The Modality of Meaninglessness

I might pick away at aspects of the sample Key Stage 2 English Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling tests [GPS not SPaG, so even losing the familiar tag] rather than develop a lengthy argument at this point.

No, I will pick away at this nonsense.

I could pick my nose instead.

I am picking.

But before just playing, I think the profession, especially English teachers, need to argue against the test cogently on the basis of teaching and learning and everything that we know works to as well as doesn’t work to help students become effective writers. The aspect of the ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’ these tests cause students – of all ages, but for 7 year olds in particular – is valid and pertinent, but others should be allowed and encouraged to make this particular case. I think we as a teaching profession set ourselves up for mistaken but barb-sticking rebuttals about weakness and molly-coddling if we focus on this rather than the patent uselessness of the entirely rote learning and cramming that will proliferate in the addressing of these kinds of discrete language-knowledge tests exemplified in the sample you can see here.

Take one [a certain declarative]:

Screenshot 2015-11-03 09.55.03 (2)I honestly don’t feel the need to comment on the fatuous nature of this task. I will just ask: if a student ticks one ‘wrong’ box, do they receive three quarters of a mark or zero? We know the answer to that which adds to the complete nose – or do I mean nonsense? – of the task.


Make these dull sentences more meaningful or interesting:

It will be freezing tomorrow as ice gnaws the countryside.

Had it not stopped in the driveway of his house, John might have missed the train.

Ann can speak six languages but she only understands three.

You could finish your work by the end of the lesson by ticking the appropriate boxes, or you can write a haiku about always learning beyond.

This playfulness is more than playful. For thirty years as an English teacher I have focused on encouraging effective writing by being creative and playful. I have consistently promoted this through that teaching, the texts I have written, and in the ideas I continue to produce for this blog.

I do not feel the need to state this but do so because it is true: in much of my creative writing ideas, especially the more experimental, I often state the mantra – it does not need to make literal sense, but it must make grammatical sense. This point is I do not dismiss conventions and fundamentals and encourage their learning through the playfulness I particularly enjoy fashioning. I leave it to others more experienced than me to provide explicit meaningful and worthy instruction on this where it is helpful: these sample tests, and the training [not teaching] they will necessarily demand – to hit those targets – will not encourage students to be good writers.

3 thoughts on “The Modality of Meaninglessness

  1. Pingback: First Anniversary of this Blog, and its Continued Disdain for Nicky Morgan | mikeandenglish

  2. Pingback: Grammar Hubris | mikeandenglish

  3. Pingback: Deconstructing the SPaG | mikeandenglish

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