Appropriation of the Abbreviation
It is good to see that the NUT is to ballot on a primary test boycott: good as it is the right thing to do because these tests are so bad.
I have said before on this blog, the argument that these types of tests, but in particular the Key Stage 2 English grammar, punctuation and spelling papers, are bound to cause young pupils stress is convincing. This is linked to the obvious argument that they will cause this stress because they are far too hard – pitched at a level well beyond the grasp of most students at the target age.
I have also argued that in addition to these convincing points, we need to mount a pedagogical rationale for why these tests are inappropriate, and I intend to do more of that here and now. The comprehension/knowledge level demanded of the discrete secretarial questions that make up a complete paper is ridiculously ill-judged for the intended age range. However, as a ‘test’ of students’ writing competence, and by implication a key element of their required teaching of how to write, they are utterly meaningless.
I have provided arguments for and examples of how I teach writing throughout this blog and would urge anyone interested in seeing how this informs my rejection of the ‘test’ approach to seek these out. I want to focus on specific examples of test questions from the English GPaS Sample Booklet published in July 2015 [as teachers we have appropriated the abbreviation to the more familiar SPaG!]. These are a selection:
Frankly….I don’t give a damn. And I couldn’t [do you see what I did?] resist.
Feeling my way into a more focused criticism, I want to mention I was struck by the irony of the required word, considering the nature of these ‘writing’ tests. In addition, the use of the adverb is a poor model of good writing.
This is one of the first ‘train-spotting’ questions. This tests ‘knowledge’ that has no actual relevance to learning, especially learning about how to write.
Why? The underlined section tells us information we need to know for the sentence to make sense. The question about identifying the grammatical construct is far less important to know then that fact. Why not ask why the hospital requires further information when a hospital doesn’t [if one feels the need to ask]? That, by the way, is a rhetorical question [1 mark]. The point is these tests need to be this definitive so that the mark scheme can appear to have a singular right answer. All others are ‘wrong’. Even if they make sense…..
I have commented on this here. Far better to play with how such sentences can work.
Train-spotting. By the time students reach GCSE, and having been taught how to write on a diet of this kind of punctuation nose-picking, students sneeze semi-colons all over a page thinking this will earn them marks for ‘sophisticated’ writing. Like a sneeze, the placing of the semi-colons will be quite random.
Have you noticed each of these questions is worth 1 mark? No differentiation, though they can be significantly varied in their demands. I of course reject the premise of their existence, but if you are going to offer them up as a sample/model, there must be some recognition of the broad range in demands. Clause recognition here.
Of all the roots in all the towns in all the world…….
Why a dash? The simple connective ‘and’ makes a better sentence. Illustrating poor writing to ask a question seems a bad thing to do.
Why why why why why why why why why? A better question would be to ask about the intentional syllabic rhythm of my question. But not at KS2.
Train-spotting, and the train is heading for a long boring journey. Going nowhere.
Obviously, why? And for 11 year olds? To achieve what?
I could work this out by extrapolation, understanding subordinate and co-ordinate as words, but as grammatical constructs I wouldn’t know these to spot and label.
How much more purposeful and engaging would this kind of question be if students, probably in groups and making posters [stick that up your Tom Bennett], were tasked to explore and discuss and use and then comment on the variations of writing wanted, needed, desired, had, craved..…?
No. Or, again, as a class task with a purpose, ask how other words [or verbs…] would alter meanings in this sentence, and to what effect? For example, instead of screened, how about sheltered, dwarfed, fragranced [I know, but why not?!], shadowed, stifled, hid…..
Actually, Rachel wanted a piano, not a keyboard, so she was pissed off.
You genuinely despair completely by this point.
What and How an exclamation mark shouldn’t go there but here is fine!
Remember, all of the above represent a snapshot of the entirety of the daft questions asked in the test paper. I have been playful in my rejection at times, but satire and irony are elements of sophistication in writing; not the use of semi-colons.
It should be a comma.