Negotiating with learners should never reach this point, if at all possible...
Image: Andrew Becraft
It's a volatile situation.
Jim's fortified himself in the back corner of the classroom. He's taken hostages -- a good half dozen classmates -- and he's threatening them with distraction and possibly worse (like a virus, whereby they start to develop Jim's feelings about learning on an ongoing basis; the pedagogical equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome).
The teacher stands near the doorway to the classroom, looking relieved now that a few co-teachers and the head teacher herself has arrived.
Negotiations are well under way. Jim's being encouraged to surrender, through the megaphone of authority wielded by the head teacher. In her other hand she grips the shiny black barrel of suspension; she hasn't pointed it at Jim yet, but she will if she has to. Parents will be notified either way.
Rewind. Three weeks earlier...
Jim's looking down at the writing task. The word count stipulated has filled him with a sense of woe, and the 10 pointers outlining elements to appear in his report swim like black sharks in a milky bottomless sea.
Jim's despair is acute, almost like a knife. He wasn't ready for this surprise. He's been doing well all through the preceding class time, getting answers down to questions, receiving moderate praise from the teacher. He's not all that keen on reading and writing, but he appears to be holding his own.
Until now. Until this.
Screw it. Can't do it.
The teacher eventually appears over his shoulder, offers to help. But nothing the teacher says really seems to help at all. Jim tries to give it a bit of a go, trying his best to take on board the seemingly irrelevant advice, but it's just not happening.
"Can I write about something else?"
"No, unfortunately. But if you just... (assortment of Greek, Latin and Swahili drifts past Jim's ears)."
A little later: "Could I just, you know, change some parts of it a bit, to make it a bit simpler? I mean, I think I could maybe still write 400 words, but --"
"Look, I understand it's a bit hard, but no -- you really have to do it this way. That's the way everyone has to do it. So bear with me, Jim. You need to think about... (more Greek, Latin and Swahili)."
Eventually the teacher takes Jim's silence to be agreement or acceptance, and his baffled (frayed around the edges with frustration) look to be one of thoughtful deliberation. That's if he actually took a proper look at Jim's face. He wanders off towards another student's bowed head.
Tragically, the laws of this particular realm did in fact allow for (and even encourage) plenty of scope for task adaptation and personalisation. It isn't always the case, but in this instance there was actually more than one potential path through the forest.
The all-important negotiator just arrived three weeks too late, dressed in the wrong clothes, trying to measure temperature with a metre ruler.