The Hidden Child

No child should go through a school day without interaction with teachers about their learning and well-being, but it happens. There are learners that can go days without direct contact from a teacher in school. I was one of these hidden children. Due to my own personal experiences, I felt safest when I could hide away. I was ranked at the top of the year group in year seven, but by year nine I had just disappeared. I hid my ability, my curiosity, and my vulnerability. I was desperate to fit in with the ‘in’ crowd, terrified of standing out or being embarrassed by anyone. I never asked for help, never put my hand up and did everything I was told to do by teachers.

Increasing numbers of girls now go to great lengths to conceal signs of distress, making it harder for teachers and education staff to identify and help them. While 60% of secondary school girls did this before the pandemic, an alarming 80% do so now. STEER’s Young People’s Mental Health Report (Feb 2022)

When learners want or need to hide, this presents a big challenge to teachers. We don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t know everything, especially when students go to great lengths not to be seen. They distract us with other behaviours or just try to fade into the background.

Our classrooms are wonderful bubbling pots of diversity and life experiences that grow, change, and develop as learners move through school. But what we see in our classroom is what we choose to see, we are human. Although our students often don’t think we are!

How do we find out what we don’t know whilst on a busy treadmill of lessons? The first focus must be about our relationships with students. Every child needs an emotionally available adult. Someone who sees them, sees their value, and can show them that they matter.

The second is how we collect evidence and information in the classroom. The Hanover Research (2017) Closing the Gap: Creating equity in the classroom report has a checklist of approaches that can be used in the classroom for engagement, the learning environment and feedback strategies. There are no surprises in there, no silver bullets, just what great teachers do every day. Many approaches can be placed under Dylan Wiliam’s five strategies for formative assessment. For example: identify students’ current knowledge; use probing and clarifying techniques; random response techniques; wait time and success criteria.

Over the last year in working to raise the profile of the Embedding Formative Assessment programme, I have met school leaders who have told me that their staff are too ‘far ahead’ to work on formative assessment and that it’s ‘nothing new’. The second comment I agree with whole-heartedly. What we are talking about is the everyday ‘bread and butter’ of teaching, it’s highly habitual and routine. It is simply the stuff we do all day, every day. Therefore, if we become better at it, it will make the biggest difference. So why wouldn’t you give teachers time to deliberately practice and refine it? This will never be something we have ‘done’.

If teachers ascertain more and better information and evidence about learners, this enables them to make better decisions about the next steps in learning. If you don’t know, you can’t respond, support or light the fire and let them shine bright.

Become awesome at the everyday stuff.

Embed formative assessment strategies in your classrooms

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The road to better formative assessment at Shireland Collegiate Academy

14 July 2022