We listened to a father over the weekend. He told us how his little daughter had read before school and loved doing simple sums. She was able to write her name and could even construct simple sentences.
He was concerned because the school year was coming to an end and his daughter could not read any more and had forgotten how to do simple sums. She could now only write her name if she had it written out before her. Her father pointed out that she was popular with her friends at school and that her teacher liked her very much.
He made the point that he thought that his daughter now felt that it was more important to be quiet and conventional rather than demonstrate originality and creativity.
We have much the same problem with our bright children when they are working towards the eleven plus. We try to encourage lessons that allow a child to work quickly and complete tasks before moving on. With our able children we try to do at lest five different activities in the hour. This allows only about twelve minutes per subject or topic. Even so the content of the eleven plus syllabus is remarkably confining to some able children.
When bright children, who are engaged in preparing for the eleven plus, underachieve it is far too easy to blame the child. Perhaps it is a problem with the actual eleven plus examination.
We have children coming to us for lessons who are going to pass the eleven plus with full marks. These are exceptionally bright and able children. We have tested the children and they have achieved extraordinary scores. They do not need to have lessons. Some children then attend lessons for various reasons. Some parents want their children to attend for a wide range of reasons. We have the responsibility of keeping this bright and able children involved.
As teachers we demand and expect neat and tidy work. After all if a child can finish the work well ahead of time then there must be time for neat writing and careful drawings. So if a child draws fantasy pictures in the margins and creates a world far from the classroom we may feel we have to re-channel his or her energy.
The eleven plus examinations look to the acquisition of facts. The examination does not, however, try to encourage children and teachers to develop the ability to manipulate the facts in original and insightful ways.
So now we need a super 11+ examination. Your child can only enter this examination if he or she has passed the traditional eleven plus examination. (Poor children!)
The new eleven plus examination will need to encourage children to study independently. The children must be exposed to various workplaces so that they can see scientists and geologists at work. They must be given the opportunity to spend time in a factory seeing how goods are produced and cars are made. The children should be able to spend time with creative architects and authors – so that they can see how gifted adults spend their daily lives.
The new eleven plus examination will need to set questions where the ability to think and create is examined. This might save some of our brightest feeling bored and unfulfilled.