So, as usual, I was marking this morning; wading through some S2 classwork, becoming more and more frustrated. I usually set myself a goal of x number of books until I have a break. What always happens is that I start off being meticulous and then, as time passes and I haven’t got though as many as I intended, I begin to rush. I panic, my writing becomes untidy, occasionally illegible, and the last few don’t get the support I give the first few. Not always, but certainly sometimes. After fifteen years I’ve never been able to control that.
This all comes back to pressure of coverage, doesn’t it? Pressure to get through as much work as possible in the shortest available time. However, today I asked myself this; ‘are you more likely to make mistakes if you are rushing or if you take your time?’ Sounds silly when I put it like that but, more often than not, this is how we construct our curriculum. It is unforgivable for me to make mistakes while marking – never underestimate how damaging poor feedback can be – but even more unforgivable if we cram our course so full, pressure of coverage inevitably leads to error,
Having just finished our prelim in English – you may call them ‘mocks’ – it is fairly clear that those who succeed are those who can write well in the shortest space of time. We value speed over anything else, it seems. We are impressed by those who can cover the most work in the shortest time and covet those who cope better than others under pressure; and no doubt there is value in that. Coping under pressure is clearly an enviable trait. Even in teachers, it seems, those who can seemingly cope well with workload go further. However, there is something that doesn’t quite sit right about that.
In his book ‘The Art of Slow Reading’, Thomas Newark describes speed as ‘the not so hidden curriculum’. We have six weeks left until exam leave. In that time I have to cover two poems, half a play and revision of everything else for the whole year; we have to fine tune two Folio essays. We will get there; but it’ll be through tears, sleepless nights, frustration and hours and hours of rushing though marking and assessment as quickly as possible. Think what might we achieve if we slowed things down, covered less and learned more deeply.
This has been the first year of the new Higher in English and much of it I’ve really enjoyed. There are clear progressions from National 5 and it has challenged me to tackle different texts in different ways. However, it has also become clear that I will never be able to tackle two major texts in the same detail that I used to: no more ‘Hamlet’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, for example. Alongside six Don Paterson poems – yes, I know I could do that a different way but choose not to – there is simply not the time. I hear teachers in others subjects who are on their knees with the pressure of coverage. It needs to stop. If we are to ‘declutter’ the curriculum – one of the aims of the Curriculum for Excellence – then we need to do it now. And, somewhat ironically, we need to do it as quickly as possible.
Newkirk, T. The Art of Slow Reading, (New Hampshire, Heinemann, 2012)