When measuring is more important than learning.

Leonora Klein, who gave up her career as a family law barrister to become an English teacher, has written an excellent piece for The Guardian’s Education section explaining why, after three a paltry three months in the classroom, she gave up on teaching,

I felt as if I had stepped into a parallel universe where an obsession with “levels”, “targets” and, perhaps worst of all, “outcomes”, has created a culture in which creativity and original thought have no place.

I watched a year 7 class having their first English lesson of the year. They were full of nervous anticipation. I was excited, too, and I remembered what this felt like, waiting for your favourite subject to live up to your expectations.

“Hands up who has heard of assessment focuses?” The handouts went round. Brightly coloured sheets of paper, child friendly, covered in a complicated grid. “So, if you get a level 6, what will you have achieved? Look at the column on the lefthand side and the assessment focus at the top.” The rest of the lesson was spent drawing pictures to illustrate each assessment focus. The teacher explained to the children exactly why they were illustrating the “AFs” – “It’s important to understand how we mark, so that you can improve and develop.”

Applying the logic of the parallel universe, this explanation was impeccable. It is one of the mantras of this system that you should never teach anything unless you can explain precisely what you are doing, why you are doing it and what the outcome will be. It is an educational assembly line. The product is a good exam result. The by-product is the death of the imagination.

Later on she gets to what is the nub of her problem. She believed that she was in the school to teach a love of English language and Emglish literature only to discover that the system had other goals in mind.

……Measuring progress was essential, according to the local authority expert in English, if children were to become “the right kind of learners”. The right kind of learner would have the right kind of skills. “Yes,” she said, without missing a beat, “there may be a tension between teaching a love of literature and skilling them up for life.”

We must realise of course that as a society we more often than not think that “skilling them up for life” is more valuable to learners than learning to love literature. There something of Thomas Gradgrind in all of us, if only we cared to look closely enough for it. Why would we allow the current methods of teaching to carry on, if it were not so?


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