Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three. Confucius

03 February 2014


Today I will talk about assessment, grading, results, feedback, whatever you choose to call it. I have returned to tertiary study in a subject I dearly love (visual art) and I LOVE the process of reading, learning, preparing for and executing a response in written form to a test, essay or whatever is required. What I don't enjoy is having someone else pulling it to pieces positive or negative.If you would like to see a little of my genteel word therapy whizz across to my writing blog to the poem entitled    A Beguiling Covenant.

These are not the rantings of a bitter student who can't keep up...the whole process just irks me. Even though the Alfie Kohn philosophy of intrinsic trust in the individual, and John Holt's reassurances to trust the learner to find what they need to learn has been ingrained after so many years of homeschooling, I found myself becoming anxious that my second essay wouldn't match the first grade. How would I keep it up?? Scary stuff to me as an adult, how do our kids handle it? I have talked to several of my daughters teenage friends and many felt the same as I did. It's not just kids who are struggling who dread the number at the top of the computer screen (yep,  2014 it's all electronic baby...I had to get my head around that too), it's the 'good' students who just don't want to fall below the imposed (self or external) benchmark of a 'good' grade.

 I do get the long term benefits of a tertiary degree and understand the necessity of doctors, nurses, pilots etc having testable knowledge for safety and performance reasons. I also get the value of discipline and sticking at a project until completion. What I don't get is the obsessive focus on formulaic detailing and paranoia about plagiarism and referencing. Yes, most ideas have been deconstructed and written about before...so what?? I wonder how our older kids can be creative in any academic sense when they're so terrified to play around with ideas in case somebody accuses them of 'cheating'...I thought it was called collation for individuals and in a group collaboration(??) Also, essay lengths have shrunk since I was last a uni student...easier you think, no it just means squeezing more evidence of concept and practical knowledge into fewer words...another pressure on our students.

On the other hand, I spoke to a 19 year old university student the other day who was raised in a wonderful natural learning environment until entering a specialised high school at 16years of age. She spoke of each stage of her education being "just right at the time". She loved the freedom to learn at her own pace in her younger childhood, then loved the challenge and delightful reward of entering formal education and earning acknowledgement after working hard on an assignment. She spoke of the value of constructive feedback, and generally helped to put it all beautifully in perspective for me. I must say I did feel a little bit pleased when she shared she hated referencing as much as me.

I will say today that I am still not crazy about the overemphasis on grades in many schools, I feel that they stifle creativity more than many people care to consider. I believe we are absolutely blessed to have the opportunity to homeschool or school our children in their childhood years and beyond  as we/they wish. I also concede that if a kid wants to go the school/tertiary route, their love of learning will not be crushed provided they are nurtured with a solid, gentle basis for learning in the formative years.

As for me, I have decided to read, write, submit and enjoy the process. I will aim for joyful learning, striving for my own indivdual best and role-model wholistic learning to my kids, rather than just banging on about it..that's the theory anyway.

Talk soon, Cynthia
Grover says it better than anyone...