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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Learning to Pass the Eleven Plus.

I wonder just how much learning actually takes place in the Eleven Plus year. By the time a child has reached 10 years old a lot of learning will have taken place outside of school.

A child will learn to walk and talk without the benefit of trained teachers. (Unless his or her parents were teachers.)

At some stage parents will do their best to prepare their child to learn to ride a bike without the benefit of stabilisers. Some parents will simply pick up a spanner and remove the stabilisers – and then encourage the child to try to ride. Other parents will hold the saddle and run behind their child. And a still different set of parents will wait until their child is ready to learn to ride without the benefit of stabilisers.

As a child approaches the Eleven Plus examinations his or her learning of mathematics is a mosaic of little bits learnt at home and at school. Some of the mathematics will have been learnt almost incidentally. Other processes in mathematics will have been learnt `at the mother’s knee’. At school a teacher will have taught a largely planned set of lessons aimed at the child acquiring knowledge.

Yesterday I worked with a bright ten year old Year 5 girl who was learning to divide fractions. She picked up the need to change the sign and invert the fraction. She understood the need to change any mixed number to an improper fraction. She hesitated, however, over cancelling with the fractions – instead of simply multiply the numerators and denominators and then bringing the answer to lowest terms.

There is little likelihood of a question on division of fraction with mixed numbers appearing in an Eleven Plus paper. Our girl had completed a few revision examples on multiplication of fractions, she then read through the division of fractions examples and tried to put the information she had acquired into practice.

In this case learning was the interaction between the child and the learning tools she had available to her. We added a different element when we marked her answers – and then started showing her where she had gone wrong. In reflection she may have remembered how to do division of fractions better if we had not intervened.

Some children will learn best by sitting in a `verbal reasoning group’, listening to the teacher. Other children will benefit most from a `one to one’ tutorial session and yet other children race ahead when they are working with their parents. We can, however, wonder if the children exposed to `rote learning’ will be able to solve problems as confidently in the actual examination.

A few years ago I worked with a pair of twins who could have passed the Eleven Plus examination a year early. They had `learned’ everything they needed to know – so our task was to try to stretch and develop them. The girls revelled in complex questions. They didn’t compete with each other and they were extraordinarily modest. I am not sure what they learned in the actual Eleven Plus year – but they did demonstrate an extraordinary ability to absorb new information.

In the Eleven Plus a pass is a pass. Is there a case for A* passes?

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