Archive for February, 2011

Of course we don’t teach to the test. Really. No, really … Stop laughing already!

February 25, 2011

Most teachers and school administrators strongly deny that their schools  “teach to the test.”  After all, concentrating on  the development of deep understandings and the use of curiosity-driven investigations leads to better performance in the long run… that’s the current doctrine.

Let’s look at it in practice, in Literacy / Writing:

In recent years, many teachers in Australia have been concentrating on narrative / recount structures – stories the students want to write are, after all, a good way to get them to practice the general skills of writing.

The skeleton of the narrative writing aspect is the understandable sequence of the story,complexity of the plot,  and richness of characterisation including characters very different in thought from the author;   the flesh is general writing skills,  The same flesh is required for persuasive writing, with the skeleton seeming different until you look twice:   having introduction / sequenced arguments / conclusion, having more than one argument, arguments showing understanding of different opinions, and appreciation of the complexity of real world situations .

In an amazing coincidence, following the announcement that NAPLAN’s Australia-wide writing assessment will be based on a piece of persuasive writing instead of a narrative, all across Australia schools are concentrating more on persuasive writing and less on narrative.

If one examines the NAPLAN writing assessment guides and examples, it is clear that the bulk of the rating comes from general writing skills – how the author puts flesh on the skeleton.  Given the parallels between the skeletons, I doubt that the sudden change in format will reduce writing skills or seriously affect marks in general.  I do wonder how it will affect those who have had low ratings because they are happy with real-world matters but freeze in terror when asked to make up a story.  Could it be a surprise to some teachers?

(Aside:  I wonder whether this year’s NAPLAN writing scores will correlate more strongly with later Science performance than have the previous scores?  Are there that many bright students preferring reality-based writing?)

I also wonder what lessons the students will learn from the obvious conflict between speech and action on the part of educators – especially if a clique of parents has been influential in changing the course of classroom activities.  Furthermore,  some teachers believe what they say.  How much stress do they suffer from the cognitive dissonance inherent in their required participation in this approach?  How will it affect their future philosophy of teaching?  These are not quite rhetorical questions – rather,  they are questions I am still considering while I watch the real world.

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