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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Parents and the Eleven Plus Tue 4th

Parents and Eleven Plus children sometimes argue about how to solve a problem or how to work through an unfamiliar exercise. It is possible that a parent, under extreme duress, could be called upon to say: “Oh God. I have told you that already. Why did you not listen the first time?” When the exasperated mother or father needs to evokes a deity it could be the right time to recall the work done by Thucydides.

Thucydides wrote the definitive account of the Peloponnesian War. He noted that citizens who had been abroad for only a few months had found that the meanings of words had changed. He was also involved in gathering evidence about what had happened in the war. He tried to write his account so that it looked as if actual people influenced the outcome of the war – rather than the Gods themselves.

The question of meanings of words is important. If we think of a married woman returning to teach after a break of ten years it is possible that, for a moment, she may feel slightly out of touch. There have been so many changes in education over the past ten years.

Some parents may all feel a little out of touch. It may be that the last time one of the parents did long division was when they were at school. Some schools have adopted a more informal method called chunking. This is based on how many of us already do division in our head. The Eleven Plus syllabus, if such an animal actually exists seems to expect the more formal short and long division taught years ago.

The well meaning intention of chunking is to encourage children to use mental methods – and provide a shift away from pen and paper methods. Eleven Plus children have to learn that short division is presented in a different manner to long division. Parents have to accept that even if they teach their child in a different way to that taught at school – they may not be wrong or out of date. Chunking is still division. Children still have to know the division facts of tables.

What we are aiming at is trying to guide our Eleven Plus children into open ended learning situations – where the children are motivated to explore and learn for themselves. When this state of grace has been reached then children will stop whining: “We don’t do it like that at school.”

Parents can then, once again, feel valued contributors to the Eleven Plus process. “Yes dear, I am sure you are right. We do need, however, to at least explore an alternative method.” These softly spoken words would probably have made Thucydides happy.

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