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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pestalozzi and the Eleven Plus

Is there a fundamental hypothesis that children who pass the eleven plus will do well in the academic surroundings of a grammar school? The famous Pestalozzi who was born in Zurich in Switzerland in 1746 was a true visionary. He was a practical man concerned with trying to reform educational practice.

He maintained that it was not what a child did know that was important – but what a child can know.

He felt that the true purpose of a lesson was to activate the self-activity of the learner.

Would it be useful to be able to measure the eleven plus in these terms?  Pestalozzi was criticised for not answering the question: “What groups of facts are best for training the mind of pupils?”

Today’s eleven plus `experts’ have decided on a set of questions which they feel are suitable to test the potential of children. Are we, however, teaching and testing for what a child does know?

Suppose we use the example often quoted in educational circles; how to distinguish margarine from butter. “You can-not tell the difference!” You need to establish if the test of the difference was used when the butter and the margarine were being used in cooking. You would need to know if the butter and the margarine were being used on bread or on toast. Was white bread or whole wheat bread used for the experiment? Was the butter and the bread used along with jam, syrup or a fried egg?

We could sit our eleven plus child down at a table. We then blindfold him or her. We offer different combinations in a `blind’ test. Wethen repeat the experiment a number of times. The results may vary. A `+’ would be a correct answer and a `–‘ the incorrect guess.

Trial One: No Fillings using White Bread: + + - + +
Trial Two:  Simply the butter and the margarine on a tea-spoon: - - + + +
Trial Three: White bread and strawberry jam: + - + + +
Trial Four: No margarine – just butter: + + + + +

If all the results had come out the same then we could immediately say that the eleven plus child could distinguish between butter and margarine. If there were only a few mistakes – can we be as certain?

We would expect, if the child is a true eleven plus candidate, for there to be few mistakes. But if we substitute some `difficult’ eleven plus question for the butter and the margarine can we be as certain that the test is actually selecting the best and the brightest? If a child answers a type of question correctly on selection papers done at home over and over and then meets the same type for question in the examination are we testing for what the child does know or can know?