Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Let's play 'spot the flaws in this idealistic vision'

As a teacher, I feel I’m faced with ever less resilient students. And I know why. We all know why. Since it was decreed that no student must ever fail anything increasingly teachers are placed under intolerable pressure to ensure that learners pass. Real skills go out the window, replaced by exam technique and remembering facts that will leave heads 5 minutes after the exam.

Coursework and vocational courses are ruined by the fact that all students must achieve the maximum possible outcome and all enjoyment or risk is sucked out of these courses as learners submit multiple drafts and teachers desperately over mark, over assist 'redrafting' and hope to get away with a forgiving coursework sample. Teachers are ‘in competition’ with other teachers, institutions ‘in competition’ with other schools. We don’t really care about anything, other than grades. Not really. If they aren’t good, then we lose our jobs. Sometimes, in between the cramming and the drilling we have time to care a bit, but not much and not really.

Learners are bullied into submission, threatened and told their coursework or exam grades matter more than life itself. Some cotton on to this being a con and do as little as possible, knowing the teachers will have to make up for the deficit and others become dangerously fearful and obsessive. Few retain a healthy perspective and for all the pressure and tensions, I’m deeply sceptical that we are producing better learners.

My solution is simple. Every school teaches a spectrum of subjects. Each pupil receives a grades at the end of the school year consisting of numeracy and literacy, creativity and general knowledge - that grade is formulated by assessment by teachers throughout the school and moderated by online assessment that can be taken at any point within the final 18 months of school and resat at will. The assessment is deliberately not drawn from the content of sylabus in order to prevent ‘teaching to the test’ - for example, assessing literacy by asking students to comment on stimulus material from a historical period which is NOT part of the history sylabus or solve a novel scientific problem via a range of clues and calculations.

We continue to teach subjects and skills in such a way that fosters interests in discrete disciplines - each is responsible for creating an interesting and stimulating range of assessment and content but shares equal responsibility with their peers for that child’s cognitive development. Teachers are working towards common assessment critera and can truly share good practice rather than a few tips which are often next to useless, given the differing demands of exams. We abandon the notion that high grades in 10 subjects tell us anything other than a pushy parent or a child dedicated to learning the hoops through which to jump. Instead, we create schools which have simple common goals.

Foster the child’s potential to think, teach them to express themselves and give them freedom to do so. Provoke them, feed them things they want to write about, shape their mind with exciting lessons and let them respond. Stop telling them exactly how to do it and let them work it out. As long as they are thinking and trying, praise them. Stop telling them useless things about Assessment objective 1 or 2 and actually engage with the coherence of their work. Stop filling their heads with KEY WORDS and actually just let them choose the right words. Let them make mistakes for god’s sake!

Let them learn from them.

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