You probably have a few children with a flair for a specific subject and they really excel. That’s a good thing.
You probably have these children on something of a pedestal if you operate ability groups. That’s a bad thing. School hierarchies that create a segregated class system based on ability do incredible harm and create educational failure.
The real problem with grouping by ability in the good old-fashioned top, middle and bottom system is that those at the top think they are the bees knees and those at the bottom think they should be cleaning tables.
Those in the middle get forgotten.
But back to the ‘top’ set.
Some of the children who might be doing really well can get a little too confident and they don’t mind letting others know about it.
When this happens, some can get arrogant and start to see themselves as bigger and better than others.
This is why you need to take these students out of their comfort zones so they don’t rest on their laurels and lord it over their peers.
What do I mean?
I mean, big fish need to put into a bigger pond so they can appreciate that there are other fish out there that are bigger and better than they are.
Clearly I’m not suggesting this is done to punish them for being cocky but this is an exercise in perspective setting, being humble and being respectful.
This is something Annabel Jenner talks about in the January 2021 Education in Chemistry magazine. She suggests that we enter students who are “at the top of the class” into competitions so they experience the difference.
Obviously with COVID-19 stopping all face-to-face competitions, this has to be done virtually…for now. But the time will come again when we can turn up to another school or university and experience the thrill of sharing the same physical, social and mental space.
The bigger fish might just realise that they aren’t intellectually that big.
Annabel says that entering competitions is therefore a great way for these students to realise “that there are other talented students out there.”
This is a valuable lesson in grounding but it’s also an opportunity for fish to make contact with each other and make friends. If nothing else, it will teach your fish that they need to work harder.
In this instance, entering a competition isn’t about winning, it’s about the experience of seeing what the competition is like and appreciating the sliding scale of talents and abilities.
It provides opportunities for students to rethink, renegotiate and repair narratives of themselves as being ‘top’ and others being ‘bottom’.
Competitions are a great way to expose students to contexts and questions that show what they don’t know.