For the Inspector’s Eyes Only

It’s Saturday morning and lots of teachers around the country are getting up early to start their weekend chore – marking the books.

A picture of some books. Some of them have been marked.
Books are king. But who are they really for?

And what a chore it has become recently.

You tick and highlight and comment. You make sure you have the correct shade of the correct colour of pen that your school has chosen to mark in.You date objectives and targets in front of the book. You write detailed ‘active’ challenges or gap-tasks that will re-engage their children with their last lesson and help them with the next small step in their learning. You check that the children have responded to the previous gap-tasks and you might even write more on them. After all the learning dialogue is crucial and it is even better if it is personalised to each learner.

And then there’s the marking codes that indicate whether the child has worked independently or not. The sign that means you gave verbal feedback. The stamp that indicates the child did really well. And the other colours that supply teachers and teaching assistants are allowed to use for marking. And the colour that the child does their self assessment in. Maybe there’s even a fifth colour that other children are allowed to their peer assessment in.

But who are we doing all this for? Do the children really need this level of complexity in their written feedback?

Some of my best lessons have come from when I’ve simply sorted books at the end of a lesson. It goes something like this:

  • This pile got it and they reasoned about it. They need to consolidate in a different context. Or if they’ve already done that, learn something new.
  • This pile almost got it. They made some process errors – they’ve got the concept, but need more time.
  • This pile didn’t get it, but they can. They might need a different model – a different presentation. They might need some equipment, but they’ll definitely be much closer to it by the end of the year.
  • Whoah! This pile not only didn’t get it, they don’t get some of the concepts that go before it. I completely over-pitched to these children and need to go back a few steps.

But the problem is, inspectors don’t see you sorting. They don’t see your lesson evaluations or your day-by-day adjustment of planning. They don’t see you using your excellent subject knowledge to tweak things so that the children can make the best possible progress.

No. Inspectors only see your books. Books are King.

Did you know that in many schools the books are thrown away at the end of each year (after having their covers removed and shredded so that no child can be identified in the rubbish)?

And yet books are king.

I would like to work in an education system where brains are king and we can be proud of what we our children do with our books? But how can inspectors judge that?

Gaps in the market #3: books for more able 9 year olds.

A bit like the six year old not challenged by the books that she is actually interested in, the more able nine year old has a similar problem.

This is another of my gaps in the market.

A more able nine-year old has the reading ability of a teenager, but books for teenagers are all a bit, well, teenagery. Books like Skulduggery Pleasant, where the hero is undead, or Beautiful Creatures, with just a hint of sexuality. These books may well be fine for the average 14 year old, but if they’re the current in-thing and the next step up for someone with the reading age of a twelve-year old, they not really suitable for a nine-year old.

Myself, I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy and so I wouldn’t mind encouraging my son to read the same sort of books. I’m not going to force him, mind, just a gentle steer. He already read Lord of the Rings when he was eight, so where do I go from there. George R. R Martin is the current successor to Tolkien, but George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones series is barely appropriate for me, and I’m 40, let alone my little boy.

And so he’s reduced to reading Cressida Crowell’s ‘How to Train a Dragon’ series and the Beast Quest books. All these are fine and firmly within the 9-12 category found in many bookshops. But they level of the text is too easy for my boy – he’s read them in an evening, which means either that reading becomes an expensive hobby, or that the 8-book visit to the library is a weekly visit.

There is an answer of course. Appropriate books at a challenging level do exist and many of them are free. The ‘classics’, like Treasure Island, are a step up and being older than seventy years can be downloaded for free from many places, including the Kindle store. I’m going to encourage my son to read these books of course, but what I would really like is for the authors of popular series for 9-12 year olds to step up their language just a little. Maybe they could write the odd book in their series with just a bit more challenge – so that a book takes more than a single evening to read.

The book all primary / elementary teachers should read. #mathchat

I was just engaged in a conversation on #mathchat about skill levels in primary teachers, when I realised that the book all teachers of young children should read was sitting right next to me: ‘Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers’ by Derek Haylock.

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