David Didau’s post a while back, “What if assessment for learning might be wrong?” was a challenge to what is often seen as a “sacred cow” in teaching. In my view, teaching has far too many of these sacred cows and many practices are “simply assumed to be effective by circular argument”, to quote Kevin Stannard. The sharing of success criteria with corresponding targets seems to be regarded as self evidently “a good thing”. The only trouble is, I do not remember a single one of my teachers ever sharing “success criteria” with me, or being set any targets beyond “do your best”. Both in primary and secondary school. How woefully lacking my education must have been. Equally, in the early 1990s, I taught abroad in 3 different countries and observed numerous lessons by different teachers to different age groups. The only sharing of success criteria I ever saw was the teacher saying to the class, “So today we’re going to look at/learn about X.” Not once did I see a teacher write an objective on the board, pore over a mark scheme with students, or set targets. Amazing anyone learnt anything, really…
Now, I realise this is beginning to sound like another “everything was better in my day” rant, but please bear with me. The reason I am returning to a subject I have often blogged about in the past is that I am currently finding that I am enjoying teaching the new GCSE spec in MFL. All my year 10 lessons have so far been filled with language, pure and simple. It’s what teaching a language should be about.
Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, it would seem that my enthusiasm is not shared by a number of colleagues on the various MFL teacher networks. I am reading about perplexed MFL teachers struggling to interpret the new GCSE criteria, desperately trying to work out where the grade boundaries are, asking for tips on grading work, looking for practice role plays for the new speaking exam, wondering just how little grammar we can get away with. To me a comment such as “it seems students can produce 80% of what is needed for the exam with just 20% of the grammar!” is somewhat depressing – surely we shouldn’t be teaching like this? Nearer the exam period, certainly, we need to get our weaker students to focus on the essentials and not worry about certain stuff, but the comment surely illustrates the danger of concentrating on success criteria too early on in the course. Are we such slaves to the spec that we end up using it as a ceiling, a barrier which will not be crossed?
I realise that, come year 11, I will need to worry more about success criteria and the spec. Maybe I am making a mistake in not looking more closely at it now. Maybe I, too, should be preoccupied with grade boundaries and target setting. But after having done all of that for years under the controlled assessment regime, I am finding it refreshing and liberating to leave all of that to one side for the moment. Yes, I am proud to say, I’m just getting on with teaching.