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Monday, November 30, 2009

Eleven Plus Re-Sit

Your child sits an eleven plus test. On the day of the test there is unseasonable tornado. (We do get tornados!)

Part of the roof of the entrance hall is blown away. There is a loud noise but the room your child is working in is not affected. Outside the window the eleven plus candidates can see ambulances and fire engines arriving. There is no damage, however, in the sanctum of the eleven plus examination. The invigilator reassures your child. The calm outside room is, however, disrupted for much of the examination.

Your child is told that the noise will be taken into account when the papers are marked. Your smiling face changes to horror as you look at the building – and your main concern is your child’s safety. In the morning, however, the eleven plus parent persona kicks back in. Words like, `It is not fair,” spring to mind.

You phone, quite rightly, to ask for a re-sit.

You are reassured by a comforting voice on the other end of the phone.

How relevant will the re-sit be? How reliable will the second test be? Will your child be disadvantaged? A natural disaster has taken away your child’s chances of passing. The words, “It is not fair,” become a refrain.

You subsequently find out that your child passed the original test – but failed the second test. What do you do then? How reliable was the second test?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Eleven Plus Discussion

There may be other ways of examining at the eleven plus level.

The present `Eleven Plus’ is accepted by candidates, and parents, as being the best and only way that children can be selected for entry into grammar schools. Perhaps there is something to learn from other methods of examining. An advanced course of `Proficiency in English’, for example, requires mental maturity – and a good general knowledge.

There is an oral element which demands the ability to be able to take part in discussions on argumentative topics.

Students are only ensured of a good grade on the written side of the examination when they can tackle topics where a narrative or descriptive answer is not enough – the writer has to be able to cope with facts and opinions.

Students also have to be aware of a wide range of different styles of writing and speaking. The length of answers and the intellectual content are taken into account.

Of course an eleven plus examination where someone has to listen to the views and thoughts of ten year old children would prove to be vastly expensive and time consuming. It is much easier for the eleven plus administrators to encourage children to sit in vast rooms to complete multiple choice tests.

Perhaps the present system of eleven plus selection causes us to miss a number of bright and articulate children who can think, argue and discuss a wide range of topics.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Eleven Plus Chances

It is easy for eleven plus parents to wonder just how their children are going to learn all the different topics involved with any eleven plus work. There is usually, however, some light at the end of the tunnel.

Children are learning all the time. They have learnt to walk and to talk. They have learnt, at every young age, how to manipulate their parents. There have been almost countless learning milestones. Parents will proudly remember when their precocious child’s first solo bicycle ride. What about the thrill when their child first swam 5 metres without the benefit of training aids.

Of course the eleven plus has questions that need to be answered, but essentially eleven plus children are on a steep learning curve. Most parents and children manage to hold on.

Parents will, quite rightly, have multiple opinions on the fairness and the validity of the eleven plus. They will also have many views on the eleven plus itself. After all their children will need to `learn’ the division facts tables before they will be able to cope comfortably with bringing a fraction to lowest terms – or working out a ratio in lowest terms.

Some eleven plus children will learn to play chess. These children will be able o bring attributes of patience, sportsmanship, cunning, forbearance, skill and ability to trying to solve eleven plus problems. Chess playing children have to learn rules and moves. Children who play chess will understand `Queens Gambit Declined’ and `Two Knights Defence’. Learning to play chess may not help to answer a specific question in an eleven plus examination – but can demonstrate a willingness to learn and compete.

An eleven plus child may suddenly find that he is learning to beat his father or mother play an involved computer game. Some children will demonstrate this ability well ahead of their tenth birthday!

A two year old can learn how to insert a DVD – and then press the PLAY button. Few parents will sit down and deliberately try to teach their two year old but will be delighted when the child demonstrates that the skill has been learnt.

Somewhere during the course of the eleven plus adventure the child will become more and more aware that all the learning that has been offered – and received – is starting to have an impact. Being able to answer a certain type of verbal reasoning question does not come about by accident.

Of course parents are aiming at building their child’s confidence before the examination. The more the child learns to cope with eleven plus work the greater the chance the child has to be able to reproduce what has been learnt in the examination.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Eleven Plus Stress

Parents who are not involved in the hurly burly of the eleven plus must wonder why some parents occasionally become a little stressed about aspects of the examination. Of course some parents will take in all in their stride and avow: “I don’t care if he passes or fails. We will have done the best we can.”

Child: Strengths, Weaknesses and ground that HAS to be covered.

Parents: Mental stability, and a willingness not to listen to all playground scuttlebutt.

Child: Healthy mind, sound approach to the pre-examination process.

Parent: A desire to listen to the body. (Some may need to take care with eleven plus alcohol intake.)

Vocational Training
Child: “It is hard to accept that mum and dad can be teachers as well as parents.”

Parent: “I never knew that having a child would be like this.”

Child: “I don’t mind being driven to the lesson – but why do they go on and on about it?”

Parent: “I spend my life in the car. I love my child – but why does he or she have to be taken everywhere?

Child: “I like having my own private spot where I can work on my own.”

Parent: “I just wish, that for once, he (or she) would pick up and put away.”

Child: “I am more confident.”

Parent “Does it really take all this work to build a bit of confidence?”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eleven Plus Tasks

Trying to keep your eleven plus child motivated over a long period could prove to be an ongoing task. The reward of a good job and a fine car – along with a house with an indoor swimming pool may turn out to be a rather abstract notion for some eleven plus children.

“Yes, you told me that before. I know that I have to read every day – but I can’t find a book I want to read. Anyway the books you chose just don’t suit me. I can’t see how they can help me to pass the eleven plus.”

Parents could consider a little more powerful short term system of rewards.

Complete ten questions – 2 reward

Finish a full paper – 8 rewards

Tidy the papers away after completing the task – 3 rewards

Ask to do extra eleven plus work – 2 rewards

Be nice to your sister’s cat – 1 reward

Don’t invite a friend over on the day you have a lesson – 3 rewards

This task list seems to be deteriorating. We may need to build from a more mundane and less self satisfied basis. All the following tasks are worth one reward.

Feed your sister’s cat

Brush your teeth

Unload the dishwasher

Put your shoes away

Be ready for school

Do your homework

Write an email to grandmother

Deal effectively with your school clothes

Remember to remind me for your pocket money

It does seem as if eleven plus tasks would have to be more heavily weighted than day to day concerns. After all is it really necessary to reward a bright ten year old to remember to clear the table after a meal? Now if that same ten year old cleaned your shoes on a regular basis – you may feel a little more inclined to reward and praise.

The thorny question then arises. What is the worth of a reward? In monetary terms a reward could be ten pence – and this would probably work out, in a week, no more that a dash of pocket money. The only difference being that your child would feel that he or she had had to work for the reward. Parents may choose to maintain a form of a star or reward chart – but what self respecting ten year old academic would stand for that? He or she would see through the subterfuge immediately and treat the reward scheme with the respect it deserves! (None!)

The other problem lies in a reward system is that once started it has to be maintained. If you really expect your child to keep coping with the dishwasher every day then you must be prepared to pay for the privilege – even on the days when your child forgets.

Should the reward all add up to a good prize at the end of the scheme? Probably yes – but then if your child has been `good’ for a whole year then you would probably want to award a reward in spite of a reward scheme – rather than because of reward system.

A little eleven plus mathematics is necessary:

Tasks 10 a day = 70 a week. (There could be a debate about time off on a Sunday.)

Eleven Plus Tasks (One paper a week and eight other eleven plus related activities) = 50.

Total 70 + 50. Just what is it worth for your child to please you 120 times a week? Priceless!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When it was decided, through a degree of consultation, that education should be available to all the powers that be had to have a rethink of what was wanted in education. There was no national Curriculum in those days – but there were many different bodies that were responsible for education. Education for all required:

Education had to be socially comprehensive.

This was many years before the eleven plus. One of the main planks of the eleven plus was that it would help a number of able children, from some poorer homes, to have as good an education as possible in grammar schools.

Education had to be based on a total commitment. There could be no place for limited or religious elements.

The total commitment in the selection process does not take place in many eleven plus areas – some rely heavily, for example, on a single test, like verbal reasoning, to select children for grammar schools.

Education had to link with technical and social change.

Again some eleven plus papers seem to have very little to do with anything technical. No wonder that England does not seem to have boys and girls aspiring to be scientists and engineers if the very selection process they have undergone has excluded them.

Education had to rely on the state.

The state, in many counties, has rejected the eleven plus. The playing field is not level all over the country.

Education and the state became partners. Over one hundred years ago political parties were able to try to manipulate education to suit their needs. Not much has changed there – as we all remember, in very recent times, the words: “Education, Education, Education.” Public investment all those years ago was vital to the development of school. The present `Building Schools for the Future’ represents a massive investment in buildings and technology.

It is that very diversity in the eleven plus that brings so much richness to what children have to learn. One of our boys three different eleven plus tests:

Bexley – Verbal Reason and Mathematics

Kent – Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning and Mathematics. (Along with a little English.)

Medway – English, Verbal Reasoning and Mathematics.

He passed all three eleven plus examinations. His preparation had to be very different from that of a boy or girl only working on verbal reasoning and mathematics. We hope he was the richer for the eleven plus preparation because he was expected to cover a much wider syllabus.

The eleven plus plays a very big part in the lives of involved parents, children and schools. It would be wonderful if the examination could be more comprehensive, recognised as a vehicle for progress and enrichment as well as acknowledged by the state. Then we may see some progress in more of our schools.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eleven Plus for Girls

I should imagine that every mother and daughter aged ten years and upwards has heard about "New Moon" by Stephanie Meyers. I need to hold my hand up - before New Moon I had never heard about Twilight and certainly had not understood the impact of romantic dread and terror that vampires appear to engender in the hearts and minds of females in general.

The blurb on the back cover of the book has the words: "irresistibly combines romance and suspense with a supernatural twist". The two final paragraphs read:

He got up slowly and came to put his hands on either side of my face as he stared into my eyes. "Forever," he vowed, still a little staggered.

"That’s all I am asking for," I said, and stretched up on my toes so that I could press my lips to his.

The Twilight series may provide reluctant girl readers with an exciting entry into books that seem to be able to appeal to any female age group. It is remarkably hard to see why every eleven plus girl should not have one in the Christmas stocking.

My understanding, and this probably highly erroneous, is that girls need equal measures of romance and terror. It is unlikely a mere eleven plus paper - in its present form - can cater for these needs. The only reason for mentioning this is that the eleven plus is a stressful journey for some mothers and daughters - and would it not be sensible to be able to combine business with pleasure? Can’t some eleven plus questions cater for what a girl wants and needs?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eleven Plus Questions

Caroline Wells summed up the Eleven Plus for me today:

A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
Is it harder to toot, or
To tutor two tooters to toot?

Parents struggling with arcane eleven plus questions must sometimes wonder just how the questions landed up on a book or a paper. Perhaps the tutor was simply tooting.

When parents help their children with eleven plus work all they are doing is trying to prepare them for an examination. In the examination they want their child to be mentally alert.

Parents try to stimulate their children and excite them with the challenge of the eleven plus.

There is no need for anyone to feel inferior or insecure simply because an eleven plus question looks difficult. Perhaps the eleven plus author was doing no more than showing off and tooting.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eleven Plus Percentages

On of the big problems associated with the fairness of the eleven plus is the lack of published follow ups. We can see that if a child passes the eleven plus with a good score that it should be possible for the same child to achieve good GCSE and A level results. What we don’t have is the opportunity of retesting all the children some years later and then comparing the results. There could be some very able potential grammar school children who may possibly have missed a place.

We know that it is possible to raise a child’s verbal reasoning score by some marks – simply by helping the child to prepare for the test. We sometimes get to offer a verbal reasoning test to a nine or ten year old, and then have the opportunity to retest them some years later (if they are going to try for the thirteen plus). Sometime the results are the same, at other times the child could reach a much higher level. Occasionally the comparison of the test results makes it looks as if there has been an impossible decline in ability.

Many facts like motivation, however, must come into play. It could be that when the child was ten, he or she could have been set on grammar school. The thirteen year old may not be as determined to pass. For example he or she may prefer to stay with their friends at their present school – and not go on to grammar. Some nine year old children may not have been mature enough to take full advantage of that all important reasoning test, but could be ready at thirteen. We know that children develop at different rates and at different times.

We can’t even compare a verbal reasoning test result with the scores reached in an intelligence test – because the two tests are not looking for the same attributes. Elements of a verbal reasoning test may be contained within an intelligence test but the strictures of a verbal reasoning test can not describe general intellectual ability.

There was an article in a newspaper the other day suggesting that the observations of teachers could replace SATs. This could start to place quite a heavy burden on teachers as the results could appear, to the outsider, to be subjective, at times, and suspect.

A verbal reasoning test looks at a number of different sets of unknowns. Teacher observations, however, are not the same as results on a verbal reasoning test. Teacher observations for SATs test results would necessarily look at standards in English and mathematics. This way of looking at a child would not be the same as the necessary observations on the suitability of a child for grammar school.

It is easy to attack elements of almost any eleven plus test – but essentially eleven plus tests exist to try to help children into grammar schools. It is hoped that the children who enter the grammar schools are willing to try to make the most of their grammar school experience. Grammar school tests do not need to worry about innate ability. The Eleven Plus does not need to take into account that a child may do very well on one day – but not so well on another.

In one sense the major factor in determining how many children pass the eleven plus is the number of places in the grammar schools. Eleven plus tests simply try to make the entry as equitable as possible. It does not mean that eleven plus tests have to be fair to all children.

The number of passes at the eleven plus is decided by a percentage. How may poor children miss out because of a percentage point?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winning an Eleven Plus Place

As from the 3rd of March 2010 all children applying for places in Grammar Schools will need to supply a hand written C.V.

No child will be admitted unless the 200 word C.V. is completed. The two referees will need to supply day time telephone numbers and be prepared to submit a written reference.

A child who has been on this earth for ten whole years will have plenty to put on a C.V. There won’t be much opportunity to enter a section on the gap year spent helping the disadvantaged in Peru or the stints of working part time at Christmas in a large department store but self sufficient and self respecting grammar school candidates should be able to come up with something of interest.

It is likely that professional C.V. writers will want to engage new markets. Parents will also come into their own, for once, as they bring their expertise and experience to bear on the problem. Grandmother too will essay a trip into the loft to find her copy of the first C.V. she wrote when she was nineteen and desperately wanted a part time job. Of course Uncle Fred will throw in his opinion that C.V.’s are a waste of time. “Look where I got and I never wrote a C.V.” (Uncle Fred won the lottery when he was just seventeen years old.)

Children will quickly come to understand the need to take considerable trouble over their C.V.s. They will no doubt be informed over and over that this will be the first impression that the grammar school will have. Children will be warned that in spite of passing the eleven plus with outstanding marks – entry will only be offered if the C.V. stands up.

Now would be a good idea to remind children not to lie on their C.V.s. There will be little point in adding in a twenty third Cub Scout badge if it is spurious and misleading. Chance would have it that someone on the C.V. committee will be the Chief Scout.

We would hope too that children would not need to apply on specially designed forms. This would not allow an earnest ten year old girl to apply a wheel of sprightly yellow butterflies to her C.V. Who would want to crush originality in a ten year old? When children are thinking about all the factors in their favour – like interests, experiences and accomplishments – then they should be allowed some freedom of expression and presentation.

Some children will no doubt not listen carefully to their parents and write their C.V.s in the form of a story. “One dark and stormy night a girl wanted to go to Grammar School. She walked up to the forbidding iron gates and saw a school bag draped over the nearby railings. She thought: “I am going to be enterprising. I really want to go to this school. I will solve the mystery.”

Of course any self respecting C.V. will need to have a word limit. If the detailed instructions ask for a word limit then the children will need to adhere to the word count. There will be no place for the bright ten year old boy to try to be funny and write the whole of his life in fifty words. Equally a verbose, articulate but earnest girl may be denied a place if she offers 500 words. This will show that she can not count and may be too self opinionated.

Some children may prefer to submit their C.V. without making a neat copy. No doubt there will be some who will argue that grammatical errors and the odd spelling mistake will not be noticed and will not really count. One or two may even insist on handing in their C.V. written in pencil. They will want to stand out – but they may not be counted!

Finally children will have to ask their referees for permission. Like writing to thank relatives for Christmas presents, children will need to learn to contact their referees to tell them whether they were offered a place or not.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Wonder of the Eleven Plus

An allusion is a figure of speech that compares aspects or qualities of counterparts in history, mythology, scripture, literature or popular culture. If this is true then are the words `Grammar School’ an illusion or an allusion?

Early grammar schools grew out of medieval education – and were designed to promote spiritual and social order. Education in those early days did not end with school because youngsters with technical ability were offered apprenticeships. Grammar schools, however, were founded under many different guises. Some were cathedral schools while others were founded in monasteries. Some grew out of the need for hospitals to be able to educate. One grammar school was even established by a soldier. Enlightened nuns developed school for girls. Many schools were free – and girls had a very good chance of a sound education.

Rivalry between establishments was as fierce then as it is today. Gloucester Grammar School wanted a monopoly in the city and in the neighbourhood – and argued that a rival school master could not set up a school to compete.

The Grammar School did not win – because a judge maintained that; `To teach youth is a virtuous and charitable thing to do, helpful to the people, for which a teacher can not be published by law.’ The church fought back by saying that anyone who did not hold an `Episcopal Licence’ was not fit to teach.

During the Revolution there was one grammar school for every eight thousand people. This dropped to one grammar school to twenty three thousand in the Victorian era. Today children work hard to get into grammar schools where the ratio of places to population must be incredibly higher.

When I was a child I was fascinated by the concept of the Seven Wonders of the World. I regret that I have only visited the sites of three of the wonders – the Pyramid of Cheops, the Pharos of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes. I very much regret missing the Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar as I would have loved to have seen the irrigation by the hydraulic pumps. My grandfather used to irrigate some of his crops - so delivering water to crops was very much part of his life.

Are grammar schools part of today’s Seven Wonders of Education? There are so few grammar schools that they could appear to be an illusion. The impact on children who do not pass – but deserve to pass - must be profound.

In the Hanging Gardens water had to pumped to about 350 feet above the water level. Some eleven plus children have to learn Eleven Plus subjects and topics way above the levels being taught at school. The chances of passing must, to some, to be an illusion – far beyond what is expected of them at school.

When the Statue of Olympian Zeus was excavated Zeus was sitting on a throne and carrying a Nike or Victory in his right hand. In his left hand he held a sceptre.

Parents and children can not expect to suffice with a soft shoe approach when tackling the eleven plus. Some parents must expect to have to help their children to climb veritable mountains before their child can allude to a Nike in their right hand and a sceptre in their left.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reviewing Eleven Plus Progress

We have been experimenting with on line marking, evaluation and feedback of eleven plus English. We started off with GCSE English students where their essays were marked, salient points presented to the pupil on line – along with a GCSE examiner’s evaluation of the essay.

We have noticed over the years that when an Eleven Plus essay or story is handed back that it sometimes quite difficult to go over errors and mistakes – because an analysis of errors seems to turn some children off. Equally a child seems to remember only the good points that are brought out. He is she is more likely to say to the parents that; “It was a good story, I brought out the characters.” It is possible, and likely, that a child would rush up excitedly to mum or to dad and say “I need to work on paragraphs and planning!”

The first thing that is looked at in an essay or story is was the question answered. However gifted an eleven plus child is at writing – if the question is not addressed in an appropriate manner then the child simply has to be marked down.

Then it comes to the thorny question of a plan. Some children do not appear to like writing plans. A child could produce plan after plan – but then something will trigger the mind and the story can start without any evidence if planning. “I did it in my head,” may be true but will not really work with a remote examiner.

Of course the story needs to follow the plan. A wonderful plan on how man has developed different uses of fire may, horribly, develop into a story how a brave girl was instrumental in putting out a fire thus securing an old people’s home.

The content too needs to be realistic. You child can not deviate from the script and expect to be offered or awarded good marks.

Punctuation and spelling also need to be taken into account – but will probably not penalise a good answer too much.

Of course it is easier if your child can type the finished piece. You can then create missing paragraphs – and run the much loved spell checker.

Some children are much happier to create a story if they can dictate their ideas and see them appear on the screen as they are talking.

Suggestion 1

You could video your discussion about the completed story. Use this video as a teaching aid. Ask your child to analyse his or her responses. Try to point out his or her reaction when you suggest a word that could possibly have been a little more descriptive. Raise load cheers when mistakes in punctuation are acknowledged – and altered.

Suggestion 2

Return to the video a few weeks later. Look at the story together – and the video. Remind your child that very few real authors are immediately satisfied with their output. Talk about revisions and rewriting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eleven Plus and Finding Answers to Questions

We are now in the world of the eleven plus with a nine year old girl. Her grandmother says that she is, `Nine going on twenty nine.” Her teacher said that the girl can do work at the eleven year old level. There is a general feeling at school and at home that the girl is bright and able.

She has done a battery of tests at school – and they show very good verbal reasoning ability. Is this enough evidence for the girl to pass the eleven plus? Sadly, no. Possibly yes! For any test we can only say that the girl showed excellent ability on that particular test, which does not mean that she will pass the eleven plus.

Her parents, however, need to be able to draw some conclusions. They know that there is sometimes a flurry of moving houses just before the eleven plus. They have heard that this could be caused by anxious parents wanting to make sure that they live in the right catchment area.

Her parents take a blank sheet of paper – and sit down with their heads in their hands.

Is my daughter bright enough to go to grammar school and, do well?

Can she function consistently at the level of girls we know are already in the local grammar school?

Could she miss a year and still go to grammar school?

Will she do well in a grammar school environment?

Will her mathematics be strong enough to be able to stand up to the rigors of grammar school pressure?

Will the eleven plus test that she takes actually measure her reasoning ability?

Can she translate her excellent reading skills into understanding the intent of the more complex verbal reasoning skills?

Just because our nine girl can think and behave like an eleven year old (hence the teacher’ remark) or will she actually struggle with the work of an eleven year old?

Could she miss a class at school because she is a bit bored with school?

Will the house prices change?

Is redundancy nigh?

How quickly can we exit the world of the eleven plus?

Who can answer my questions?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eleven Plus Solutions

Little Lisa arrives. She has a verbal reasoning score of 129 and a non verbal score of 105. The verbal test is made up of verbal reasoning, vocabulary, verbal classifications, some arithmetical reasoning and verbal analogies. The non verbal test covers at the very least pictorial classification, analogies and numerical relationships.

We can see that the verbal test is made up of much more than language or linguistic skills. The non verbal test looks at spatial relationships, the dreaded block questions and the ability to visualise. (We once had a girl who loved block questions – mainly because she could see the answer almost in a flash. She always enjoyed `helping’ us lesser human beings.)

If our girl, Lisa, is to sit one eleven plus examination – based mainly on verbal reasoning – then she should enjoy the challenge of the eleven plus. If she sits a different examination that has both verbal and non verbal reasoning – then she could find the whole experience requires a little more thought and work.

Her overall score of 129 and 105 gives total of 234. The average is 117. This is a bright girl!

Instead of looking at her scores and saying: “This girl can not go to grammar as she has not reached the correct level,” we could look at other factors. The verbal reasoning score suggest that she has the potential to do well in a grammar school environment. The non verbal score, however, suggests that she has reached only an around average level – and is only capable of average work. This may not, however, be true!

What about her interests? Could she sit and put a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle together? A jigsaw requires many different nonverbal skills – as well as many verbal skills. What would stop her putting the jigsaw together?

She may not enjoy jigsaws.

She may have other things to do.

The motivation to complete the task may not be there.

She prefers to work with someone else.

The subject matter of that particular jigsaw may not appeal to her.

Her younger sister is better than her at doing them.

She has not had much exposure to jigsaws.

As Christmas approaches parents of eleven plus children could turn their attention to jigsaws. Some will choose fairy land settings to land in the stocking – others will want a more educational nature. Some parents will make time to sit with their children to complete a puzzle – others will be too busy. Sometimes other members of the family will drift up with a variety of suggestions – some helpful and some decidedly unwelcome.

There is something quite remarkably wholesome of clearing the table away after the Christmas meal and starting on a mammoth jigsaw. No T.V. no electronic games – just the ability to think, reason, supply solutions, laugh, argue and work as a team. (Quite useful eleven plus attributes?)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eleven Plus Keyboards

More and more eleven plus work is now being offered on line and through the internet. Children, and their parents, have to communicate with their computers via the key board. The layout of the letters on the keyboard, however, remains a mystery to many.

Back in 1714 Queen Anne granted a patent for an Englishman called Henry Mill for the manufacture of a machine for writing to be `engrossed’ on paper. Sadly his invention does not exist and we have no records of it. It looks as if Henry Mill was unable to make an effective back up of his work!

Credit for the first modern typewriter belongs to Christopher Scholes, a newspaper editor who lived in Milwaukee in the 1860s. On the Scholes machine, as on present day manual type writers, each character was set on the end of metal bar which struck the paper when the key was pressed. The keys were arranged alphabetically.

There was a snag – which would not apply the nimble fingers of today’s eleven plus children - when the operator began to type at speed the bars attached to the letters became entangled with one another.

One way out of the difficulty was to find the letters that were used most often in English – and then re-site them on the keyboard as far as possible from each other. This lessened the chance of clashing key bars. In this was born QWERTY, named after the first six letters of the key board.

Eleven Plus Question one:

In the letters QWERTY which is the first vowel after the third letter?

Eleven Plus Question two

If the letters of QWERTY were reversed, which letter would be second from the end of the alphabet?

Our eleven plus children will attend IT lessons at school. Some will even play on their own computers at home. Some will have some form of typing tutor. Others will be good honest two finger typists for the rest of their lives. When Scholes said of his keyboard: “A blessing to mankind and womankind” we must wonder what he would have thought of the various keyboards on our telephones?

My first phone was a Motorola – with a large battery and a large keyboard. Today’s phone, a Nokia N97, has a touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard.

It is difficult to be able to look ahead to the technology that will exist for today’s eleven plus children when they attend their first lectures at university. Perhaps one day one of our current candidates will enjoy a degree in design and go on to design a telephone keyboard that takes into account fingers that do not have to bash a QWERTY keyboard – but do need to be able to caress a screen. If it is your child, please let me know.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eleven Plus Morality

The Eleven Plus examination give us the opportunity of educating some of the most able children. We are preparing children for an examination – but we are also preparing our children for later life. Most of us would want our eleven plus children to be morally stable as well as intelligent and hard working.

I worked with an eleven plus boy last week who had the answer pages open in front of him. He preferred, however, to do an exercise – which he found demanding – on his own. From the mistakes he made, it was clear that he had had not looked at the answers. He remarked that he would not have answers in the examination and so needed to work everything out for himself.

One or two of the other children in the room laughed at this idea – but no one commented in a derogatory manner. Of course it can be argued that I should have closed the answer pages so as not to place the child in a position where he could be corrupted by the ability to cheat. Equally the boy too could have covered the answers. I really don’t think that he even noticed that the answer book was open. If, however, he had seen the answers would he have looked? I am not so sure.

What made him feel that he needed to look on the eleven plus as an exercise where hard work and ability was going to win him a place in a grammar school? Was his right minded attitude a result of an exemplary education from his parents? Did he anyway have a strong sense of morality? Perhaps his parents always paid their taxes on time. Did he enjoy the privilege of growing up in an environment where right was more important than might?

Perhaps, in time, he is going to turn out to be a leader. He may even become a rather democratic leader who wants to lead by engendering a spirit of co-operation. He may emerge as a person who is able to show sympathy and imagination. It is possible too that a strong sense of morality will direct him towards striving towards making a contribution towards the common good?

What will happen in the eleven plus examination? There are five minutes left to go. On the right of our hero is a boy, from the same school, who is acknowledged to be a genius. The genius, who has completed his paper, has a coughing fit. His paper flies to the ground. Our hero picks it up to hand it back. There is time for a quick look, as returns the paper, at some of the answers. He does not look because he is intent on his work.

The invigilator looks up and sees the exchange of the papers and swoops down to confront the two candidates. There is a hurried and low voiced altercation. Our boy is accused of looking at the answers. His final five minutes is disrupted. His only crime was to pick the paper up and return it. His morality – and integrity - was questioned, just at the wrong time.

“But I did not look.”

We remember Ernest Hemmingway who maintained:

About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good about after and what is immoral is what you feel bad about after.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Eleven Plus and the Moon

Do remember your Lear? In particular the Owl and the Pussy Cat?

They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon.

These words came to mind this morning as I was working with a bright, articulate and able boy who sat his eleven plus examinations last year. He stayed on for enrichment lessons because he was determined to do as well as possible. He brought his science books and papers from school and home, and elected to work, today, on the effect of light on planets – and reasons why planets are visible.

When Edward Lear was writing his nonsense verse he would have had little idea that man would one day find water on the moon. Google had a story on the front page telling about a man made substance landing on the moon and sending up a splash of water. The BBC had a different take.

We already know a lot about the moon – that it is a natural satellite of the earth, and is illuminated by the sun. In many religions, and in popular superstition, the lunar cycle was believed to affect many aspects of life, from birth and death, to times when to harvest crops, slaughter livestock and do business and go to war. There must be a place for the moon in eleven plus lore.

Some great mathematician and statistician will no doubt have looked at the position of the moon and the timing of the eleven plus examinations. They must have discovered facts like:

Boys do very well on verbal reasoning papers at the time of the full moon.

Girls are able score full marks on mathematics papers if the examination falls on the date of a full moon.

The evidence must be conclusive.

There may also be evidence that parents are able to work with their children if they too have been touched by a little moonshine. Any self respecting parent will know the effect of moonshine on their dispositions. We are not talking here about the light of the moon shining on upturned faces – but the `moon shine’ distilled in large jars – just as occurred during the Prohibition. Surely two large glasses of 110% moonshine would make any parent calm, relaxed and accepting of any eleven plus notions?

So look out of the window the next time you are intent on working with your child on an eleven plus paper. If the moon is shining then you know three things:

Your child may do well on the papers.
There could be life on the moon.
110% moonshine will surely give you a headache!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Eleven Plus and the Contribution of Parents

Your eleven plus child will be tested in a variety of ways before the actual eleven plus examination. Parents will often initiate the testing themselves – and not rely on the expertise of others.

Some questions may be looking for knowledge. Questions can look at general points or attempt to make a judgement on a single detail.

Other questions try to find out if your child understands the material or the situation. Questions based on comprehension will often try to take for granted that your child has knowledge of what is being tested, the questions are therefore looking at performance.

Other questions will try to see if your child can apply what has been learnt or studied.

A different type of question looks at the ability to analyse. Here there questioner tries to take for granted that your child has some understanding of the subject – and can also apply what has been learnt.

Some questions will attempt to make a synthesis of what has been learnt. These questions can combine more than one type of answer.

A final type is called evaluation by most professionals in the subject. Evaluation can be made on the basis of evidence – like evidence of being able to apply logic or make a judgement or draw a conclusion.

So here lies the challenge or children. If there are many types of eleven plus questions – how is a ten year old supposed to be able to demonstrate both application and ability in an actual examination? The advantage the eleven plus child has is that there is very likely to be lots of intelligence at his or her command.

Here lies a little challenge for parents, if they so wish. Discuss, with your child, the different types of questions outlined above. Ask your child to try to work out which category the following question falls into:

If all the letters of the word MEDICAL were removed from the alphabet, what would be the seventh letter of the alphabet?

It is likely that knowledge is involved – along with comprehension and application of a rule. The more abstract concepts of synthesis and evaluation play a much smaller part. The question only needs to be phrased slightly differently to force the eleven plus child to adopt a different approach.

Parents with their wisdom and experience being so much greater than that of their children, will want to consolidate the time and effort their children put into eleven plus work. If parents can help their children to try to evaluate some their answers then this important contribution could make the difference between a pass and fail.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Eleven Plus Discussions

When parents start off on the eleven plus drive they will help their children in many different ways. Sometimes an eleven plus discussion can take place with loving support but at other times parents could be talking through clenched teeth. Any true eleven plus child will, of course, take any parental mood swings in their stride. “Mum, why are you red in the face? I only said that I wanted to do the lesson later. I was being perfectly reasonable.”

Parents will then try to communicate:

Step 1A I will tell him what to do. He will do when I want him to do it. There is no room for error. I passed. His father passed and he will pass if I can do anything about it.”

Step 1B Poor child. He is doing the best he can. He has had a hard day at school and deserves a little T.V. time before he starts work. Poor thing.

Step 2A I think you should do long multiplication my way. I do not really mind what you have been taught at school. My way has served me well for many years.

Step 2B All right. Let us look at these two methods of doing long multiplication together. I believe that if we ask Dad when he comes in he will have a different method yet again?

Step 3A Today we are going to do Questions 34 to 56 of paper 7. No argument. This is what you agreed. We have a plan and we must stick to it. I don’t care if you say you will do double next week. Today is when it counts. Just do your work!

Step 3B This is an open ended discussion - so can be left to the discretion of any readers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eleven Plus Non Verbal Reasoning

Long ago, well before the eleven plus men and women were struggling to make sense of odd shapes draped across the page forward thinking was happening in education. This was before graphic artists were employed to conjure up series of shapes and well meaning eleven plus publishers and authors wrote the immortal words:

“Find the missing shape.”

We need to go back to Stratton and Young. Stratton equipped himself with eyeglasses which inverted images. Parents will be able to go back to their school days to remember that in the eye the images are normally inverted. So Stratton looked at the world with shapes that were the right way up.

At first he found everything was upside down but after a time things righted themselves. When he took the glasses off again he found that the world was upside down – but then soon adjusted.

Even the most adjusted and intelligent parents, with the best possible home life, and with their children attending wonderful schools, may, occasionally, feel a little frustrated. “We have to do something about this. No dear, do not pick a fight with me. We can solve this together.”

Your child may sometimes show highly variable behaviour. Sometimes there may even be some aggression, or an attack or even withdrawal. Throughout all this parents will attempt to stay calm and in control.

A very small percentage of eleven plus parents may become fixated in their behaviour. Some children may not really hear the familiar words: “Enough, we are not going through this again. You have your work to do. You know you have to do it. Just get on and do it. I do not want any further discussion.”

We have all seen tear jerking films about rough schools being turned around by charismatic teachers. We know stories of `bad’ boys and girls going on the straight and narrow after they have had their inner needs satisfied. We have also thrilled vicariously with Bonnie and Clyde as they rode off into the sunset. We just have to dig deep and hope that a similar catharsis happens in our lives.

One day it can happen. One day it will happen. Lightening and self realisation will strike.

Your eleven plus child will turn to you and say:

”I don’t want to be lazy any more. I want to work hard. I do not want to argue with you over work. I love you. I am sorry for all the trouble I have caused you. Can I go and work now?”

Your eye balls will roll. Your world will turn upside down. You may then be able to do some of the strange non verbal reasoning questions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Frowning on the Eleven Plus

What is actually happening when you see your eleven plus child deep in thought? You are aware of the puckered brow, the frown looks uncommonly out of place and sometimes you will observe a hand moving unconsciously upwards to stroke the hair.

During the process of watching their child think through an eleven plus question, various thoughts will flick at lightening speed through a parent’s mind:

Is the question intellectually demanding enough? Is it too easy or too hard?

Is my child motivated to answer the question? Sometimes we may find that eleven plus children have remarkably short attention spans if the question is so technically abstruse as to be almost incomprehensible. Some questions seem to reflect the desire of the question writer to be clever than attempt to guide a child towards examination competence.

Is my child hungry? A little actual or real hunger can inhibit – but parents will be aware of the `time for a break’ hunger which seems to strike at the most inopportune time. On the way home in the car you have provided a fulsome repast – at a much higher level than a mere snack. You reach question three on an eleven plus exercise and a little voice murmurs, “Mum, I am hungry.”

Different evidence of your child thinking can be seen when your child offers answers that seem to be the result of rummaging around in the brain. A solution pops out that does not seem to show any relationship between the question and the required answer. This is where parents question their own sanity. “I am not sure if I am doing the right thing in encouraging my child to work towards the eleven plus examinations.”

Would my child rather be doing something else? It is Tuesday afternoon at 5.30. The chess club is starting in another quarter of an hour. Your child is remarkably good at chess – not quite a prodigy but certainly able to show evidence of being able to think and solve problems. There was no time for work on the eleven plus paper over the weekend because the whole family went out. Your mission is to help your child pass the eleven plus. Does chess come before solving a rather silly eleven plus question?

Your mind starts to wander. When your child was little there was plenty of evidence of creative thought. There seemed to be no problem with solving problems. In fact your child was acknowledged as being witty, funny and a delight to be with. How and why has this changed? “Why am I doing this?”

My child used to be able to run quickly. My child used to write stories for fun. I have provided every single opportunity that I can to promote an atmosphere where the conditions for learning are favourable. (This is the state where parents tend to become a little maudlin.) “Why me?”

This is not the time to look into a mirror. Parents need to look forwards with brave and certain hearts. The eleven plus is accomplished by:

Building self respect and esteem. (This goes for parents and children.)

The realisation that some questions require more thought and less action. (This goes for parents and children.)

Self injected Botox is an over hyped mistake. The frown lines will not stay if the wind changes.

The courage to insist that repetition and revision do help! (Remember Emerson saying ‘A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.)

Monday, November 09, 2009

Negative Acceleration and the Eleven Plus

Each time parents and children sit down to do eleven plus papers the name `Ebbinghaus’ should spring to mind. He was a German experimental psychologist who lived and worked between 1850 and 1909. He is remembered for his studies on human memory.

He invented nonsensical syllables, consonant-vowel-consonant letter groups that he felt would be difficult to memorise. He used himself as a subject and published his findings in a book called `Memory’ in 1885.

By now eleven plus parents will have their interest stimulated. “How can we help our child to remember what we have been talking about? She seems to have a selective memory and can remember any slights her sister has offered to her – but can not ever remember to tidy or room or bring fractions to their lowest terms.”

First of all Ebbinghaus learnt a list of nonsense syllables. Then he learnt a second list by systematically rearranging the second list. Sometimes the rearrangement was adjacent, sometimes every third item and sometimes every fourth. He found that he could remember systematically rearranged lists more quickly than he could relearn haphazardly rearranged or entirely new lists.

How is this applied to the eleven plus? Sometimes eleven plus children will seem to collect and organise elements of information and methods of working out problems more fluently than others. “I only have to tell him something once and he remembers it for ever.” At other times children, on the other hand, will appear to need help and assistance with acquiring even a simple system of learning and remembering. “Every single thing that I say goes out of the window. I don’t know why I bother, sometimes.”

What Ebbinghaus showed us was that most forgetting or loss or retention occurs in the first few hours after the original learning. This is called `negative acceleration’.

Some lists of instructions that parents offer their children may appear, to the child at least, to fit into the categories of nonsensical syllables. Take, for example, a list of the following stature:

"Bring your school books downstairs
Take your spare shoes upstairs
Look for the verbal reasoning paper we worked on yesterday.
Complete pages 12 and 13.
If you get stuck ask for help.
You may not have another cookie.
“Please do not stop to play with the dog.
You may watch T.V. once you have finished your work."

If your child rearranges this perfectly common and highly acceptable list he or she may hear:

You may watch T.V.
You can have a cookie.
You can play with the dog.

He or she may reject the rest of the list – using negative acceleration - because there may have been too much information that he or she did not choose to hear.

Ebbinghaus maintained: “Psychology has a long past, but only a short history.”

An Eleven Plus mantra: “The Eleven Plus brain has a long past, but can only remember a short history of what has been said.”

Sunday, November 08, 2009

An Eleven Plus Decree

The European Community is to have a new President in the near future. It is possible, but not likely, that he or she will have a child at the eleven plus stage. The President may want to add an extra dimension to eleven plus testing. His first decree could be to order a personality assessment to be added to the present form of eleven plus selection.

Brussels would send multilingual teams to all the eleven plus authorities. The taxes would have to rise to cover the accommodation, daily allowances, car hire, mobile phones and the services of the army of psychologists who would need to accompany the Brusselian officials.

Every child (according to Europe) would need an individual personality assessment. In some cases parents would also have to be interviewed if it became obvious that any children felt that they were being over worked and under appreciated. (To new eleven plus parents, eleven plus children do seem to go though a stage at some time or another where they, the children, feel over worked and under appreciated. Eleven plus parents often feel this on a daily basis.)

The assessment would need to take into account:

The physical context of the personality assessment, the personality of the psychologist doing the testing and the attitude of the child’s parents to the testing procedure.

The eleven plus child's ability to interpret what the assessor was trying to establish. If, for example, the psychologist from a European country with poor English skills needed an interpreter – would this be taken into account if the parents had to appeal?

The ability of the eleven plus child to be able to distinguish between genuine questions and those set up to establish whether the child, or the parents, had unrealisable expectations.

What parents would want the tests to show may not always be the same as what the grammar schools would desire. Parents, for example, would be keen for their child to display early independent behaviour. The ability to sit down and do an eleven plus paper without been told over and over to get started must score highly. So the Brusselian team would be charged with finding evidence of maturity and independent study.

Some parents would also be keen for their children to demonstrate that social class should not be taken into account in the selection of children for grammar schools.

And finally parents would hope that the tests were fair to all children. They would the tests to have been constructed in such a way that all children could enter the examination secure in the knowledge that good behaviour and the ability to take constructive criticism was rated highly by the grammar schools.

The European decree would insist that eleven plus children should do their work at the right time without a prolonged discussion and should also welcome any inherent or implied criticism. If the decree established these two points then having to pay extra for a European President may, for some parents, be highly desirable.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

An Eleven Plus Gem

Macbeth has a lot to answer for. He showed his dark thoughts in his soliloquy when he was trying to sort out in his mind what to do about committing murder. He was talking about the problems of instructing people when he: `Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our own lips.’.

In the original Star Wars films R2-D2 was remote controlled for part of the time – and at other times he played his part with an actor inside him. We all love R2-D2 because he is possibly the most plausible character in the whole Star Wars series. The little star, who at times, seemed to carry the film, would have been welcomed by Macbeth. I bet R2-D2 could have found a way to cheer Macbeth up and prevent him from feeling murderous thoughts.

R2-D2 would also have been able to cope with way in which to manage a poisoned chalice. He would have grasped the chalice in one of his semi-artificial hands and thrown it out of the window of the star ship.

Parents must wonder too if they could throw away some of the myths and misconceptions of the eleven plus. Just think, a mother has downloaded a paper from the internet. There is a question on the paper that no one in the family can think of how to answer. The teacher at school tells the mother that the question will not be covered in Year 5 or Year 6 at school. Mum wants to murder someone.

Mum can’t murder the internet – because it takes up the whole of space. Even R2-D2 would struggle to control the issuing of the exactly the eleven plus right paper at the right time for their child. She can’t murder her child – because that is called filicide – and a dark prison cell would not be a happy home for twenty years. She starts to think of ways to plot a little revenge.

We know that revenge is a cup best drunk cold. So even if she poured a little poison into a cup shaped in the form of a chalice, she still could not be sure she could reach the perpetrator of the crime against her much loved child. After all her child is in the top groups at school, has been doing very well on papers, and yet has been stumped by an apparently, unrealistic question.

Despairingly she looks down at her hands. She sees her beloved diamond ring sparkling at her. She remembers when she was given the ring. Her children, including her eleven plus child, have all played with the ring. A sense of calm comes over her. Murder recedes from her heart. She thinks soothing thoughts and lets her mind wander. Suddenly she knows what to do. She rubs her diamond reflectively. A word springs to mind. She saw the word on a jewellery site ( and knows exactly what the gem represents.

This is no ordinary gem. It would not be a good idea to wear it. In fact there could be few people in the world who would even want an Ekanite.

She thinks to herself. The family honour can be saved. I may have one child away in Spain and another in Japan, but we can find a solution to the question. We can confine the gem and the hateful question to a nuclear waste bunker.

She calls her husband. She calls her parents. She arranges a conference call with her children in Spain and Japan. “I know the answer to the eleven plus question!”

The family say, collectively, “Oh! How can you be sure? What was the question again?”

Mum reads the question again:

`Which gemstone is radioactive?
a) sapphire
b) ekanite
c) diamond
d) emerald'

The mother crows delightedly: “Yes. I read it when I was browsing through that enormous jewellery site. Ekanite is a radioactive gem!”

Friday, November 06, 2009

Eleven Plus Domination

I am very fortunate to have a copy of Mr. F.F. Potter’s `The Practical Junior Teacher’ Volume 1 1933 Edition. In it (page 28) he maintains: “The selective examination at the end of Junior School has tended in the past to dominate the whole curriculum, with the result that in some schools education in its true sense has had to be abandoned in favour of continual practice in the basic subjects.”

He argued then that enlightened educationalists were trying to find a way of selecting children without the usual examinations of Arithmetic, English and General Intelligence at the age of 11.

The thinking was, back in 1933, that it was preferable to decide on the future of a child’s education by assessing potential rather than attainment.

Nothing much has changed over the past seventy years!

It looks as if is still difficult for the people who compile the actual eleven plus tests to be able to move on and think of new ways of testing ability and attainment levels.

It is easy to remember the feelings of John Dewey – who was a reformer, teacher and philosopher (1858 – 1952).

“The intelligence testing business reminds me of the way they used to weigh hogs in Texas. They would get a long plank, put it over a crossbar, and somehow tie the hog to one end of the plank. They would search all round until they found a stone that would balance the weight of the hog, and they’d put that on the other end of the plank. Then they’d guess the weight of the stone.”

Our children are still faced with questions where they have the nineteenth letter of the alphabet, count back two letters and then miss out the vowels. We can recognise that a question of this nature could have been highly relevant many years ago – but today’s children have been brought up with different expectations. We meet, for example, a question where the eleven plus child is asked to add the next two letters to the series:

R S P Q N O L M.

It must take some degree of mental acuity to be able to decipher the code – but children can be taught how to execute an answer of this indication by rote. It does not bear thinking that a child can win a place in a grammar school simply because he or she has been taught how to answer a question of this nature.

Parents have access to vast resources of information about tests on the internet, as well as through books, papers and tutors. Of course parents who are able to give their eleven plus child every help and assistance are to be applauded. Good luck to them and their children.

Many parents, however, would hope for more than the spectre of their child being placed like a bound hog on the end of a slippery log. Let today’s test writers find more than a stone to balance the fairness of the eleven plus. Let us have concerned announcements on potential rather than a self satisfied `we know best’.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Eleven Plus Methods

Inherent in any discussion on the eleven plus is the question of propaedeutic fulfilment. Any eleven plus mother and father will know the meaning of the word. This is attention that has to be given to any pre eleven plus work.

When you take your child to a lesson, or when you are working together at home, it is very difficult to quantify the quality and depth of information that your child has garnered over the years. You, and your teacher – if you have one – may (sometimes) expect your child to learn something where the foundations have not yet been firmly established.

For example: expecting your child to be able to do percentages without knowing how to do lowest terms.

At times children will have to make the best of a bad job. They will have to learn a topic without firm roots. Working through a paper from one of the established eleven plus providers can be an essay in frustration for the child and the parents – if each question is taught in isolation. Ideally a question can be tackled with co-operation from various members of the family with the proviso that lots of understanding is offered and accepted.

Mum comes home from work having worked for a full day, and having done some essential food shopping on the way home, is confronted by a mutinous little face puckered up over an eleven plus question. “But Dad says I have to do it another way. My teacher says we should not do it like Dad says. I’m confused. It is not fair.”

Mum’s job, while working on the evening meal and answering a tearful phone call from her best friend (whose husband is in the process of leaving her) has to reconcile the situation.

Dad has to feel that he is not being neglected – and that he still has a part to play. His method is correct – as is the school’s. Someone has to say, diplomatically, that there is room for both methods in the candidate’s brain.

Mum has to feel that she just needs a little time to think without being rushed.

The eleven plus candidate has to have his or her faith in humanity preserved. “Of course you will manage, dear. We have overcome worse problems than these. Be patient with Dad. He is just trying to do his best.”

There is another eleven plus words that all parents know – it is paideia. (We best know the word from encyclopaedia.) Paideia is all to do with instruction and learning. You child will be leaning elements of the eleven plus in ways that are non deliberate and possibly partly unconscious.

If the respected male member of the family should, however, use an unfortunate word while expressing his views on modern education you may need to humour him. You could, for example, offer an eleven plus story:

Remind your husband of the time you poured three drops of chamomile or fennel oil in the bath. Help him to recall how he helped you swish the water around.

Remind him too that the same herbs can be dried and drunk as tea to sooth any symptoms.

The eleven plus moral of the story? There is more than one way to answer an eleven plus question.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

An Eleven Plus Rant

Where did the eleven plus syllabus spring from? From whence did the eleven plus syllabus spring? Both sentences are reasonably correct – but one is likely to be more correct than the other. We are, however, more likely to use one form than the other.

The first pointer to our present eleven plus syllabus comes from traditions of the Ancient Greeks and the Romans. The Renaissance arrived and provided a link between Latin and Greek and the more modern world. Our preoccupation with words and their uses in current verbal reasoning tests can possibly go back to the early position and importance of English in the curriculum.

A great scientific drive began in England which culminated in the Great Exhibition of 1851. England realised that technology played an important part in the educational development of the country. Without technology the great powers of industry and commerce could not flower. Some erudite savant proclaimed on the radio that the reason why Germany and Japan were emerging from the present recession was because both countries still had a great industry.

The third side of the present eleven plus syllabus came from the 1944 Education Act. The act required local authorities to present education based on age, aptitude and ability. The eleven plus examination emerged from the strictures of the act.

Unfortunately the eleven plus, in some geographical areas, has become a remarkably narrow test of ability and aptitude. There is much debate, for example, about the `21’ types of questions. Hidden in the twenty one types must be questions relating to words. It does seem likely that knowledge of elements of commerce and industry are covered by the questions. How, however, are children to be able to offer advances in technology if they have been selected on their ability to play with twenty one types of verbal reasoning question?

Science plays a remarkably small part in the present eleven plus examination. This must offer our eleven plus children a lasting legacy. Words and only words will open the gate to a grammar school education.

The present eleven plus, in some areas, offers much to the methods of tackling questions rather than the content. “If you do Type 12 in this way you will be able to complete the questions in the time allowed.” There is no place for scientific investigation or originality and self expression if we have to slavishly teach our children twenty one ways to pass an examination.

Shame on the so called `educationalists’ that we have this rigid specialisation at such a tender age. There is certainly little place in the examination for:

There was an old man of Blackheath
Who sat on his set of false teeth.
Said he with a start,
“O, Lord bless my heart,
I have bitten myself underneath.”

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Eleven Plus Interests

Parents almost always try to do the best they can with their children. If their child shows curiosity in a topic then most parents will fall over themselves to satisfy that interest – even if it does turn out to be fleeting and of little substance.

If you ask any parents they will be able to chronicle the major events of their child’s interests and values. What must become apparent is the relationship between early interests and the manner in which their young child sustains this involvement in later life. Parents will be able to make judgements as to whether early curiosity can manifest itself into a deep and genuine passion.

A two year old child who loves books and wants to be read is possibly going to turn into a reader. A child with a voracious appetite for books, ideas and words will probably enjoy the challenge some types of verbal reasoning question. Encouraging a nine year old to read to develop a wide and useful eleven plus vocabulary could be remarkably hard work – if there is, however, no history of a love of books. Of course there will be parents who do not enjoy reading but will do everything they can to encourage their child to read.

If, however, the home has a range of dictionaries reference books – and a much loved scrabble board – then exposure to competition and words could help to engender a life long interest.

Some eleven plus exercises do require a close look at the composition of letters within a word. Consider the letters A E I R L P. It is possible to make words of the letters.


Your score is how many words you can make.

You would expect an adult to find a reasonably wide number of words in five minutes. Would you expect an eleven plus child to find more or fewer? Naturally your answer must be – it depends.

Last week I worked with an eleven plus girl. The previous night she had been to the Barbican and had been awarded a Grade 5 in music (with distinction) on her clarinet. Grade 5 for a ten year old is a simply wonderful. Surely that is worth as many eleven plus marks as being able to build words from jumbled letters? This particular girl must have had an interest in music. She must have sustained this interest over a long period. Her parents must have offered considerable help and support. Her teachers must have been dedicated – and able. Her Grade 5 is not shared by the parents and the teacher – but they must live in the reflected glory of having identified an interest and then supported and developed the talent.

(By now some competitive adults will already be trying to make as many words as possible – and build on the paltry list I offered. Can any one get over forty?)

Monday, November 02, 2009

Eleven Plus Success

The great circus families can give us strong clues towards success at the Eleven Plus level. A young child, brought up in a circus family, will have the nerve to be able to walk out in front of a large audience and sing and dance.

These children often show extraordinary talent at a very young age. The parents were circus people before them, and their parents before.

Does this then mean that the genes for performance skills are passed from generation to generation? It may mean that the family tradition, the desires and feelings of the parents and the smell of grease paint are strong enough to lure a child towards greatness.

The family connections seem to suggest key factors that are important:

Early training

Expert teaching

The promise of a wonderful job

A strong family unit.

If father and mother are tightrope walkers then it is possible that they may care to encourage their children to walk along a rope at a very early age.

For the rest of us, who do not have access to the circus stage, we may have to rely on technology.

Expectant father Corey Menscher wanted to “create a device that would give me a chance to be aware of our baby’s movements”. He created a waistband for his wife which sends a Tweet every time the baby kicks, naming the project “Kickbee”.

You will see where this is going:

Pre birth eleven plus tweets explaining similar figures.

Up to One Year Old classes in language development where words like: “Find the missing three letters” play a significant part.

We usually think about the `terrible’ twos. What about the `tuition’ twos? Here 52 different mathematics topics are introduced over the year. Week 32 – it must be percentages.

There is, however, one factor that does seem to lead towards success – and that is hard work. A significant eleven plus factor may be a mother and father who work hard and set a good example. Hard work alone, however, cans not guarantee eleven plus success. What ever brains, skills, talents and ability parents may pass on to their children – parents have to provide the right environment influences?

A discreet eleven plus tweeter bracelet – may help some children. The bracelet offers a little vibration. The child lifts the bracelet towards his or her ear. A breathy whisper sings: “What will you get if you add ten and one four times?”

(The answer of course is eleven. Ten plus one is eleven!)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Eleven Plus on a Rainy Sunday in November

It is Sunday and it is raining. Thoughts of parents and children can turn peacefully towards the eleven plus. After all there is not much else left to do. You tentatively suggest a little eleven plus work. There are smiles all round from the rest of the family. Peace at last. Now who gets to grab the switcher? One lone voice squeaks up: “Do I have to?”

“Come on dear, it won’t take long, then we can all go to the cinema.”

“Oh, I don’t want to go. I want to finish my ..”

“For once think of others. We all want to go out but you need to do a little work first.”

“Why me? Why should the cares of the family be placed on my shoulders?”

Then grand dad speaks up. He has been reading the Sunday papers. He announces that he remembers a little poem by R. K. Munkittrick.

Unsatisfied Yearning

Down in the silent hall
Scampers the dog about,
And whines and barks and scratches,
In order to get out.

Once in the glittering starlight,
He straightway doth begin
To set up a doleful howling
In order to get in!

Do you every wonder if your much loved eleven plus child thinks like that at times?