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Saturday, December 08, 2007

How Ready is your Child to Write the 11+?

Thank goodness that the Eleven Plus is not like a game of cricket.

I have mentioned before a Mr. Green who was my teacher when I was in Year 5. He was a tall unsmiling man. We were never sure who he liked – but we all knew who he did not like.

I don’t remember any of the mathematics or history or geography he taught us – but I do remember some of the English. He liked us to learn a range of poetry and sections of plays. I am not sure if he actually liked poetry and the arts but I do know he liked his class to learn verses off by heart.

One of the shortest poems we had to learn was by the wonderful Mr Longfellow called:

The Arrow and the Song.

I shot an arrow into the air’
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of a song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found an arrow still unbroken;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

I am sure that at ten years old I did not appreciate the sentiment behind the verses. I was too preoccupied with the mechanical side of learning the words.

You see if we were not word perfect on the Friday we would sit at break the following week writing the words out again and again. I am not sure if he was trying to teach us to appreciate our heritage. I am not sure if he was trying to instil in us a love of literature. I am quite sure that Mr Green enjoyed seeing children sitting in at break time copying out verse after verse.

So when parents start off on the Eleven Plus adventure I trust they are shooting an arrow into the air – but they are not quite sure how the whole Eleven Plus `thing’ will end up. Children are learning from each other, they are learning from their teacher, their parents and sometimes even their tutor.

I watched a little seven year old today with incredible reading skills – around the eleven year old level.

The bright child sitting beside was working through an Eleven Plus paper. There was one of those Verbal Reasoning exercises that tends to rely on a strong reading vocabulary:

Underline the word which is different from the rest.

Trawler cruiser submarine battleship line cargo-boat.

The seven year listened to the ten year old reading the question aloud. He then whispered `submarine’ and continued with his mental arithmetic exercise.

The ten year old discussed the difference between a cruiser and a battleship and commented that they were war ships.

The seven year old whispered: `Under water’.

So how is the eleven plus examination going to challenge this little one when it comes to his turn to work through papers? Would it help if he was encouraged to learn poetry off by heart in the same way that the dreaded Mr Green attempted to shove `literature’ down our throats? Did Mr. Green’s lesson plan have the rider: ‘If any child does not learn the verse sit him down and make his write the verses out until he knows the words.’

If the Eleven Plus is truly going to select the very brightest – then we may need a complete re-think about the type of questions that will come up.

Any way if that seven year old could pass the verbal reasoning paper when he was just seven years old don’t you think he should be able to `bank’ this result so he has one less paper to write when he is ten years old? After all if we shoot an arrow into the air who knows where it will land?

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