The performance of my year twelve students was exceptionally rewarding. Not just because they engaged in the joy of learning and discovered the power of communication but because they owned all of their achievements. I did not write their essays nor did I dictate notes that could be effortlessly slotted into an essay. I rather encouraged them, and provided them with the skills needed to express their own perceptions. It was a great risk taken by them and to some extent by me because it meant I had to rely on their willingness to believe in themselves and to understand that their own work and ideas were by far more important than copy and pasting of class notes and tutors written essays.
The goal -orientated nature of our education system had not raised the bar it has encouraged a rather Machiavellian approach to teaching. Rather than encourage thoughtful analysis and expression of thoughts students have been forced to write as if it were “painting by numbers”. The classic PEAL sentence – POINT, EXAMPLE, ANALYSIS, LINK has been implemented almost exclusively throughout all secondary institutions in the response to writing an articulate essay. Of course it may be a useful model to ensure that students comply with the need to write comprehensively and provide literary analysis, but to coerce students into believing that there is no other way of expressing thoughts or writing extended responses and essays contravenes the very purpose of academic expression, and the freedom to express thought.
It is my belief that such rigid limitations have arisen from a profound misunderstanding of the syllabus. One of the most important, and I believe valuable requirements that pretty much run throughout all the Advanced English syllabus is an understanding of the interplay between representation and meaning. Contrary to the way this requirement is sometimes taught, it does not simply mean the ability to nominate a simile or metaphor used by Shakespeare or other writer, rather it means that a student is aware and able to explain how and why a literary device or symbol has enriched the textual message or impression gained by the student. This idea is based clearly and only on the student’s individual perception and the sensitivity of their response! There is little or no point in demanding that a student sacrifice common sense or the integrity of other commentary to site the use of hyperbole or worse still, be forced to site features of language and sacrifice fluency for the purpose of ensuring a perfect PEAL paragraph. Surely communication is more valuable than this.
I look forward to the day when the rigid application and over- simplification of our outcome driven syllabus will be softened in favor of encouraging diversity and depth of thought amongst students.