The next approach examined was class organisation, as pupils were grouped by ability. The ‘Red’ group reflected higher ability, this included Child X, ‘Yellow’, middle ability and ‘Green’, lower ability. All were taught material with similar academic content but at a pace and depth that reflected the varying abilities. This differentiation allowed to respond to the cognitive difference of where the student was, to where the student needed to be, a concept which mainly derived from Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory (Vygotsky 1962, citied in Daniels, 2005 p127). To place this theory in school context, the teacher would attempt to encompass the gap between the child’s current level of achievement and compare against the developmental outcome when supported by an adult.
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For example, during a phonics session, the green group were given a task related to the ‘ch’ sound, whereas Child X and the red group were given this, in addition to the ‘ture’ sound. This task modification framework accommodated and extended the higher ability levels, allowing this to be an effective pedagogical method in maximising the learning process. This procedure has been found to help students become focused as independent learners, as the curriculum has been tailored to individual intellectual needs, rather than a one-size fits all approach (Carolan and Guinn p44, 2007).
On the other hand, the school’s mixed ability procedure can also hinder meeting the child’s intellectual needs. For example, in a maths session, the number bond work sheets provided to the green and yellow groups concentrated on basic skills and repetition which meant cognitive demands were low and did not stretch middle-ability pupils. The above activities allowed few opportunities for discussion and did not promote analysis or creativity. An article by Jessica Shepard, (The Guardian online, 2012) even suggested that this form of grouping “exacerbates inequities” with Kate Aspin from the TES Online Magazine (2010) also adding that effectively putting differentiation into practice may be one of the greatest challenges in the NQT year. Despite the latter comment, which is of personal relevance as a potential Newly Qualified Teacher, this school’s method did inform that to push all children to mastery of content, they need to be pushed at different rates, based on individual strengths.
However, for those who did find the activities challenging, peer support was offered. For example, with the phonics task, Child X had completed her activity, she sat with the EAL child and explained the task using her personal methods. She made sure her partner was staying on-task, enjoyed more responsibilities and the EAL child was improving academically. This practice is supported through Rose (2010, p257), who suggested it was beneficial to redistribute skills and abilities and pairing high-performing pupils with those struggling in class. Relating back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1970), as well as physiological, safety and self-esteem needs, social needs had to be met. This method allowed children to make friends and improved social skills, which are imperative before self-actualization can be achieved. Evidence also suggests that vulnerable children and benefit most from participation (Farrell, 2000). Hence in this context, the opportunity to be a peer supporter also allowed to promote inclusion. For future reference, it appears peer support methods would be an effective educational technique to address holistic needs through education, mediation and listening.
The school also offered many extracurricular provisions such as art, ICT skills, football and badminton. Child X was part of the badminton team and there were currently discussions regarding collaboration with partnership schools through the community Successful Holistic Innovative Nurturing Education (SHINE) Scheme. This strategy gave School A the incentives needed to work in partnership with other schools, to enable every pupil’s talents to be developed within the local community. Child X was excited to not only compete against other schools, but also had friends within them. This scheme initiated several features that are directly linked to positive child development. These included, regular participation schedules, emphasis on skill development, and involvement in meaningful interaction.
Eccles and Gootman (2002) also found that through local school community initiatives, children learn how to explore and influence in the world surrounding them. This suggested that School A’s after school programs’ possessed the power to promote general health and wellness of children by keeping them active, thus providing distinct opportunities for growth and development.
These initiatives also encouraged parental involvement and continually invited parents to attend. When querying with Child X as to whether her parents ever visited, she articulated that her parents and many other parents never got involved as they tended to be ‘busy’. One set of barriers to parent involvement related to logistical constraints of time, money, transport or child care. But it has also been found that because parents in lower-socioeconomic families often have fewer years of education themselves and potentially harbour more negative experiences with schools (Lareau and Horvat, 1999).
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An element that School A should then have considered, was that research has consistently shown that parental involvement in children’s education makes a positive difference to pupils’ achievement. Parental involvement with children from an early age has been found to equate with better outcomes in terms of cognitive development and social development more than parental occupation, education or income (Sylva et al 2004).
Thus, particularly for School A, programs and policies designed to promote parental school involvement in disadvantaged communities in the future may prove effective in providing a sense of collaboration for the child. However, being sensitive to each community’s unique barriers and resources is also important for establishing and maintaining effective collaborations between the individual child, their families and schools.
In summary, the finest developmental milieu for a child consists of academic enhancement, infused with opportunities for physical, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. The approaches of School A showed that through reflection of a diverse context, students developed a greater understanding into their own values and beliefs about pedagogy. The school helped toward an understanding that holistic needs of a child can be met if schools create an ethos and conditions that support positive behaviours for learning and for successful relationships. In addition, they must provide an emotionally secure and safe environment and where appropriate, encourage parental and community involvement. Going forward, more attention needs to be paid to these non-cognitive outcomes, such as children’s well-being. For best practice as a trainee teacher, the most significant aspects acquired for my personal development would be to attempt to encourage respect, help students find strengths in each other, develop consistency and support students to work for their personal best. After all, Every Child Matters.
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