This post is on a theme I am witnessing more and more in education, especially – in my experience and those that colleagues around the country have shared with me, with the advent of the new primary assessment criteria.
To start it off, look at the three pictures below and decide which famous TV judge you would say you identify with most (and I know Simon Cowell appears twice!)
As you ponder that, my concern can be further expressed by the video of Jay and Aliona’s Jive from last Saturday (during Strictly’s Movie week.) Whether you saw it or not, click on the image to see the dance again – it’s the full clip, including rehearsals, but if nothing else watch the dance and judges comments.
And you see, in the judges comments and scores, I can find the cogent link between reality TV shows and how education is being routinely commented upon. Worryingly though, this comment and structure appears to be passing towards how teachers provide feedback and even are expected to mark work – not only from the policies in their own schools, but also from policies and ‘suggestions’.
As I said in my book Unhomework: How to get the most out of homework without really setting it the marking system I prefer is Medal and Mission; Medal – what the child did well, basically praise and Mission – a future target, relating to the piece itself, or a development to try in future work. (Further examples of this and more detailed reasons behind it are exemplified in the book, but feel free to get in touch on Twitter to discuss it too.)
However, a little while ago I started to witness the use of www/ebi as form of feedback for children, and it is the essence (and attitude) of this that appears to be permeating more and more of education. You see I remember first meeting www/ebi through various SSAT courses as a feedback on the day, but what if there is no ebi? This anathema bewilders many colleagues, in fact it was how I explained the benefit of Medal and Mission, against the weakness of www/ebi in class regarding one specific child’s work. In short, a Year 4 girl (one of the most talented children I’ve ever taught) produced a piece of work I was astounded by and, on sharing it with colleagues, universal agreement was that it was way beyond her chronological age. In fact (and having worked in secondary I agreed) the work was more in line with a Year 8 child’s work – admittedly under the NC levels.
And therein lies the rub!
For the Mission, I simply wrote, ‘keep this up as I can expect no more from you.’ But, to an ebi acolyte this was scandalous, “But there has to be something to improve!” The full conversation was lengthy, but the nub of it was that; a) the child was in Year 4, b) we’d all agreed (independently) the work was Year 8 standard, including this colleague, c) the child had met the prescribed criteria through the learning intentions (stated and hidden) and d) given all that how could I say anything other than the Mission and be appropriate, or simply a trite conceit? As you can imagine, the colleague finally agreed.
And this, in essence, brings me to the connection between last week’s Strictly and the comment made by Darcy – as she gave her score. In case you’ve forgotten, she said, “As it’s week 3, it’s a 9!” And this is despite (as you may recall, or viewed) despite the dance being called the best ever, “..a level of technique we have never seen, ever..” said Craig, not known for his hyperbole! (Predictably he gave it a 9 too, as did Len!)
What?! So, something can be amazing, best ever, but as it’s delivered ‘at the wrong time’ it’s not replicated in the value given to it? But, it’s not just Strictly, how many times have we heard on The X Factor, “I’m sorry, but you’re just not ready this year.” Or, “Sorry, but I don’t think this is your year, maybe in the future?”
But, isn’t the new criteria for primary schools regarding assessment – especially those for the KS2 tests exactly the same? The test, essentially, fulfils that which I believe Michael Gove, when Secretary if State, always wanted, you’re either good enough or you’re not – basic pass or fail. Of course, he always espoused that he wanted everyone to be good enough – though some of us remember the fact that in front of the Education Committee he didn’t understand averages:
But, why are we ceiling the children and making them only to be good enough, or not? And yes I know that there are nuances which schools are using, with; developing, emerging, embedded, deepening, profound, mastery, etc. However, the essence is that we are boiling children down to simple criteria – at a time when so many colleagues complain about teaching to the test and producing knowledge for a specific goal. I wonder if teachers will feel the thrill again, as I have, of a Year 5 calculating the perimeter of a triangle using Pythagoras? Or, will they just say, “That’s not for this year?” (The boy did this because, to teach the class you need all 3 sides to calculate the perimeter, I only provided 2 – enough to calculate the area, but not the perimeter. However, one child went away looked up Pythagoras, came back and solved it when I gave them this trick again!)
As I have quoted before, my ITL colleague Dave Keeling says that ‘Learning should be a festival of the mind!’ And I know that proponents of the new curriculum ‘opportunities’ state that it ‘frees schools up’ – although schools have no input into the testing arrangements at the end of primary education. And so, ultimately, the freedom, clearly has limits.
But, back to my question at the start, what judge are you? Which one should you be like? For me, it’s Bruno (yes I know he can be irritating, people who know me will see the immediate link there.) Why? Simply, because:
- he has passion for dance.
- he is expressive – he lets everyone know about it.
- he gives credit where credit was due (not only the only judge to score Jay and Aliona the deserved 10, irrespective of it being Week 3, he also commented on Kirsty’s progress with Brendan, as well as points for improvement.)
This to me is how we should celebrate our children’s work, how we should assess their work; be passionate, be expressive (I don’t mean write reams), give credit where credit is due – be honest and, finally, don’t,whatever you do ceiling them.
Perhaps, next time we mark work we should consider the example of Jay and Aliona’s feedback and subsequent score and balance our marking against that backdrop?