Tuesday 3 May 2016

This morning's 4 false arguments in defence of the SATs and SPaG/GPS

This morning's DfE defences of the SATs include:
1. This is the 'knowledge' you need in order to progress, otherwise the children 'fall behind'.

This seems to be saying that the tests themselves are 'the knowledge'. Even if we all agreed that this is the knowledge that the children need, (which I don't) why would you reduce this to being 'the test'. The shape and nature of the tests is reducing learning to right/wrong. We want children to be investigating and discussing and experimenting with language. We want children to learn how to be learners not for them to be told that they are simply receptacles whose job is simply to recycle what they've just been told.

2. Other countries do grammar so we should too.

The problem with this one is that assumes that just because children in some other countries are taught 'grammar' that they all get it or know it. It's being described as if French 7 year old are all walking around talking about nouns and adverbs and that this has made them all brilliant at literacy.

First of all, most languages other than English are 'inflected' - that's to say they vary much more than ours depending on whether things are 'masculine or feminine', singular or plural, the subject or object of a sentence, does or does not come after a 'preposition' and with verbs varying across several tenses,  across I, you, she/he/it, we, you(plural) and they. This means that they are ideal for making children chant these like times tables. English varies a bit on some of these but not a great deal. Simply putting say a European template over English doesn't reflect what kind of language English is.

Secondly, it has to be shown that children in European countries are not only taught grammar but know it. And knowing it, makes them 'better' writers. If you speak another language other than English, go on to a chat room and see if the writers there are showing that they know 'grammar'!

3. The children don't need to know they're being tested.

This is simply blaming teachers again. Teachers and schools are under enormous pressure to 'perform' ie get good results in the SATs. If not, they can have their management 'taken out', another imposed, and if this involves forced academisation, this will mean surrendering the school up to unaccountable 'sponsors'. Inevitably, they pass on some anxiety about this to the children and parents. But you can't blame the teachers for this. They are anxious. I would be. And of course some of this rubs off on to the children and parents. End of.

4. Grammar makes the building blocks you need in order to write.

This is as much a fallacy as saying that knowing the chemical make-up of paint is a necessary pre-condition for being able to paint. At some point in life a painter might want to know and might find it useful. But not at 7 and 11. Same goes for the oxygen exchange rate in muscles for dancers.

Parents, children and teachers know that it's possible to become literate THROUGH being creative. Read a book with a child and say, 'let's make write like that'. Or tell a story and ask, 'what is that person thinking? Let's write that down...' and do that in pairs and together so that the child learns writing through inventing.

Again, it's possible to investigate language, rather than simply take it as 'rules'. How do authors being stories? Do writers of non-fiction write in different ways from writers of fiction? How? Why?

Let's look at how long sentences are in this newspaper article. If some sentences are longer than others, what makes them longer?

Let's think up and investigate some writings to find all the different ways we can say that something happened 'in the past' or 'in the future'. Let's collect these and put them up on the wall and this can help us with our writing...