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School curriculums and exams


JNLister

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Michael Gove once had a fleeting acting career, appearing alongside Christopher Lee in a film called A Feast At Midnight, which I enjoyed very much as a boy.

In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with including English grammar in classes for kids (pleasantly surprised to read they're doing that). I'm an English as a Foreign Language teacher, and when I was training, it was a little humiliating to realise I knew very little of the grammatical components of my own language. Furthermore, the terminology also aids when trying to learn a foreign language for yourself. I think it's a good thing that they're learning what an adverb or what the passive voice is, for example.

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The question is whether children are actually learning these things for life in that structure or whether its just drilled into them to regurgitate in an exam and never think about again.

Its much like how schools teach specific books rather than fostering a love of reading.

I still find it ridiculous that I was taught how to balance chemical equations but not how mortgages work.

Edited by Vamp
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1 hour ago, Vamp said:

The question is whether children are actually learning these things for life in that structure or whether its just drilled into them to regurgitate in an exam and never think about again.

Its much like how schools teach specific books rather than fostering a love of reading.

I still find it ridiculous that I was taught how to balance chemical equations but not how mortgages work.

A balance still hasn't been found.

It's only through hindsight that I've understood why I had to study certain subjects at school. Balancing equations as a skill in itself might be irrelevant to 'real life', but it taught my brain to look at available info to extrapolate the info I need but don't know, improving my problem-solving for all future projects, subjects and work. Shakespeare might've felt pointless, but it built up my ability to understand what is being said even if I don't know the vocab being used, as well as patience and, similarly to the equation thing, and ability to look at words or terms I don't know and work out from their content what they might mean. But this could well be rose tints; hindsight also convinces me my teachers didn't know why they were teaching me this stuff either.

I'm also of the (outdated?) opinion that calls for teaching 'real world' skills in schools risks removing the elements of creativity and comprehension that should be fostered in education, and blurring the lines between school education and home education. Teaching life skills relevant to the current generation also means that those skills also automatically have an undisclosed shelf life based on social and technological development, which makes the ability to absorb, understand and adapt much more important than Here's How Mortgages Work in 2020.

OT, it boggles my mind how anyone can consider regular exam testing for ten year olds. The first test I was aware of doing was the 11-Plus; everything before that was treated like a game or puzzle, not an event of life-altering importance.

Edited by CavemanLynn
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1 hour ago, Vamp said:

The question is whether children are actually learning these things for life in that structure or whether its just drilled into them to regurgitate in an exam and never think about again.

I'd share this concern with most other subjects but, as we use our English skills every day, I don't think it applies here. At least that's the case it's my experience, and I have forgotten absolutely all of my maths. 

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23 minutes ago, CavemanLynn said:

It's only through hindsight that I've understood why I had to study certain subjects at school. Balancing equations as a skill in itself might be irrelevant to 'real life', but it taught my brain to look at available info to extrapolate the info I need but don't know, improving my problem-solving for all future projects, subjects and work. Shakespeare might've felt pointless, but it built up my ability to understand what is being said even if I don't know the vocab being used, as well as patience and, similarly to the equation thing, and ability to look at words or terms I don't know and work out from their content what they might mean. But this could well be rose tints; hindsight also convinces me my teachers didn't know why they were teaching me this stuff either.

I'm also of the (outdated?) opinion that calls for teaching 'real world' skills in schools risks removing the elements of creativity and comprehension that should be fostered in education, and blurring the lines between school education and home education. Teaching life skills relevant to the current generation also means that those skills also automatically have an undisclosed shelf life based on social and technological development, which makes the ability to absorb, understand and adapt much more important than Here's How Mortgages Work in 2020.

I agree with all of this - it's about learning how to learn, and learning how to think, as much or more than about learning the curriculum content by rote. History should be about learning how to understand different sources and biases more than about reciting dates, science and maths are about learning problem-solving and analytical skills, and so on. 

I think the problem is less about what's being taught, and more about how it's assessed - both for individual students, and for schools as a whole.

The school I went to in Jersey was dogshit awful. If it were included in the England & Wales league tables, it would have sat fairly consistently in the bottom 3-5, and I think at least one year would have been dead last (another state school in Jersey has been consistently last for years). Being at that school killed my interest in English and in reading for years, despite it having previously always been my favourite subject - I didn't read for pleasure for years as a result - because the teaching was awful, the majority of teachers clearly didn't give a shit any more, and when I started in Year 9 I was being taught stuff that felt like it would have beneath me in Year 7 at my previous school.
My interest in History didn't fare any better, because I spent more of my time in GCSE History looking at past papers than ever actually learning anything. More than half of the year was focused on how to pass an exam, rather than actually teaching us anything. Because they wanted to improve the school's performance, rather than to enrich the lives of their students - if you could scrape through to a C, they were happy. (Obviously this mostly refers to the management rather than individual teachers, some of them were and are great)

A friend of mine now works at that school, as a support worker for students who don't speak English as a first language, or at all. They have a larger percentage of these students than any other school in Jersey. While it's great that allowances are made to support them, far moreso than when I was there, the way we assess students doesn't reflect that. A kid coming into that school with no background in English whatsoever being supported through to the point of achieving a D at GCSE is a far greater achievement than me having spoken and studied English my entire life and half-arsed coasting my way to a C, but there's no way to reflect that in how binary our current system is.

The same's true of my current job; I'm an admin for the H.E. department of a community college, with much the same student profile as my old school. The entry requirements for our degree courses are lower than the majority of universities. To take a student of that background, with less barrier to entry than a major university, with perhaps no expectations that they would ever even enter higher education, and see them achieve a 2.1 could be seen as a greater achievement than someone going through public school and private tuition to a "good" university that they pretty much always knew they'd be going to and getting a First. But once those grades are on their respective CVs, that background information is lost.

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The problem isn't that there are exams, it's the structure and restrictiveness of said exams.

My children are a good example: 11yo is someone who loves studying and retains information well. She'll do well at the 'standardised testing' model.

7yo is a more creative, practical learner who doesn't retain information as well (although just as smart), and will have to study/revise harder for the same exams. 

Every child is different, learns at different places and in very different ways. That we have the system we have is mad. 

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Exams the be-all and end-all has to change. 

Within my department at work, last year we replaced all of our exams with coursework due to Covid restrictions. This year, one of our partner universities suggested that we ensure that every exam have a "back-up" assignment prepared in case we're not able to sit exams. At which point, we just asked the question, "we've managed a year with no exams, and there's every likelihood that we'll have no exams this year either - what's the benefit of having exams at all?". I think a lot of institutions will be doing the same kind of soul-searching. 

Particularly in further and higher education, there's no real argument that an exam in any way adequately prepares you for work or "real life". Coursework teaches you to work to deadlines, presentations teach you social skills and the ability to communicate information, group work teaches you to work with others - exams don't reflect any experience in the workplace.

Just thinking off the top of my head, with no pedagogic theory supporting this whatsoever, but exams would probably be of more use as summative than formative assessment - there to give an indication of a student's knowledge, or how much information they're retaining, but their overall grade shouldn't rely too heavily on them. 

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2 hours ago, BomberPat said:

Being at that school killed my interest in English and in reading for years, despite it having previously always been my favourite subject - I didn't read for pleasure for years as a result - because the teaching was awful, the majority of teachers clearly didn't give a shit any more, and when I started in Year 9 I was being taught stuff that felt like it would have beneath me in Year 7 at my previous school.

I had a similar experience with my old English teacher. He was so terrifying that people would actively try and fail out of his class. I once handed in a piece of work that I was quite proud of and he went nuts because I'd missed out two full stops and misspelled "Counsel" (I spelled it "Council"). I honestly thought he was going to punch me at one point. He actually did throw a punch at a boy for pronouncing the word "seven" in his own accent.

He made me avoid writing for years and, even now, I still have a bit of a complex about it. I'll even edit posts on here to tidy stuff up.  The only reason he didn't destroy reading for me is because he disappeared (never did find out why) and one of the substitutes was a lovely woman who gave me a list of books that she wasn't allowed to cover but thought I'd enjoy. I'm not sure why she singled me out but I'm so glad she did.

I got off light though. One of my friends really struggled with reading. He wasn't stupid but the school completely gave up on him, stuck him in all the worst classes and used to get assistants in to read to him. If they weren't available he'd ask whoever was next to him, because he'd just given up himself. I assume it was easier for them to do it that way than taking the extra time or effort to actually help him. It's fucked up that his whole life has probably been defined by a decision someone made when he was 11.

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