Chants lose out on goals

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Unravelling the jargon of educationspeak

Teaching used to be so simple. You decided what children needed to know and made them keep repeating it until they knew it by heart.

Nowadays children have to understand things as well as knowing them, which just makes life harder for everyone. We can no longer listen to our young innocents chanting "Mount-Everest-is-the-highest-mountain-in-the-world-it-is-29,028-feet-high" and go home with the feeling of a job well done. Today they have to empathise with a yeti.

This is called a goal, and teachers are meant to meet them all the time.

Sadly, I have never managed to meet a goal socially. Recently the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development published a study, Formative assessment: improving learning in secondary classrooms, to help us meet goals more effectively. I was hoping for tips on where goals go on their nights off and goal small talk. Instead there is mention of things such as meeting goals for high-equity of student outcomes (personally I find high-equity of teacher's income more to my taste).

If we want to meet those goals, formative assessment is the way to go; we can find out what we have to teach our pupils next. This differs from summative testing, which tells us what we have already taught them. In essence, summative testing is asking them how high Everest is, and it encourages old-style teaching, charmingly referred to as drill and kill.

Not even in the old days did they go that far, but perhaps it should not be dismissed out of hand. Think of the advantages: perfect results for the league tables, an end to truancy, an astonishing eagerness for extra homework. But no. Formative assessment it is. Asking pupils thoughtful and open-ended questions is the order of the day, encouraging them to discuss topics in small groups and share their findings with the class, that sort of thing.

But as we at St Jude's are well aware, such practices always end in tears.

If we see a small group in earnest discussion today, we know the science block will be going up in flames tomorrow. High-equity outcome brings to mind the great dinner money scam of '97. We know what our pupils can do, and we know where they are going. We don't need formative assessment, we need protection. Or possibly drill and kill.

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