Behaviour (13) Technical (1)

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Why can't kids be allowed to fail anymore?

Are we really doing our children a favour by not subjecting them to negative criticism nor allowing them to experience failure at school? Or are we just producing a generation of people who do not have the resilience to deal with knock-backs out there in the real world?

This old hobby horse of mine was resurrected when I read a thread on the TES website about the apocryphal story about banning of red pens for marking children's work. Red, you see, is AGGRESSIVE!! The argument is that a child can be demoralised by seeing their work covered in red ink, underlining every spelling mistake, grammatical error, miscalculation and so on. Well, I'd be pretty demoralised at that, whatever the bloody colour of ink! And anyway, any teacher who's got the time to underline every mistake in each piece of work for every child needs to a) get a life and b) get a life. There needs to be a balance when marking children's work; to tick everything and say "super, fab, great Pansy, keep it up!" to any old bit of tat handed in is both patronising and unhelpful. On the other hand nit-picking every littul speleing mistacke is demoralising and can put kids off a subject.

There is, however, a difference between being constantly criticised and being allowed to experience failure within a supportive and constructive environment. Poor Mrs Admin had all sorts of shenanigans with a particular A-level pupil when she was given an estimated D grade. The girl went to pieces and was quite unable to deal with it. The parent's complained "Well, she's always been told she's doing really well and anyway, she responds better to praise." Er, don't we all? And don't blame the poor A-level teacher, blame the school who nursed her through GCSEs, spoon-fed all the coursework, gave her uncritical feedback and generally set her up for failure at A-level by not instilling a proper work ethic nor helping her develop a sense of self-appraisal of her work.

Typical of this patronising attitude to pupils is the A* nonsense. I've even heard it suggested that now some universities are asking for A**, in order to separate out the brightest students. So, here's my suggestion for a revised grading system for GCSE:

Everyone's a winner! Everyone gets an A. Let's all go to uni!

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