'Evaluation evangelist' searching for converts

8th January 2010 at 00:00

A New Year often finds us reviewing the previous one, although looking back doesn't work for everybody. Take Lot's wife in the Old Testament. She lived in Sodom, a place God wasn't best pleased with (the clue's in the name). When God annihilated Sodom with fire and brimstone, Lot dragged his wife away from the burning city, urging her not to look back or there would be trouble.

But she couldn't resist one last peek. Perhaps she was just wondering whether she'd switched the oven off. Whoosh. Instantly, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot had to carry on without her, which is a shame; she'd have kept his chips tasty for years.

Usually, reviewing stuff is helpful. Sometimes, though, even without being transformed into a sodium supply, it hurts. I remember those traumatic PGCE days when my mentor made me write evaluations of my chaotic lessons. It wounded my pride to realise that much of the chaos was down to me, not the kids. I waffled for 15 minutes; they got bored. I gave instructions that were so labyrinthine they would have baffled Theseus. I used patronising teddy pictures on the worksheets (Yes, really). So, no wonder I lost control. And confidence.

But, lesson by lesson, the evaluation process changed me. The question "What could I have done differently?" became my mantra - and it proved a far more effective one than "Why does every kid in the universe hate me?"

Eventually, some English got taught, and then, bit by bit, taught well. I cried less into my breaktime coffee, smiled sometimes at the pupils, thought less about careers with Tesco, and my mentor breathed more easily.

Evaluation isn't just for the trainee, though. I found that out soon enough when I qualified and thought I was fine without it. Even when the quality of my lessons began to sink, slowly and inevitably, I started to play "blame the kids" again. Then, one day, I was desperate and resurrected the evaluation process. Well, whaddya you know? It helped.

I am now an "evaluation evangelist" (a phrase I can write, but not say). I preach the Good News of evaluation to all my classes, although unfortunately it tends not to bring them Great Joy. Still, they know I will ask them after every project to write about what went well, what went wrong and how things could improve. And, despite their protests, it helps them.

I even tried, subtly, to encourage my own children to carry out self-evaluations after they started school. But, unlike his older sister, my son really didn't want to talk about his day. She was happy to rabbit on about which bits had gone well or badly, so I felt able to help her assess it all. She was an easy convert. He, however, just replied "Not much" to every enquiry.

One day, I tried again. "What did you do in lessons?" I asked. "Not much," he said, chomping on Marmite sandwiches. "What did you do at playtime?" I asked. "Not much."

"OK, then," I said. "What was the teacher wearing?" I waited to see if he was even listening to me. "Not much," he said, starting on cake.

It was no good. Looking back just wasn't his thing. Maybe he had been reading the Old Testament.

Fran Hill, English teacher, independent girls' school, Warwickshire.

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