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Friday, March 06, 2009

Eleven Plus Drills

Many years ago I had the privilege of attending an MCC course aimed at helping teach teachers acquire an MCC Cricket Coaching Certificate. The course lasted a week and covered techniques and drills in bowling, batting and fielding.

We were set up in rows and made to practice forward defence and back defence batting shots. The idea was that by drilling us we would then go on to help our children acquire the correct range of defensive strokes. The premise was that a good defence was essential – as runs could be scored off loose balls.

We were taught the necessity of a straight back lift along with prescribed movements of the feet. The same feet position would work for a forward defensive shot and a backward defensive shot. To play a drive or volley all the batman had to do was to follow through in a more expansive manner. Defence first, attack second.

The West Indians, however, had a very different approach. They had been brought up playing cricket on beaches. The policy of every child was hit the ball as hard as possible. Attack every single shot. Attack first and defence second.

We need to think of the generations of children who were taught by products of the MCC system – always on the defence and occasionally hitting out. “Guard your stumps at all cost. Never mind the runs they will come.”

Think now of the generations of eleven plus children being drilled by eleven plus book after eleven plus book. The books and papers, however, are not generally designed to promote free wheeling thought. Many of the papers seem to be presented in a series of drills. “Learn these methods of approaching this type of question – and here are twenty more to try.”

This must produce an eleven plus child who is well prepared to enter an examination but not necessarily prepared to think. Is it conceivable that when the children come to sit the eleven plus examination there will be moments when rote learning will be enough? Using the cricketing analogy referred to earlier, a well drilled child should have all the necessary tools for the eleven plus examination. If this is indeed true, then does the present structure of the eleven plus presume that flamboyant thinking and strokes of genius should be neutered?

There could be many very bright and able children who are failed by the `system’ or the `coaching manual’ of the eleven plus. I am not sure today if well meaning MCC coaches still demand a straight back lift and precise placing of the feet. The world has moved on – and cricket has moved with it. Twenty Twenty cricket, for example, has become immensely popular because runs have become more important than defence.

There must be a way to shake up the powers who prescribe the content of the actual eleven plus examinations. Perhaps they need to understand that some children would benefit from being encouraged to think creatively instead of having to perform to drills. Poor children! What a waste of some talents!

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