Paper shortage just covering up for the gaping hole in lesson techniques

OPINION

Just to show how closely certain Dubbo parents follow education issues that impact on their children, some of them have questioned an apparent recent statement by Primary Principals' Association president Geoff Scott regarding the shortage of paper in New South Wales public schools.

In the Daily Telegraph, he was reported as saying "teachers were replacing textbooks with paper-based worksheets because it gave them more flexibility to cater for different abilities in the class".

At first glance, Scott's comment in response to a suggestion school paper shortage is due to funding cuts might seem feasible. However, it has attracted the attention of particular Dubbo parents whose children are often working on paper-based worksheets. They reported classes are often using multiple worksheets stapled together with a colour cover sheet attached to the front, and referred to as a 'booklet'.

What has alarmed some local Dubbo parents is that in their children's class, nearly all students seem to be using the same booklet.

Therefore, Scott's assumption that reams of paper are a catalyst for adequately catering to the class variation in student learning levels does not always happen locally.

In fact, these parents complain that such significant absence of differentiation facilitates behaviour problems, not to mention low learning levels. Some students find the work too hard and become frustrated, while others deal with it very easily and are soon bored.

I recently had an opportunity to clarify this issue during my extensive interview with 'Alan', a current international British Ofsted Inspector with forty years experience as a teacher, headmaster and educational math consultant. He not only gave an expert opinion on this classroom methodology, but also provided a clear explanation for his conclusion.

As Alan explained to me, students in a class are no different than say a golfer or a chess player.

They are either in the higher, middle or lower level of ability. So when all students are given the same work, roughly two-thirds of them are doing a task that is either too hard or too easy.

It's also possible that the material is pitched at such a level that is either too hard or too easy for all students. In this case, everyone misses out.

In Alan's opinion, "Too many classes fail because students get a one-size-fits-all lesson.".

Nowhere is this situation more apparent than when students are using identical booklets of stapled, photocopied work sheets.

According to Alan, "If the vast majority of the class is not challenged and make no progress in their learning, then the teaching cannot be anything more than unsatisfactory/inadequate".

Furthermore, "Differentiation for individual difference... needs to be present in planning and in practice.".

Alan also emphasised that in classes with special educational needs, students and those designated as gifted and talented, the differentiated learning levels should actually be five rather than just three.

Therefore, it is not surprising perceptive Dubbo parents are starting to see more serious educational problems in what has been portrayed as simply a significant paper shortage.

Some of them who have long been comfortable in the assumption their child was at a great school receiving a great education are now forced to confront the harsh reality.

All this time, they were actually being served up a failed classroom lesson - lesson after lesson, day after day, term after term.

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