I’m rubbish at English – another ‘single story’.

I had a small epiphany yesterday during the Year 10 Parents’ evening. No one saw and I kept it under wraps….

My Year 10s have been reading Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story in the Edexcel IGCSE anthology. In the article, derived from a TED talk, Adichie explores the barriers we erect by over-reliance on a ‘single story’, especially around race.
I have been talking to my boys about not believing their single story – the one which says – I am rubbish at English. To me this attitude simply creates an expectation of failure and denies the chance of improvement, yet we hear it a lot in schools. This year I have managed to remove the numbers from my sets in Year 10 but a “low” set will always be identified by the members of the set and especially by their peers, in search of a quick bout of one-upmanship.

So here’s the epiphany which emerged as I talked…

Picture a teenage boy who is a good cricketer. He always gets out playing a certain shot – say a late cut to an off-spinner. All else works well and some of his stroke play is magnificent…

Does he say “I’m rubbish at cricket”? Does he stop trying because he sees no hope? Obviously not. He goes into the nets and works to improve that strand of his game.

So my boys, who are finding analysis of Macbeth and the concept of Equivocation hard, what do they say?
“I’m rubbish at English”

Time to change: Maybe “I need to work on finding really useful quotations to use as evidence” or “I need to work on structuring an essay because I am finding too much material and am not sure how to organise the ideas”… anything but “I’m rubbish at English”… They talk English, they write English, they think English, they use it in a wide range of subjects and situations all day every day – they re not rubbish.

Time to throw the ‘single story’ out of the window. They are good at English – they have not yet mastered certain elements of the subject techniques – yet!

Let’s not reinforce this negative stereotyping. Let’s challenge this negativity when we find it in students, colleagues and parents.

We can all improve in a range of areas – let’s admit this to our students and help them to move on with their heads held high.