Don't say I'm on the bottom table.

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Key Stage 1 English By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: English » Key Stage 1 English
Last updated: 25/04/2012
Tags: don't label me, don't say i'm on the bottom table, look at all the things i can do

I strongly believe that labelling children with any words that indicate low ability can have a detrimental effect on their future learning.  Many children are in the words of many teachers 'on the bottom table' and have been placed there because they may have made a slower start than others on the journey of learning to read and write.  They may be fantastic at sports, music, science, maths, have an extensive vocabulary, be a born leader or brilliant friend.  In the book I co-wrote with Jenny Monk there is a chapter on inclusion.  I included an extract from this here.  (I have Jenny Monk's permission to do this.)


Children’s perception of themselves as learners is a factor in their ability to access the education system. A recent research project (Hart et al., 2004) was constructed to investigate how class teachers who believed strongly that using a deficit model when describing children’s learning limited rather than encouraged that learning.  They also believed that they could make changes to their practice. Nine teachers, four from the primary and five from the secondary phase of education, investigated the effect of ceasing to label children in terms of ability.

Researchers observed their practice.  The argument was that using or even thinking of pupil in terms of bottom, low or of less ability produced a mindset in both the teachers and pupils that was self-fulfilling. Recent research (Syed, 2010) outlines how our brains are influenced by experience, self-perception, exposure and practice and how potential is often never realised. It questions the innate nature of ability, in particular in relation to sporting achievement but also to their areas of learning. It seems that, if principles and practice do not change at the same time as the language changes, the opportunity to meet the challenge of addressing the so-called ‘stubborn tail of under-achievement’ will be lost.

In any class there are children with more or less experience in each area of learning...............

An example

Ben, a Year 2 boy, who had been labelled in his previous class, as ‘low ability’ due to his literacy skills, entered his current class one morning and stood looking at the teacher’s table, which displayed cooking ingredients equipment and a copy of ‘Mr. Wolf’s Pancake’ by J. Fearnley.

What are we doing today? ‘he asked.

Other children suggested:

‘Making pancakes.’ ‘Reading stories.’ ‘Reading traditional tales.’

The teacher agreed that was what they were going to be doing, but asked what the children thought they might be going to learn.

‘How to cook.’  ‘Washing our hands before eating.’ ‘Healthy food.’ ‘Problems in stories’.

Answer came thick and fast, with the teacher agreeing but saying they could well be learning these things but they were not the main learning objective.

‘I know’, said Ben. ‘We’re learning about change in science.  You know solids and liquids.  The milk is liquid but the pancake will be solid.’

The teacher confirmed that this was the objective and said the challenge would be to discover if the change would be reversible or irreversible.’

‘I think irreversible,’ said Ben, ‘not like the chocolate last week.’

Ben was praised for the effort he had made to reflect on the learning he had done in the past few weeks. He was asked to explain to the class how he had worked out the learning objective.  He was able to explain that sometimes cooking is linked to measuring or healthy eating but, because he had been told it was not health or measures, he started to think about their recent work in science. He had remembered the previous lessons concerned with testing how long it took ice to melt, and looking at how different ingredients changed when heated.  He had liked the words ‘reversible’ and ‘irreversible’.............

Ben knew he had ability to communicate and understand ideas.  He did not see himself as a low achiever but as a child who had good ideas and was making progress.

Cathy Silman Key Stage 1 Maths Tutor (Bournemouth)

About The Author

As an experienced, well qualified primary teacher I assess, plan and teach so that children's confidence to actively learn, with enjoyment results in accelerated leaning.

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