Monday, 27 June 2011

On the Roof - what are we assessing?

We were at the retirement party for my first headteacher. It was great to see old colleagues. Sitting diagonally opposite me was a young woman whose parents had been important members of the PTA for many years. I had taught her as many as fifteen years before. We smiled, I asked what she was doing (not long down from University) and conversation moved on. Later, after a glass or so of wine she leaned across the table and said,
" Mr. Brook, do you remember when we went on the roof?"

...back in BNC (Before National Curriculum) we were in the middle of  a local study; using and making maps. Supervising one of the boys retrieving his football from our flat roof one playtime, I realised his reluctance to come down was due to the unique view he had of  familiar terrain and I hatched a plan on the spot to take my whole class on the roof. The headteacher was agreeable - he offered to teach half my class so we could go up in two shifts and suggested I took a Classroom Assistant with me. We gave them a good talking to about sensible behaviour (unnecessary, but expected) and up the ladder we went. It was great, the children were fascinated and brilliantly behaved. The best thing for them was waving in a superior manner to children from other classes whom they could view through windows just below the classroom roofs. Their enthusiasm for maps was doubled...
...and fifteen years later at least one class member remembered the afternoon vividly. "I still love looking at maps" she said.

Today of course Google would provide the view: much safer, much clearer, much easier to direct and assess the learning... and yet, and yet...
In a recent post on Ewan McIntosh's blog he ponders what constitutes effective assessment. I wonder increasingly what it is that I have really taught children over the years. We aren't often lucky enough to get feedback like that above. A colleague once mentioned the enthusiasm for books that was shared by my former pupils. My daughter, whom I taught for two years, reckoned I was pretty good, she said students liked me because I was kind and funny. I would hope it might be something like a delight in learning. But I simply don't know.

Watch out though, or they'll start trying to base your pension on your career average performance...