Tuesday 1 May 2012

How English SATs wreck reading.

The English SATs test routines and systems - ie teachers are forced to teach crass processes and systems of text analysis based on treating texts as if they are all sequences of facts ('retrieval') or presentations of logic ('inference'). This is NOT an attack on teachers forced to do this. I fully acknowledge that teachers are forced to do this in order to satisfy Ofsted, government and local ratings. (Ironically, Ofsted in 'Moving English Forward' has actually dared to attack schools for teaching to the SATs! What else are they supposed to do with you, Ofsted, breathing down their necks?!) 

Retrieval and inference may  be an adequate way of treating factual texts but it is hopelessly wrong way to treat fictional and figurative texts (ie fiction, poetry and drama). 

These kinds of texts mingle ideas with feelings and how we 'retrieve' or 'infer' is highly variable and not directly related to how or why  it affects us. Nor should it. Affecting readers is  why writers write or readers read. As we read in partnership with the author we create 'patterns' or 'structures' of feeling. As we are affected, again in partnership with the author we form ideas. This process cannot nor should not be reduced to 'retrieval' and 'inference'. It is a shameful adulteration of literary response, which is forced on to child readers by SATs, training for SATs and the whole apparatus of booklets, and mock-SATs coaching. It is an attack on reading itself.