Don't say what you mean

12th December 2014 at 00:00

I flicked through Madison's writing book. In response to my feedback ("You are using the word `big' too much. What other word could you use?") she had written "a better one". Dialogic marking may be all the rage but this was a definite misfire.

Logically, though, I couldn't fault Madison's answer, which is one of the problems with teaching today. Now that the profession is so dominated by checklists, targets and success criteria, it is becoming increasingly difficult for children to come up with a response that is both unique and acceptable.

You notice this most in tests. These, of course, are written by adults, who understand nuanced language, and are aimed at children, many of whom don't. A colleague who teaches Year 2 once showed me a reading comprehension about donkeys with a three-mark question that read: "Donkeys eat different types of food. Write three." A good third of her class had obediently written "three".

And it is not just the students - teachers are subject to tick lists, too. Just as Sats reading papers ask children to say if they like the poem and why, only to score them nul points when they honestly reply "No, it was dead boring", schools are setting teachers up to fail in a similar fashion. Although our staff handbook specifically states that teachers can make use of any teaching style, the other rule that states children must complete a page of A4 writing in every literacy lesson pretty much puts the kibosh on any plans you had to teach The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by recreating Narnia in the playground.

All of which goes some way to explaining why I've recently been filling in applications for jobs. I began by writing that teachers should make learning a fun and happy experience for all children, as well as taking them on lots of trips and getting stuck in to other extracurricular stuff. Within hours the rejection email had landed in my inbox. I hadn't even got an interview.

Deflated, I took a colleague's advice and emailed the headteacher asking for feedback. He kindly took the time to send me a breakdown of all the points that were missing from my letter (essentially: everything).

Although I had included a lot of the basic information, it was in the wrong language. Teacher lingo has moved on and I couldn't have been more out of date if I'd shown up to a dinner party clutching a bottle of Blue Nun.

I went through my application and translated it all into Ofsted-speak. With a minimum of two buzzwords per paragraph, I packed the page with chat of how I "facilitated learning for FSM, EAL and SEN", instigated "accelerated learning for G and T", and used "higher-level questioning and AfL to embed deep learning" in anyone who crossed my path.

The results were startling - within a week I had three interviews lined up. Finally, I was speaking their language.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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