Ticking off pays off

It is the stuff of Hollywood drama: children so keen to come to school that parents have to talk them out of it when they are patently ill.

Staff at an award-winning Argyll primary attribute the children's enthusiasm in part to its hallmark personal target jotters.

"It's something to do with making the tick beside tasks completed. It's such a good feeling," says Fay Black, head of Achaleven in Connel near Oban. "I have a hit list of tasks too. We find it good to tick things off - and not just the weeks before holidays."

Staff formulate objectives for very young children but seek to move them on to taking ownership of the task themselves - a development which also greatly reduces the workload for teachers.

Each Friday the jotters are checked to ensure that completed jobs have a tick. Any incomplete work is added to the following week's list alongside new tasks. The work is in the framework set by the school for what it wants to achieve that year and within weekly class targets.

Initially children had daily targets but now prefer a weekly schedule. Staff have also moved from putting assignments on a board to putting them on sheets of paper, to finally opting to put them in a jotter. It is personal to the child and does not become a nuisance in the classroom, filling up trays and getting lost or tatty.

Five years ago staff began asking children to write what they thought about the work they had done at least twice a year. Teachers now add a brief evaluation and send it to parents for their observations. The assessment encourages children to have a deeper understanding of tasks they have carried out, helps them realise how much they have achieved and makes them feel their opinions matter. For parents this is one more home-school link which increases their awareness of what children are doing and helps draw them into the school in a more general way.

A further advantage of the scheme is that supply teachers know what work has to be done without getting embroiled in complicated briefing sessions.

"There is no dead time," says Miss Black, but she rejects any suggestion that this structured format puts pupils under too much stress. "They don't see it as pressure. Assignments motivate them. What is demoralising for children is if they have to wait around for the teacher to give them something meaningful to do."

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