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As I proof-read sets of reports, I wonder if we should only make a comment if we would be willing to state its opposite:

Joe is a bright and very pleasant pupil
Joe is a dim or very unpleasant pupil
Joe is making excellent progress with this course
Joe is making poor progress with this course
Joe is highly motivated
Joe is unmotivated
It is a pleasure teaching Joe
I am not enjoying teaching Joe
Joe is an excellent student
Joe is a poor student
Joe always acts on advice                                    
Joe sometimes fails to act on the advice I give him
Joe is very capable
Joe is not very capable
Joe is a hardworking boy
Joe is a lazy boy

We would happily state some of these "opposites", but some seem completely inappropriate!

Actually it seems to me that we are happy to make positive statements about the identity of a person - they are bright, excellent, intelligent, capable, hardworking etc., but much more reticent about making matching negative statements. We couch them in process language, so the opposite of "Joe is a hardworking boy" becomes "Joe needs to put more effort into his classwork" rather than "Joe is…". The thing is, you can't have one without the other. In a world where there are "bright" students, there are also "dim" students. In a world where there are "pleasant" students there are also students who are "unpleasant". Our statement of the former acknowledges the existence of the latter.

I draw no conclusion - I'm just taking a break, having read 20 sets of reports. 45 to go.


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