The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Reading here and here about (no doubt well intentioned and sensitive) proposals for how to assess the measure of learning done in a classroom, either via testing, or time and motion studies, doubts always surface in my mind.

I hesitate about most systems of measuring something that is basically a process, a qualitative exchange, because of necessity it is difficult to measure - difficult, but not impossible.
The fact that it's not impossible is its undoing, because those performance indicators which are easiest to quantify tend to assume importance, simply because they are easier to quantify. But they do not represent much part of the lesson, nor even any part that should be a focus. They are not in themselves important - they're simply easy to count.

Yesterday I was handed a piece of paper which was proposed as a checklist in assessing pastoral* staff's performance and the value of their performance on students' progress. Top of the list was reminding students to take hats off inside the building. Second was signing a daily planner. Third? Making sure their shoes were black, not white.
While I agree that these factors play a part in school life, they're not innate to a process of learning or encouraging learning to take place. Yet somehow, they have become target number one in my pastoral assessment.
Why? Because they can be answered with a tick or a cross.

Assessing how I talked a teenage girl out of suicide two weeks ago after a local pederast had attempted to bully her into sex, and had promised to wait for her on the way home - can the quality of that exchange be judged with a tick or a cross?

[* UK teachers act as tutors, or counsellors, to the same 28 students, for the duration of their time at any institution. This is separate from any subject teaching.]