counterparts. Remote Indigenous students in Australia are indeed a group left behind. For my students English is only spoken at school. Literacy and numeracy are generally not experienced outside the classroom and for many just getting to school each day is an exercise in extraordinary resilience.
For most of the semester, we happily go along working with students at their own pace and in ways that connect with their preferred method of learning. We excitedly share examples of independently written sentences or number recognition in 7 year olds and rightly so. Our work has its challenges but is also greatly rewarding. The glow is, however, diminished when it comes time to write reports. We are approaching this time of year with heavy hearts knowing that regardless of our students progress and achievement we must fail each and every one of them. The 8 year old who only one year ago knew not a single letter sound or sight word, but now writes independently and legibly will be given an E. The best reader in the school will also be given an E.
There is a great inequity in judging our Remote students based on the 'expected achievement' of English speaking, middle and upper class students who live in the city. There is great inequity in comparing our students to children from prestigious private schools and being required to deem them failures. Of course, some kind of benchmarking is required to ensure consistency across our education system, but surely common sense should prevail in these matters.
So, I approach our formal assessment and report writing time as I would the removal of a stubborn Band-Aid. Quickly, and knowing that it will soon be over so that I can continue to personalise learning for my students and wait for our Department of Education to wake up and realise that personalised assessment should be developed to catch up with the gains that personalised learning have helped our children to make.
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