Thursday, 17 July 2008

SATS madness

From today's Times. Two primary school children writing about Pip Davenport, fairground inventor, for their SATS test.

Child A (11 years old) wrote: "If he wasent doing enthing els heel help his uncle Herry at the funfair during the day. And had stoody at nigh on other thing he did was invent new rides. Becoues he invented a lot of new rides he won a prize. He didn’t live with his mum he lived with his wife.”

Child B (11 years old) wrote: "Quickly, it became apparent that Pip was a fantastic rider: a complete natural. But it was his love of horses that led to a tragic accident. An accident that would change his life forever. At the age of 7, he was training for a local competition when his horse, Mandy, swerved sideways unexpectedly, throwing Pip on to the ground, paralysed.”

Child A was given a higher score than Child B. Understandably, the head teacher is extremely displeased and is refusing to publish the scores until all the papers have been re-marked. Both of the above examples were graded as Level 4, ie what you would expect of a typical 11 year old. Clearly, there is no way that A reflects what one would expect of someone at the end of primary school. Meanwhile, candidate B is clearly exceptionally able. I don't know whether the mark for 'Composition and effect' includes spelling, but children are being short-changed if it does not. In the real world, people need to be able to produce written work that other people are able to read.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Freedom Writers

Eclectic it may be, but my Blog has never discussed movies until now. I don't watch many films, to be honest. However, I have watched a couple recently. And on Sky last night, I watched Freedom Writers.

I had never heard of the film, but I was absolutely captivated. Not only is it an excellent film, but it is based on the story of a truly amazing teacher, Erin Gruwell.

Miss G, as she is referred to throughout, gets a job as an English teacher at a very socially mixed school in California. The affluent white kids have nice, peaceful classes. They are expected to succeed and they do. The poor black, Cambodian and Latino kids are herded into chaotic classes where no one expects to learn and no one does. The behaviour is shocking. And she turns them around. The catalyst for change was the discovery of a racist caricature which one of the Latino kids had drawn of one of the black kids. Miss G tells them that this was the sort of propaganda which led to the Holocaust.

Upon learning that only one student had actually heard of the Holocaust, Miss G makes radical changes to what they are learning. In comes Anne Frank's Diary; students getting to meet Holocaust survivors and experiencing multi-sensory approaches to learning and teaching. This class of no-hopers see their grades improve massively and they come to love the teacher who had turned their lives around.

The political differences between the UK and US are very obvious. Googling responses to the film reveals that Republican rednecks regard it as Commie propaganda to undermine decent, God-fearing white folks. In British terms, Erin Gruwell's approach reflects Conservative values: encouraging self-respect, self-control and self-help; private fundraising; encouraging people to take responsibility for their own actions; the value of individual ideas against heartless bureaucracy; encouraging poor kids to aspire to something better, rather than waiting for hand-outs.

The similarities in education are striking, however. Kids being written off because of their backgrounds; indisciplined classrooms where learning becomes impossible; teachers set in their ways feeling threatened by, and completely failing to understand, someone with new ideas and a bit of charisma; jealousy towards a teacher who fails to conform and who dares to make a difference.

Miss G is to a large extent the teacher that I would like to be. I might even buy a set of her books for my own low-ability classes. Hopefully, I would fare better than Connie Heermann.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Who says politics is for ugly people?

Fabulous news that Miss Great Britain, Gemma Garrett, is thinking about becoming a Tory candidate. We need more colourful characters who will liven up the House of Commons. Go for it, Gemma!