High Attaining Students or Rapid Graspers?


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What does ‘rapid graspers’ actually mean?

Just as teachers are switching off for their well-deserved summer holidays, up pops a photo on social media sharing the following image from (a mathematics hub meeting) our beloved school inspectorate, OfSTED.

This is a perfect example of how a photograph taken at a conference – and then posted on social media – can be taken all out of context because we have not been in the room to understand the meaning. The apparent tweak to the school inspection process is to ensure those who are inspecting schools are clear on what ‘mastery’ is. (Sean Harford)

Image credit: @fmath75

I then posted the image on TeacherToolkit Facebook page. The image reached over 83,000 people and generated over 115 comments. Below I have plucked out a number of views, including from those ‘inside the room’ to hopefully provide the context that is needed.

Out of Context

Ronan O’Connor said: “My last experience with OfSTED was a joke. The inspector was a joke. He looked half asleep in the lesson, this was more to do with his age than the pace. Then despite being handed a detailed lesson plan and lots of special needs provision and notes re. the use of the teaching assistant; he had thought that the person wandering around the class in the grey jumper was a student.”

O’Connor finished with this;

Steve Russell cried: “Rapid graspers! Rapid graspers? Is this what the amazing process of education is to be reduced to?”

Tracy Johnson added: “It seems the only people with confidence in OfSTED is OfSTED!”

Helen Hackett defended the term: “The problem of taking something, like this slide, out of context is that you don’t get the full picture – the full idea. This slide was taken from a full day – not by OfSTED, but a day on teaching for mastery. When exploring ways to enhance teaching and learning with school teachers, reactions of ‘but what would OfSTED say’ unfortunately are common, so consideration is given …

Hackett continues, “… the term ‘pace may appear slower’ does not mean the pace is slow – children are very busy, in some ways the pace is quicker than before, but looking at the same concept in different ways not rushing through different activities or calculations with little deep thinking. The term ‘rapid graspers’ was a small part of a whole day with growth mindsets at the heart – the removal of preconceived ideas and labels. […]

… It’s not changing labels for new labels – it’s about removing labels and talking about that one lesson, reflecting, discussing with colleagues and considering what you can do for those children after the lesson. People teaching for mastery will understand this, but just looking at one slide from a whole training day, which in itself was only an introduction to a topic is very difficult […]”

Context is King

The responses continued to flood in and defend the slide being shared – it’s all-too-easy to see how content can be taken out of context when not in the room.

Claire Craddock says: “This is what happens when slides are taken out of context with no explanation. It was in reference to Teaching for Mastery. When TfM, the pace is slower but should be deeper. OfSTED have said that they recognise this because they have had the training and understand it. The term rapid grasper was recommended as an alternative to labelling children ‘more able’ or ‘gifted’. Some children grasp some concepts more rapidly. It’s not a label for a label but a way of describing the activity of children in lessons. Posting misleading headings under a slide taken out of context is not helpful to anyone and confuses people.”

Lucy van de Klee supported the statement with: “This is an NCETM term, not an OfSTED term. Funny that no big deal in all the time it’s been used by NCETM…”

HMI and OfSTED’s National Director, Education Sean Harford responded on Twitter: “I suppose ‘rapid graspers’ is a better term when thinking about formative assessment compared with summative assessment, but I wouldn’t worry.” (Sean Harford)

I’d still argue that the term may be useful for specific subject-learning, it’s been part of the so-called maths ‘mastery’ lexicon for a while, but it’s not a term that rolls easily off the tongue and one I hope we will all stay away from when defining ‘high-attaining’ students. It’s like calling a Marathon a Snickers, or a pupil a student. It’s exactly the same thing …

Why not take a look at all full range of opinions found over on our Facebook page?


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