A Year that Was flash fiction

A Year that Was #flashfiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that takes place a year later. It can be any year. Explore the past year or another significant passing of time to a character. Go where the prompt leads!

As usual, my thoughts turn to children and education. The one year later prompt made me think of the déjà vu situation that must occur when children are required to repeat a year at school.

This is my response to Charli’s prompt. I hope you enjoy it. Below are the thoughts about repeating that led me here if you are interested.

Bird School

Dear Mr Emu,

As Eddie performed below expectations on some tests, he must repeat next year.

Dear Mrs Grimbald,

Which tests did Eddie fail? I’ll bring him up to speed over the holidays.

Dear Mr Emu,

Eddie’s ground speed is unmatched. He failed lift-off.

Mrs Grimbald,

Inability to lift-off is inherited. No one in Eddie’s family ever lifted-off. Advance him.

Dear Mr Emu,

Parents shouldn’t discuss limitations lest they become self-fulfilling.

Grimbald,

Inability to lift-off does not limit Eddie any more than your inability to run limits you. Adjust your curriculum. Progress our Eddie.

Principal Grimbald huffed. How impertinent.

Thoughts about year level retention

I have never been one to suggest that a child repeat a grade at school and always reluctant to agree if suggested to me. If schools really espoused what they profess about children being at the centre of a process that recognises individual development and personalises education, there’d be no such thing as repetition of a grade level. In fact, there’d be no grades and children would learn what they were interested in at their own pace.

I saw a great poster recently (sadly, I didn’t keep it and can’t remember where) that said something like,

We teach children at their own pace and then use standardised tests to assess their progress.

It not only sounds crazy, it is crazy.

With our current system of graded classrooms, there will always be children who don’t achieve what’s expected by the end of the year. Repeating them may seem like we are recognising they haven’t achieved it ‘yet’ and are giving them extra time to do so. However, in most cases I have seen, it does little to enhance academic achievement and causes more damage to self-esteem than it is worth. Often it results in reduced expectations for the child. Centring education on the child rather than other-imposed content is long overdue.

As part of my studies of literacy acquisition and development, I worked with adults who had not yet learned to read — such a debilitating and often humiliating situation for them. These adults had low self-esteem, lacked confidence and little sense of self-worth. All claimed that they weren’t clever and apologised for not having done well in school. Each one admitted to having repeated a grade in school even though I hadn’t requested that information. I was saddened, not only that they were unable to read, but that they were still so weighed down by their repetition at school. I thought if school had failed anyone, it had failed them.

I saw the same thing in my role as a literacy support teacher for those not making the expected progress in primary school. Most of those requiring support in the upper year levels had already repeated a year of school. When asked what year they were in they would say something like, “I’m in year five. I should be in year six, but I got kept down in year two.” How sad that they had been crushed so early in life. I tried to reassure them that there was no need to explain or apologise. I felt if anyone should be apologising, it should be the system.

While these are my perceptions formed from my own experiences, research supports my thinking. I read only one paper, that by Brenda S. Tweed of East Tennessee State University, that appeared to show positive results of repeating. However, even in that paper, the importance of maintaining a repeating student’s self-esteem is recognised.

This paper, published by Frontiers in Psyschology, recognises grade retention as a more contentious issue and concludes, as do I, that it has a more lasting negative impact.

Similarly, an article published on Healthy Children.org responds to the question ‘Should my Child Repeat a Grade?’ with ‘Ideally, no. Repeating a grade―also known as “grade retention” ―has not been shown to help children learn. Children won’t outgrow learning and attention issues by repeating a grade. In fact, repeating a grade may contribute to long-term issues with low self-esteem, as well as emotional or social difficulties.’

In the paper To Repeat or Not to Repeat?, Dr Helen McGrath of Deakin University in Melbourne summarises the conclusions from research into repeating this way:

• Repeating does not improve academic outcomes

• Repeating contributes to poor mental health outcomes

• Repeating leads to poor long term social outcomes

• Repeating contributes to a negative attitude to school and learning

• Repeating results in students dropping out of school

• Repeating decreases the likelihood that a student will participate in post-secondary schooling

• Repeated students demonstrate higher rates of behavioural problems

• There is no advantage to students in delaying school entry for a year in order to increase ‘school readiness’

• There are huge costs associated with students repeating a year of schooling.

• Some students are more likely to be recommended to repeat than others

Similar findings are also reported by the Victorian Department of Education, Australia.

It seems that most of the research supports conclusions I drew from my observations. I’m sure you will all have your own opinions. Some of you may have repeated a class at school or have a child who has repeated or was recommended to repeat. I’d love to know what you think. As an educator, I couldn’t help sharing these thoughts and ideas that led to my flash fiction response to Charli’s prompt. I hope it now makes sense.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

40 thoughts on “A Year that Was #flashfiction

  1. Pingback: A Year Later « Carrot Ranch Literary Community

  2. Anne Goodwin's next novel is out May 28

    .Great flash and angry-but-controlled essay. In my family, one person whose birthday fell close to the cut-off date was ahead for a year through primary school but not allowed to progress to secondary school and so repeated a year despite being top of the class. Another was a slow learner and was put in the ‘C’ stream where there was little real education and a lot of shame — they might have been better off repeating a year early on. Both were bright but suffered for the rigidity of the school system.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Anne. I wouldn’t have thought ‘angry’, but I guess you’re right. What ‘they’ do to kids does make me cross. I’ve sat here shaking my head at the experiences of your family members. Funny (not) about streaming. It’s the pygmalion effect. The ‘C’ stream are not expected to do well, so they aren’t taught to do well, and so don’t. Mrs Grimbald got that right, but not much else.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  3. Charli Mills

    The post following your flash further explores the ridiculous notion that holding back a student will be in their best interest. It creates such a social stigma for life. I like the idea of doing away with grades.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  4. nightlake

    Interesting how Mr. Emu goes from Dear Mrs. Grimbald to Mrs. Grimbald to just Grimbald:) When we went to secondary school, I remember a couple of girls who were retained. They tried to gel, but the other kids wouldn’t mingle with them and they kept to themselves most of the time. Ultimately, they left school. Retention has the worst possible impact on a kid’s mind and is also seen as a social stigma. On another note, a neighbor told me that most of the kids are A graders nowadays and parents have to put a great deal of effort to make that possible. In fact, teachers here say that we can put in only 20 percent of effort, you, as parents, will have to put in 80 percent of the effort and ‘make’ your children study.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for noticing Mr Emu’s address. I intended to show that he started our polite and happy to support his child (and the teacher), but became more frustrated with the lack of understanding on the part of the teacher as the conversation progressed.
      The story you tell of those girls being retained is so sad. Actually, it’s more than sad. It’s unjustifiable and totally despicable. We are meant to be supporting students, not disabling them.
      ‘Make your children study’. Oh my, don’t get me started. There’s a whole other conversation.
      Thanks for joining in and sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  5. Bette A. Stevens

    Great story, Norah! 🙂 I’m with you… There are so many parents and students out there feeling stressed about COVID related educational concerns. We’re all (the world) in this together doing the best we can. Let’s continue encouraging and supporting one another! ❤ xo

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      I agree, Bette. It must be very difficult and concerning for everyone when children haven’t been in school for a year. I hope the situation improves for all soon. 💖

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  6. petespringerauthor

    I don’t believe in retention as the few students I taught who had been retained didn’t necessarily do better the second time around. I always considered a student’s self-esteem with this decision. Younger kids will always ask that child, “How come you’re still in 2nd grade?” The child never knows what to say and feels bad about himself/herself. I can think of only one child I taught who I think was successful with her retention. In large part, I think that had to do with the parent’s actions. She talked it over with her daughter, and they both were on board and didn’t look at it as a failure.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Your thoughts coincide with mine, Pete. Retention appears to have little benefit in the short or the long-term. It is surprising it is still used so often. Your one success story is perhaps enough for some to suggest it as worthwhile.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      It definitely does, Jacqui. Did you homeschool any of yours? I home educated my daughter until she was nine. At the time I was trying to establish a small school (15 children of all ages) but had difficulties with town planning, of all things. When that fell through, my daughter wanted to go to school like the other kids. I couldn’t really refuse her. She is now a senior lecturer at university so I guess neither home education nor schooling disadvantaged her too greatly but she really struggled to maintain motivation and momentum in high school. When she found what she wanted to do, she had no trouble making a success of it.

      Liked by 3 people

      Reply
      1. Jacqui Murray

        I didn’t homeschool. My area had good schools and my daughter thrived in them and now does a job she loves. My son did well but struggled more. I came to believe the core of a good education is parental involvement. If we care, if we pay attention, kids will too. It sounds like that’s how you parented also?

        Liked by 2 people

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  7. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    You had me with the flash, Norah, and it made sense even without your thoughtful essay. Repeating a grade (often referred to as being ‘held back’, what does that admit?) is rarely going to achieve its intent, and was rarely done in my school, for the reasons you mention. But research also shows that a student rarely makes up the losses for any “bad year”, whether that was family or health issues or even a poor match with the teacher, or, simply an unskilled or incompetent teacher.
    What resonated most for me was your mention of an ungraded system; I had always wished that schools could shake off the traditional factory model and explore non-graded approaches to educating children as well as eliminating evaluative grades altogether. All that ranking rankles.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased the non-graded statement resonated with you, D. I think it has so many benefits, and so many more inspiring educators than I agree.
      It is really difficult when children face setbacks that aren’t of their doing, especially when the decisions regarding those setbacks are made with things other than the child in mind.
      I am pleased the message of the flash came through on its own.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  8. Annika Perry

    Norah, terrific story to highlight the dangers of repeating school years! It is rarely done here in the U.K. and I’m glad for that. The self-esteem of those students is crushed before they’ve barely started school. My son excelled at school and I remember talking to the head teachers the primary school of him moving up a year since he was working them a lot anyway. She was adamant that this would be detrimental for him and he stayed in his age group. I realised soon she was right, rather he flourished where he was and had the opportunity to develop emotionally for his age as well.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Annika. It was interesting to read of your son’s experience and to know that the best decision was made for him. I’m pleased it turned out well. The decisions are often made for ease of management rather than considering what’s best for the child.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  9. Darlene

    I also agree. My brother repeated a grade and was devastated. It affected him his entire life. My son repeated twice and consequently left school at grade 8. There has to be a better way. (Both my son and my brother did just fine in real life. Got jobs in construction and made more money than those with higher education)

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Your brother and you son prove that test results in school don’t necessarily equate to success in life. There are many other successful people who dropped out of school. I don’t know why we get so hung up on test marks. Let’s just learn and enjoy it. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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