Time To Read
Why does everything we do have to have a purpose, and what message is this giving to our children? I ask this because I’ve realised that in recent weeks I’ve been so focussed on getting my pupils ready for their various folios and exams that I’ve forgotten why I was able to become a teacher in the first place. I love reading.
We’re striving to change the face of Scottish Education at the moment, and in this respect, we are the same as just about everyone else in the world. I read lots from bloggers around the world about the need for change and wondering what shape the change will take, but in all of this I am getting a sense that what we are really looking for is a new way of assessing our children. Don’t get me wrong, I know the need for some formal recognition of a pupil’s abilities as well as anyone, but I can’t help but think that we’re taking a lot of the fun out of our education systems in the process.
Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence has identified four capacities and I think they are a worthwhile step in the right direction. Even better, there is a sense that the change should be lead by the teachers. For the first time that I have been aware, it is teachers who are being asked to come up with the new ideas… but I’m also finding that this is causing disquiet amongst teachers and managers alike. Actually, I’m not sure that it is disquiet so much as insecurity. Put simply, we’ve been given the chance to do something new and different and exciting, and we’re standing around like caged birds who’ve suddenly found that the doors of the cage have gone.
The reason for this is fairly easy to find. Teachers are waiting to find out how the new system will be assessed. In short, we are waiting for the destination so we can plan how to get there. To me, this suggests that we are doing no more than teaching to the test.
If I think about some of the things I teach in my classroom, it becomes even more self-evident that I always have one eye on the finishing line. If I give my class a poem to read, I’m thinking about the essay they’re going to write while they are trying to work out what a simile means. If I give them a play to read, I’m looking for a saved essay plan while they laugh at their attempts to speak with an American accent. If I give them a novel to read, I’m writing character notes while they’re writing on the books. This is not good enough.
I was lucky when growing up because my family has always read. I used to save my pocket money until I could afford to buy another Enid Blyton or W E Johns novel. Then I’d curl up and be unmovable until I’d finished it, more often than not in one sitting. I read because it was fun. I read because it was an escape. I read because it was something I was allowed to do. I’m only now appreciating how important that was to me, not least because I rarely get the chance to read for pleasure nowadays… and that’s wrong.
Of course, the problem of obsessing with grades and assignments and marks and comments and folios and tests is that one begins to associate reading with assessment, writing is done for grades, not fun, and talking becomes something to be hated because it gets a mark rather than a response. What makes it worse is that pupils have completely bought into this idea.
I’ve only once had a pupil come and ask me how to make her writing better, all the rest wanted to know how to make their grades better. And no wonder pupils today hate being given a novel… they know it means writing an essay. But maybe it’s time we changed that a little.
Maybe it’s time that we concentrated on reading rather than on writing about reading. I wonder what would happen if I were to read a novel with a class and then gather the books in and not set them an essay at the end of it. I wonder what would happen if we were to read through a handful of poems and then move on without killing them with ‘analysis’. I know one thing — we’d have time to read a lot more literature, and that’s got to be good.
Would Scottish Education crumble and fall if we didn’t have to force kids to write an essay after everything they read? I doubt it. Would I have some pupils who begin to learn how much fun reading can be when it’s not tied to the pain of writing an essay? Possibly. And do I have the courage to try it? Mmm….
So tell me what you think. Would you be upset if your kids came home after reading a novel and, instead of writing an essay on it, they were encouraged to start another for themselves? Would you be offended if they read a dozen Shakespeare sonnets but only wrote about one of them? Or would you like to go back to a time where you were encouraged to read because it was fun?