Friday, 24 September 2010

Revolting Students and Unqualified Teachers

I notice that on the 27th and 28th of this month BBC2 will be airing a two-part documentary, presented by Dylan Wiliam (deputy director of the UK’s Institute of Education), about implementing formative assessment with a class in a Hertfordshire comprehensive. (Now available on iPlayer here). I’m very intrigued, especially by part two in which:

“There is a classroom revolt when the teachers remove grades from work. The idea is to make the students actually read the comments on their work in order to help them improve, but they are left confused and angry after becoming so used to the traditional grading system.”

It might be thought that this issue is unique to school kids, but not so. I have two colleagues studying, like me, for a post graduate HE teaching qualification. One is, what might be called in the nicest possible terms, “a bit of a swot”, and the other has been so inundated during the last year that very little time has been available for going the extra mile in studying. When they were both given marks for their first essay submission earlier this year it was immediately clear that the gap between them had suddenly become a gulf in terms of motivation. The change was most apparent in the over-worked colleague who immediately lost all interest in engaging in the course other than to aim for a bare pass. And this is from a dedicated, innovative and experienced teacher!

A few months ago I read an academic paper also by Dylan William entitled “The Half Second Delay: what follows?” (2006). In the paper William musters a variety of research to demonstrate that experts, in all fields - but most specifically in this case: teachers - employ a sophisticated range of unconscious scripts or “filters” which can only be acquired through experience rather than through instruction and teaching qualifications:

“The availability of these data requires a thorough grounding in experience, which it appears is extraordinarily difficult to acquire without prolonged immersion in the relevant settings. In the context of the research findings presented here the idea of intuition remains mysterious, but can be viewed as an exquisite and largely unconscious sensitivity to very small details.”

So, not only do grades demotivate intrinsically motivated students but they widen the achievement gap and tell us absolutely nothing about how “good” a teacher is.


Vivian Oblivion said...

Hello, JH! I truly miss your blog; it's I who am gone, not the blog, of course. My dissertation is due 10/08, so I'm a bit preoccupied. I just wondered if you might know of any post-secondary positions (English Literature, Creative Writing) in your geographical area. I have several job lists and opportunities but would very much prefer an overseas position. I thought I'd ask. Of course, I'm not asking you to complete my job search for me. I just wonder if you happen to know of any positions. I am a specialist in poetry/poetics, film/new media theory, literary theory, women writers, British modernism(s), and contemporary literature. I can email you other information. Do email me if you have anything in mind.

Hope all's well with you and yours. Can't wait to meet my upcoming deadline. Want to finish working my way through your blog.


J. Hamlyn said...

Cheers Vivian, I wrote you an email reply.

J. Hamlyn said...

Having watched both programmes much of what Dylan William instituted or altered turned out to be very sensible and effective. However one of the most effective things was also the most problematic in terms of progressive pedagogy. William had encountered a technique in the States called "Secret Student" in which students are essentially bribed to behave. It worked for the duration of the programme but the longer term consequences of forcing kids to conform were never mentioned. Disappointing that such an otherwise well informed educationalist should be so misguided.

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