Tuesday, 6 May 2008

GCSE hell

A brief message: simply this - elder son, GCSEs. I think I need say little more except apologies for not posting much this week. Abnormal service is likely to continue for the next few weeks. Those of you who have been through this with your offspring will understand only too well, I'm sure.

What I do know is that sixteen year old boys find it very hard to fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run. And those unforgiving minutes are ticking away at a horrendous rate, and what was distant and abstract is becoming all too real. Ostrich behaviour kicks in.

I honestly can't recall how hard I worked for my O levels, way way back when. I was motivated, I know, by ambition and by pride. I'd been trained to see second best as nowhere. But I know also I did a fair amount of winging it - and was the sort of student able to bluff my way through if necessary. I was always at my best during the short sharp pressure of an exam. However, those were the days before the Era of the Visual, where knowledge comes in brief flurries of busy images, where teachers teach from extracts and photocopied sheets, so that students have no sense of the Gestalt of a book, cannot cope with long chunks of text, cannot extract information from such text, where to read a book logically from beginning to end, to - quite simply - stay with a task through the long haul, seems increasingly alien. An era where the dreaded Assessment Objectives, in all their windy glory, rule how an examiner marks and how a teacher teaches. I am currently marking A level coursework and have to fill in a grid on the cover sheet to prove that AOs 1, 3, 4 and 5ii have been covered. Stultifying, stultifying, stultifying. If the candidate says 'Shakespeare presents Othello as ...' that ticks the AO4 box, which has to do with different interpretations of the text - and that is how I have to advise my students to express themselves, rather than 'Othello is ...'

Now, boys and girls, this started as a brief post. But up galloped that old high horse and I jest couldn't resist getting into the saddle, yet again. Yee haw.


KAREN said...

I have two sixteen-year old sons, so I know where you're coming from. Amazing how different their approaches to GCSEs are. I, for one, will be glad when it's all over!

Lorna F said...

You've got two? I'll stop whingeing right now ...