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What if we turned everything upside down?

Cross referenced from Just Trying to Be Better than Yesterday

One of my earliest memories is from about the age of four. I was at home with my family and everyone was eating bags of crisps – or potato chips if you want to get all American on me. The bag, I recall, had a little cartoon man on the front – perhaps made by Smiths or KP – and I had opened my bag from the bottom. The man was upside down. At four years old I clearly couldn’t accept that state of affairs so I turned it upside down to open from the other end. Disaster.
A clear learning opportunity, wouldn’t you say? I never lost another crisp in my life; so isn’t turning things upside down sometimes a clever way of making things better. Even different. Reading Guy Claxton’s ‘What’s the Point of School?’ recently I came across this passage;
‘Imagine a society…in which physical education, design technology and art are the three most highly esteemed subjects, and English, maths and science are obviously less important because they only merit one lesson each a week, and they became optional when you are fourteen.’
He goes on: ‘The outstanding successes of the school are those who are strong, fit and physically agile; who can solve practical problems by inventing and building useful gadgets; and who can make elegant sculptures and great photographs.’
Now I know there will be readers of this who will be thinking, ‘That’s Rubbish’, ‘Maybe’ or ‘Wouldn’t that be nice?’ but it has rattled my cage somewhat over the last few days. We may indeed mock Claxton’s suggestion but on closer inspection it could have some merit. What happens when we, the teachers and adults, become jaded, uninspired by work, and desperate for something new? Most of the teachers I know would fit into one of the following groups: we wish we could play a musical instrument in our spare time; we may start to enjoy sketching or ceramics as a creative outlet; we take a photography course and buy an expensive camera; we join a gym.

     
Quite simply, we desire all of the things which at the moment are, perhaps, the least respected subject areas in our school system, the things we value less. We actively discourage the skills we ourselves desire thirty years later. Ironic? Perhaps. However, what I think it does is suggest a great conversation to be had. I’m not suggesting we should change everything just for the sake of change but if we are to truly encourage engagement with Curriculum for Excellence we at least need to have these ‘out of the box’ conversations. In fact, we not only need to think outside of the box but, as again I read somewhere recently (apologies for forgetting exactly where), we need to create a new box that doesn’t even look like a box.
Whatever happens, whatever the Curriculum turns out to look like, let’s get talking. And we can start by turning things upside down and seeing what they look like.

The X Factor and the Future of Assessment

Cross-posted on:  Just Trying To Be Better Than Yesterday.

This week my middle school S4 class and I looked closely at an article from The Observer, ‘Is Simon Cowell Essential to the X factor?’ where two prominent commentators debated the latest news that he may be leaving. Knowing nothing about the programme, I expected these kids to tell me all about the latest news and give me an Idiot Guide. They did so. I must say, very little surprised me and I tried not to look too appalled as they told me that the greatest glee they felt was

But Simon, I Thought It Was Higher, Not National 4!from watching the really bad singers humiliate themselves.

What did they think of the winners? They would be successful because they would be millionaires in a year. Hmm. At my age it is very easy to get up on the middle class moral high horse and condemn this ‘low culture’ as a lot of nonsense but I am beginning to think that there is something far more damaging than I first thought. It seems that the X-Factor teaches three things:

  1. If you are a winner then you are placed on a pedestal not necessarily because you are the greatest talent but that you have the greatest money making potential.

  2. If you are a loser then you are a loser. You will be mocked in public and treated like a loser. Why? Because you tried and failed in front of others.

  3. You can be a judge. Even the viewers are judges remember. Standing on the sidelines mocking the losers. Not commiserating or offering help – at least Cowell and his smug cronies occasionally do that – but wallowing in the humiliation of others, gleefully celebrating their rightful comeuppance. Who Do they think they are?

So is there anything really wrong with a harmless bit of schadenfreude on a Saturday night? Well, yes, actually. As an educator I see the kids who watch this show every day. I see kids who have learned that taking part means win or lose, that having a go must mean that success is the only option because reputation is on the line. I see kids who would rather sit on the sidelines and say ‘I don’t know’ to every question because being wrong in front of an audience, and an audience of peers at that, is too horrible to even contemplate.

And, do you know what? I don’t blame them. I would do the same. Because school reiterates that X Factor feeling every day of their lives. Humiliated into a ‘bottom set’ from the age of eleven. Pressed into an assessment funnel from even earlier and spat out at the end either a winner or a loser. If it was me, and I was given that choice, I would stand on the sidelines too.

If Curriculum for Excellence is to change things for kids in Scotland it needs to consider an assessment process which will help them get out of this X-Factor mindset. Success and achievement should not come in a certificate in August. It should come from us, the adults, every day of their lives.