“It’s just not the same!”

One boy approached my desk with his assessment coversheet.

“Sir,” he enquired quietly. 

“Yes, what’s the matter?” I asked.

He pushed his sheet to me. It was a reading assessment, exploring Tennyson’s use of poetic devices in Part I of The Lady of Shalott. The students were assessed for three skills: understand and interpret the text; identify language features and explain their effects; and the context in which the work was produced. Despite all pre-assessment preparation and planning, he did badly. 

“Don’t worry! You just need to write in the ‘Improved Work’ box what you need to add. You’ll do better next time,” I tried to reassure him.

“But,” he wasn’t interested in improving his work or a pep talk. “It’s,” he slowly mouthed, “just not the same as others’.” He pointed to his level, looking at me from the top of his eyes with his face down, turned slightly to the side; his pride was obviously bruised. 

The importance of feedback – we have always been led to believe from numerous research reports that “meaningful feedback” is key to progress. Obviously, to this particular child, being the same (at least the same numerical level) means a great deal more then knowing what to do to improve.

Yes, I can sit down to explain to him exactly what he needs to write to improve. Knowing him, I doubt whether or not he will remember what exactly he needs to do better next time when he is given a similar task to do independently. In fact, with so many different Assessment Foci for Reading, Writing and Speaking and Listening, I am very much suspicious that they actually mean anything to him.

I know, his progress will be slow, but steady – definitely not as speedy as any outside observer would have loved to see (in a space of 20 minutes) for the lesson to be judged “good” or better. For our young boy of 13, however, he just wants to feel the same as his classmates.

Being the same offers him security, gives him a legitimate place in his peer group, and affirms his dignity. With this sense of belonging, in time, he will find his place in life when he leaves the safe haven that is his schoolroom. 

I watched him slowly walking back to his seat, arms dropped with the green cover sheet clutched in one hand. The bright colour seemed to highlight his dejection and my profound sadness. 

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About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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