A while ago, I wrote about the time I showed my class various articles, regarding teachers' requests for an extended data submission date, in light of the late receipt of the exemplification materials. I showed them the video message, from our Education Secretary, addressing teacher's concerns regarding assessment, where the MP clarified some of the surrounding myths.
It wasn't a lesson on indoctrination, as one might think, but my hook for a unit of Poetry.
We talked about the pros and cons of exams. I explained how I use them as a teacher. They said why they think they're useful for life. We shared experiences of tests and how we feel while preparing for them, taking them and hearing our result; the downs and the ups.
After that, we read this poem, by Michael Rosen. It's his hauntingly accurate Guide To Education.
Later, we read the poem "The Minister for Exams" by Brian Patten. We discussed the message behind it and I was careful to ensure they understood its apparent breaking of 'the rules'; I hadn't spent months banging on about proper use of capital letters for them to take this example as gospel. We noticed how, while punctuation was used normally, capital letters appeared at every new line, rather than new sentence.
We read the poems, and I showed them this video too...
While Patten's is a little more sombre, Rosen's penultimate line lightened the mood a little - "Education is getting better because there is much more testing". It really struck a chord and I was very impressed with the children's ideas and responses to the poem; they had a lot to say.
I was using the poems, video and discussion as a stimulus for children to write their own poetry inspired by Patten and Rosen, but I felt like part of it became a life lesson; a chance for them to think about their future and how to get there, beginning to understand some of the hurdles that they might need to overcome on the way; this strange idea that, sometimes (despite our own best efforts) our successes are completely down to whether someone else agrees with our answer!
Our next lesson started with me teaching the difference between open and closed questions. We gave examples of each and talked about how an open question can have many answers, and that our answer might differ from someone else's...so who is correct? If anyone? Apples or leaves?
Later, we started to make up our answers to open questions, thinking about how we could include our different writing tools: metaphors, similes, etc.
After our annotating of the poem, rehearsal of open and closed questions, it was time for the children to write their own. Many of them came from a real place. It was so interesting to read their final verses. Patten uses a road-sweeper as the result of his 'failure', and we took some time to discuss our own ideas of a job we would dislike. The whole point of the unit was to discuss how differing opinions are part of life, and job choice was the same. We were careful to ensure your idea of an awful job, might actually be someone's dream career (my younger brother always wanted to be a bin-man; he used to sit at the window and wave through the glass!)
While we 'ticked off' a few Poetry objectives, we gained so much more. We learnt that the discomfort of exam season is almost universal, but in a sense it's a rite of passage, the storm after the calm. We learnt about how people will always have different opinions to ours, but it's what we do about it that's important. We learnt how, sometimes, we can give our all, but if that key person disagrees, it might not get us where we need.
Not fair? Ask the Minister for Exams.
Let's teach children the idea of a Plan B and equip them with the skills to cope with possible failure, because there are times in life when we could have done no more, at the hands of an unknown authority.