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There's no such thing as an 'average' student

Historically, those with a stake-hold in education have been caught up in what Louka Parry recently coined, the "tyranny of cognitive obsession". This is usually heightened around Selective School testing, NAPLAN or HSC time.


Meanwhile, those educators and school leaders who are on the journey to establish a new normal recognise the forces of change rocking the education boat, and are responding accordingly. Most notably is the aspiration to move from an 'institution' to a learning ecosystem. No longer do educators in these settings believe that unless they teach the students, then the students cannot learn. Most of us instantly visualise this as a fluid, dynamic and contemporary learning space where learning is co-constructed between teachers and students. But not just a tokenistic, spattering of choices in which students can present or regurgitate what has been offered to them by their more knowledgeable teachers.


In contemporary settings, students are invited to the planning table and deconstruct syllabus outcomes, make connections to their interests and the real world, and co-design assessment tools and processes to evidence new knowledge and skills. But alongside this, or perhaps, bubbling from underneath, is the support and development of character strengths, which keep the learning buoyant.


In a recent article by Nancy Weinstein, 'Supporting your average students' , we are challenged by the 'old grammar of schooling' where assumptions are made based on strengths and/or needs in one particular area, which further inform ongoing assumptions about how the student will perform across all domains. Tragically, once labelled, any variation to the assumption is justified with subjective judgments about personality, neatness, work ethic, diligence, and so on.


Weinstien puts it simply, "Instead of giving students a label, give them what they need." Contemporary educators are attuned to this and seek to assist students to understand how they learn. When students have positive self-efficacy, understand themselves as learners, and employ their strengths when needed, their confidence grows. They are thence more likely to be successful.


A jagged learner profile is an objective view of a learners' strengths and needs and challenges educators' presumptions about students' capabilities. The spotlight on syllabus outcomes needs to widen to capture the importance of general capabilities. It's not so much championing 'character over competence', but 'character with competence'. By capturing data about a students' capacity to relate, manage themselves, create, think and inquire, and sharing that data with them, we really do come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as 'average'.

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