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Needy subjects

Q Why is there so much talk about the special needs of learners, and so little about the demands of subjects?

A This seems a novel question - but teachers, particularly in secondary schools, often have discussions with their students about what makes a good scientist, or linguist. Unfortunately, these do tend to set up a picture of almost unattainable excellence.

By contrast, the question posed in terms of the special needs of the subject has two advantages. First, it focuses attention on features of subject learning that are often overlooked.

Take learning foreign languages, which requires courage, empathy, and the ability to listen and communicate. Of course, there are other requirements, but this is beginning to look like a subject most people might enjoy from an early age. In other words, the conversation starts bottom up, as opposed to the one concerned to elicit the characteristics of a "good linguist".

Second, focusing on the needs of the subject draws attention to the abilities of children, rather than their disabilities. Who hasn't observed small children carrying out investigations of natural life - watching a snail creep around the rim of a flowerpot, perhaps - with all the patience and observational skill of a research scientist.

Best of all, this question asks us to look at a familiar topic in a new way - it could help liven up a heads of faculty meeting.

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