Thursday, November 6, 2008

50 000 Words...

Can you imagine being asked to write that many words? I panic at the idea of 3 000 for a uni assignment.

On Monday I had students bounce up to me (they really were that excited) bubbling about something called nanowrimo. Naturally I asked what on earth they were talking about. Turns out they're participating in a "Write 50 000 words for fun" online competition. I was totally blown away, how awesome to see my students this excited about something that, quite frankly, sounds like a LOT of hard work.

To check out the project yourself you'll find it at - nanowrimo

I have to admit this information has left me torn as a teacher, particularly as an English teacher (yes, I do teach something other than Drama). The absolute maximum we have students write is 1000 words, and while I agree that it is important that we teach our students to express themselves clearly and concisely I am beginning to understand why so many of my students are happy to leave their 500 word assignments till the last minute. It hardly sounds like a challenge for them does it?

Ropes Ladder

Image: Ropes Ladder from bignothing1021
It really does highlight the need for education to reassess* our approach to assessment. For me this is particularly evident in our senior grades, where it seems to be becoming increasingly competitive in approach. I recently heard some students told that they need to approach their final years as though it was a race, and that even if they were getting an "A" they needed to make sure it was a better A than the other As in the class.
(Ms. Richardson, my Year 9 English teacher would be so proud, I used a pun!)

For me, there's something sad in that.

Now, I realise I'm a nerd...I always have been...but for me school needs to about more than "what were your results." Schools need to be about passion, about learning and about building a foundation for a future that we really have no idea about, and I can't quite reconcile that inherent belief with this focus on "end product".

What are we missing out on if we worry about locking our students into a career path at the age of 15? What opportunities are passing us by if we insist that there can be no creativity in the assignments they produce - they must be an essay of X number of words and say these things to get an A...?? What possibilities are there if we change the focus from standard results to something more personalised?

What needs to change in schools when it comes to assessment, particulary in those final years?

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