I’m not a big fan of tests. It’s not because I’m not good at them, quite the contrary, I’m awesome at exams. I cope well under pressure, maintain a clear head and have been known to ACE various exams in my time. For example I still remember the GCSE maths paper 4 (the hard one) mock results being handed out in 1991. Mr Cole did his usual well done Andrea speech and she was looking very pleased with herself as she’d scored 95%.
I had to put my hand up and say, Excuse me Mr Cole, I got more than Andrea. More you say Walsh? Did I add your score up incorrectly? No sir, you wrote 97% on the front in red pen. The embarrassment that caused me was high but I was buggered if I was going to let Andrea take the credit again when I’d beaten her.
When it came to my finals for my degree, I thought it best to start my revision the day before the exams. My flat mate Loz convinced me to come out for a cheeky pint that evening to relax but I accidentally did a pub quiz, got into a fight about whether the answer was Pentathlon or Marathon to a particular question (pro tip- never argue when the other party has a microphone), had numerous pints and quite possibly a kebab and started the next day by flushing all my pens down the toilet as the bell to enter the exam hall rang. Still got a 2:1, which was the best my course work would let me achieve.
I could go on- I finished my accountancy case study with two hours and twenty minutes of the four hours left but still got a regional prize for it. Exams and I generally work quite well together.
That’s not to say I’m clever and know stuff, it just means I know how to do tests. And I know the difference between the two; it’s not subtle.
That’s why I’m generally against testing kids. It’s obviously not as bad as animal testing because the only thing that tends to get hurt are their feelings but it is unnecessarily testing for the kids being, um, tested.
I prefer to gauge their development in other, more subtle ways because I’m crafty like that. I choose to chart my kids development by their interesting and innovative use of threats. This can work for most areas of the curriculum, and here are 3 examples.
Language development & reading
It upset me recently when the boy told me a great story about how he and his chums were superheroes and how they had a secret base and went and did missions. It was a very elaborate and logical bit of world building but when I asked him why he didn’t do stuff like that in creative writing at school, he sadly told me he didn’t have to use fronted adverbials when talking to me. Like most of the grammar kids are taught today, if you Google fronted adverbials, all you’ll find are school resource websites that explain what fronted adverbials are to parents who are trying to help their kids out with there homework. 90% of the grammar kids have to learn is hermetically sealed in primary education. If you don’t believe me, ask Michael Rosen, he’s not a fan.
So, in choosing to chart my kids language development by their interesting and innovative use of threats, I have the whole world to choose from. For example, I considered the boy had upped his language skills and improved his reading level when he went from saying:
I don’t like X, I will destroy him!
X is my nemesis and I will obliterate him.
What more could you want? Nemesis and obliterate are used correctly and in context. A good sentence joiner in “and”, and nice sentence construction. Yes, there is more than a little drama in the exclamation, but it shows he must be reading the right sort of books and understanding them. Job done.
Science and the natural world
All our kids like mucking around with stuff and have reasonably enquiring minds. Wifey was exceptional at letting them do mucky play when they were little, so they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty.
How then does this apply to science and the implementation of threats?
Take young Ned, who is four. Less than a scant year ago he would threaten me with something like the following:
You will give me sweeties or I will punch you!
now it’s all about the:
You will give me sweeties or I will punch you in the peanuts [crotch]
From this I have learnt that young Ned has developed a good understanding of anatomy, which is confirmed when he thoughtfully adds. I can’t punch mummy in the peanuts as she doesn’t have any. Job done, he’s learning and learning well. I might caveat that with the caution that he needs to improve his negotiation tactics but he is only 4.
We may indeed be doomed to repeat the failures of our past, unheeding the mistakes we’ve made as a society, national or species time and time again but lets face it, as long as there are people in the education system that think humans and dinosaurs co-existed, that’s always going to be more likely than not.
Sometimes when the boy gets quite cross he’ll think up extremely elaborate punishments for us. After a trip to Warwick Castle a couple of years ago, he spent a fair number of weeks afterwards threatening to:
…put you in the trebuchet, fire you at the cottage, set fire to the cottage and make sure you are dead if you don’t let me watch [insert some pointlessly loud shouty childrens television programme]
Shortly afterwards the chaps firing the trebuchet at Warwick Castle accidentally burnt the cottage down. I’m sure the two events were not linked in any way but what it did show was an understanding of how siege weapons were used in medieval warfare. Job done.
You may have noticed a lack of input from my daughter in this. (Un)fortunately she doesn’t communicate in threat, instead she uses a mixture of questions for stating the obvious and statements when she wants to ask for something.
For example, a boy might say:
Give me a strawberry lollipop or I will obliterate your peanuts
whereas Fifi would say
I am hungry
in the vague hope that you might suggest that she has a strawberry lollipop. I haven’t quite worked out how to turn this to an assessment of academic aptitude as yet but I am working on it…