On Tuesday the 18th of September, we had our first workshop of the course. I was excited by the aspect of something a bit different, smaller and one-to-one. I had no idea what to expect, which was also part of the excitement.
Firstly, we were given the task of splitting ourselves into four groups of seven. Each group were then given an envelope full of a mixture of resources. The instructions given to us were to create a resource that could be used by a student who is also new to the University of Dundee. We were only able to use the resources within the envelope, and had about ten minutes to plan and prepare the item we were going to present to the rest of the class. The instructions were very brief, which allowed us to get our ‘creative caps’ on and share our ideas on what this student resource could be. At this point, I seemed to be the only person within my group that noticed that each group had a different pack of resources. I didn’t take much from this and continued with the activity as normal.
Having a range of resources in our envelop to choose from meant we were able to get on with activity quite easily once we had put our imagination to play. However, what we were unaware of was the fact that others may have been struggling with the activity as they had a lot less resources than us. Throughout our planning, Gillian was highly supportive whilst providing a range of feedback, tips and advice on how to make our idea the best it could possibly be. Our group were all so infatuated with our planning that what we didn’t notice was that Gillian was only giving two certain groups a lot of attention and advice, whilst the others with less resources were left to fend for themselves.
When it came to presenting our idea and creating the actual model of our resource, Gillian paid a lot of attention to us whilst nodding, praising and giving us lots of encouragement throughout and afterwards. However, what we began to notice was that Gillian listened more to certain groups than others. During one group’s presentation, Gillian got up to shut one of the windows as if she didn’t care about what the group were so enthusiastically presenting. The feedback after for the two groups with less resources was also quite negative and Gillian only gave them a small amount that wouldn’t really help them to improve. We were all a bit taken aback by this, but began to catch on to what Gillian was doing and wondered what the bigger meaning was to the whole activity.
Due to the fact that we had so many more resources than the other two groups, we were blind to the fact that these other groups were struggling and probably having to put a lot more effort into the activity than us. This began to make us think deeper, and I began to realise the implications of social statuses and the resources children have on the non-deliberate treatment they may receive. This relates closely to the attainment gap that is a current issue within Scottish Education. The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy found an attainment gap of 14–17% for reading, 21% for writing, and 12-28% for numeracy from primary through to secondary school. Over time there have been many strategies put in place to try and improve the attainment gap, such as free school meals for children in Primary 1 – 3, however the issue has never gone away. As a teacher, and without even noticing it, the amount of resources a child has (such as pencils, paper etc that we had within the activity) may have an effect on the way you treat or support them. This links to the topic of the week’s lecture, the unconscious bias. This is where are aren’t aware we have a bias of someone or something, but because of society and social media we have these pre-conceptions built within us. This means we may treat people differently without even noticing.
Unforunately, the quantity of resources children have can have an effect on the quality of their learning and development within schools. So, as teachers, what are we meant to do about this? The General Teaching Council Scotland’s Standards for Registration state professional values that teachers must follow, as they are key to providing equal learning opportunities to all children. Within Section 1, when discussing Social Justice, it states “Committing to the principles of democracy and social justice through fair, transparent, inclusive and sustainable policies and practices in relation to: age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion and belief and sexual orientation”. This stresses the need for all teachers to provide equal learning opportunities to children and treat them with the same understanding. Section 1 also states “Respecting the rights of all learners as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and their entitlement to be included in decisions regarding their learning experiences and have all aspects of their well-being developed and supported”. Without providing all children with learning opportunities, and the support and feedback needed to improve their individual learning, children are not going to be able to have all aspects of their well-being developed. This is why we must treat all children with the same respect and fairness.
As role models that children look up to, it is highly significant that teachers have a positive outlook on ALL children’s learning, no matter what their circumstances or backgrounds may be. It is time that everyone becomes conscious of their unconscious biases, and that we speak up about the things we are always so silent about. In doing this, we will be able to recognise where we are going wrong, and provide equal learning opportunities to children no matter what.