Absolution from absolutes!

Right, all this sneering is just getting beyond a joke. Latest is a piece sneering at ideas that marking in red pen may be off putting because there is no research to back it up. Well, I haven’t marked in red pen for very many years because I came across this theory and thought about it and it seems entirely reasonable to me that children might feel demotivated or daunted by seeing lots of red pen all over their work. I’m not too keen on it on my work! I’ve also been taken with the notion that it’s probably not a good idea to highlight every error where work is weak. Imagine not being the sharpest button, working really hard on a piece of work and then getting it back splattered in red. You might conclude that there’s not much point putting in the effort. So for years I’ve also been selective about what I point out and what I leave until another day. And -horrible confession here – I’ve even written assessment policies including these ideas. The current one suggests – I’ll use that word again – suggests that using a colour other than red might be a good idea and asks that staff are selective and considered in highlighting errors.

I can’t see what’s wrong with this and given that today’s blogger is adamant that it doesn’t matter what colour you mark in, I must be right. I can’t quite see why the subject is worthy of a blog or getting hot under the collar.

But it’s like a lot of other things. Do you do traditional stuff or are you that now dread thing a progressive – which seems to be characterised by doing crazy things like group work or peer assessment. Why does the debate seem so often to be reduced to binary opposites? I do a lot of traditional things: I tell my classes things – often, I have my desks in rows, I have seating plans, I write in the board and rarely use an inter-active whiteboard, I even insist that homework is done. But I do other things too: I often use pair and group work, I sometimes ask pupils to think things through before I get involved, I often use peer assessment – successfully with some groups and not so successfully with others.

I think knowledge is important and so are skills. In fact, I have looked up the word skill several times since starting to read the debates on Twitter because there seems to be such a clamour that knowledge is the only thing and skills are so yesterday and I was afraid I had
mis-remembered the meaning of the word. Well I haven’t. A skill is the ability to do something well according to the online dictionary. Well isn’t the end result of knowledge that you can do things well? Like maybe hold your own in a debate, express your ideas well in an essay, be able to solve a difficult equation, develop your own ideas, climb a mountain? Or am I missing something?

Education is a constantly evolving and changing sphere of work. When schools first started children sat in rows, learnt things by heart, were drilled, and learnt dates and kings and things. They were also beaten for getting it wrong, ridiculed and made to feel stupid. The wheel turned and stopped at more unstructured practices – projects and do-it-yourself stuff, apparently. And now the wheel creaks round again.

Like a lot of people – possibly most – I do what I think works and it seems to do just that.


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