When I was at school, the single most exciting thing that could happen (apart from being promoted to Milk Monitor or getting your fluorescent orange Sportpax swimming bag) was finding that there was a small single gold star sticker at the end of your story with the words, ‘Well done’ or, occasionally, ‘Excellent’.
This star would be a thing to run your fingers over, to show your Mum, to flick back through your book and to feel the glow of pride from knowing that someone thought that you were Gold Standard. You had done what was required, and done it really well.
You might even have caught your breath as you discovered it. So powerful were its five little golden points.
Marking has come a long way since then. And reporting is utterly different. It’s hilarious to think that teachers could spend an entire term with a class and be allowed to write, ‘Satisfactory’ in a small inky box and be done with it – or worse (if you can imagine), ‘Unsatisfactory’ and leave it at that with no culpability or commitment to changing that outcome for the child. Unthinkable.
But what about the marking we do now? What about the long term effect of always needing to give the child a way to improve? The ‘sh** sandwich’ that we have long been told to offer them with its ‘Two Ticks and a Wish’. Yes, there is definitely a place for pointing out to children what they need to work on next – that being the whole point of a progressive education, but I am feeling increasingly aware that a constant diet of ‘sh** sandwiches’ is going to leave you feeling that nothing is ever good enough. Nothing is ever going to be Gold.
We are encouraged to give the children targets, no matter how superb they are. They all need to stretch harder, to aim higher, to push themselves. It is not really OK to give official praise without also giving a push. You need to look for the level beyond where they are and turn their head in that direction. I know that the overwhelming majority of teachers do an amazing job at praising the kids and letting them know what they have done well, but to be an Outstanding Teacher you have to always set them their next goal in your feedback. A SMART target.
You have to constantly, continually send the message that no matter how hard they try, no matter how brilliant their work is, there is a level beyond it. They are never going to be quite good enough. A feeling that is creeping up on our young people from too many angles.
Yes to progress – I am not unambitious for my students. I delight in their progress.
But also yes to sometimes being a Marking Rebel. I will give a gold star and write ‘Excellent’. Unconditionally excellent. No peer marking or ‘critical friend’ comments. No ‘WWW’ and ‘EBI’ stamps (What Went Well / Even Better If).
Because it’s good for the children to know that sometimes they are absolutely good enough. They have done more than enough.
And they can jolly well have a gold star to prove it.