Friday, September 08, 2006

Assessment is for Learning

Now, I hope I know what you're thinking, if you've never heard this phrase before. You're thinking "Eh?", or perhaps, "Whit?" - and who can blame you. I mean, is the phrase even grammatical?

Y'see, it's an initiative, so grammatical requirements are sidestepped - because the numptys who write these things would barely know a grammatical statement if it bit them on their bums (or bum's, as they might put it).

Anyways, "AifL" - as we call it in the trade - is an initiative designed to get schools thinking about how best to use assessment to improve learning. I nearly said "enhance" there, rather than improve - jings but this jargon is catching. The idea as I see it, is that assessments - for which too many of us immediately think "tests" - are too often used at the end of a process of learning, when it might be a whole lot better to look at ways to use less formal ways of assessing to see how much kids understand during the learning, and act accordingly.

Now at this point let me be clear that this is, undoubtedly, A Good Thing, as far as it goes. For one thing, the burden of marking in Maths is a bit of a killer, so any way we can reduce this gets my vote (there's only so much red wine I can drink of an evening...). And for another, isn't this what good teachers should be doing anyway?

And there lies the rub. I don't mind someone coming up with an initiative - fair play to them, and I'm sure they get a real kick out of designing little diagrams based round triangles that purport to show the three corners of assessment - but I wish to hell they wouldn't make out that they've come up with the bloody Theory of Relativity. And worse yet, I wish they wouldn't then go on to maintain that this is the blueprint for all lessons forevermore.

Y'see, it's now apparently expected by the Inspectorate (HMIE as they are to their friends) that all lessons will begin with teachers - get ready for this - "sharing learning intentions criteria".

Oh for goodness' sake! I mean, is it just me, or should whoever first committed that phrase to paper not be forced to endure a thousand paper cuts as punishment?

People: education is not a business. We're not producing widgets. We're dealing with kids who deserve to be challenged, motivated, heck, even inspired... and if you honestly think that having every lesson in the entire sodding land begin with the teacher outlining these "criteria" is going to transform education for the better - well, all I can say is, you must be a crap teacher.

Now of course there's a place for making it clear to the weans what we're up to in a lesson. And of course, all too often, our lessons start with a bit of maths dumped on them from a great height with no explanation or context to help kids get the picture. But, but, but... is this one-size fits all "sharing learning intentions criteria" really the answer? And to take but one example: if I'm going to introduce calculus to a class that's never met it before and have no understanding of the term, how in heaven's name am I meant to get across these sodding criteria? I'm like quite a few teachers in that I introduce calculus by lookng at graphs and talking about gradients and the like, before then using graphing software to begin a quest to find a rule for the "gradient function" - so the last thing I want to do is give the game away by saying what the rule is. Whereas, presumably, someone who comes straight out with the rule at the start of the lesson and witters on about learning intentions is somehow delivering a better lesson? Aye, that'll be chocolate!

On a good day, I'm ready to believe that our lords and masters don't see things so simply, and that it's just the (poor) interpretation of their suggestions that makes it down to us mere mortals. Well, here's hoping...


Pepperpot said...

Any rant about what's wrong with modern education that includes the word 'widget' is spot on, IMHO. They're not widgets, they're people.

maths teacher said...

Thanks! I was honestly trying not to rant, but I just built up a head of steam... there you go. Teachers, eh?