Who are you to judge?

judge-thumbCertain things stay in the mind. Decades ago, in a classroom, with my “egalitarian at all costs” attitude, I’d run a system of self-assessment which went like this:

When the students were presenting their projects, I’d give an assessment out of ten in my mind but not tell them. They’d assess their own work out of ten and then the rest of the class would assess it out of ten. Then I’d tell mine and why. The average of those three became the mark.

It worked because children are compliant on the whole and like to be shown things and take them up from there or else discover something and come for advice.

Anyway, as I say, it worked for awhile and I was ready to drop the idea or adjust it at any moment.

One girl and I remember her name – Rebecca Harrison – asked if she could speak to me outside. Now we get to a philosophical question, people. Do you see a child as a work in progress but with a brain and ideas which are valid at any point or as a little tyke who should just shut up and learn? I’m about halfway – there is the one but there is also the other at times. The trick is trying to get that balance and it’s never easy as the child is changing by the day.

Anyway, she [a flaming redhead by the way] took me outside “for a word” and asked why she had to be assessed by her peers. She had no confidence in their ability to judge her work. She didn’t mind my assessment and as I’d seen, hers was pretty much the same, so please could we have less of the peer assessment?

IMHO she was right and the mark became a cross between the child’s and mine but then I built in mark penalties for huge discrepancies. So, if he said 10/10 and I said 5/10, there was a mark penalty. If he said 7/10 and I said 8/10, there was no mark penalty. So they learnt to judge what I’d probably say and why. Not perfect, no, but OK and the main thing is that the little darlings whom I’d got to be very critical, even of me, were also very fair. Any statement needed a reason for it.

Coming back to Rebecca, I believe she was right to say her peers were in no position to judge, except maybe the ones she’d named. You might see her as elitist but essentially, she was the best of the crop. And if you’d been the teacher, would you have taken on board what she’d said or would you have stood on your “I am the teacher and know best” stance? Years after, as a head, I asked staff to always heed a child’s thought out comment [other than an auto “it’s not fair”] if they weren’t already doing so – there was one staff member I had in mind at the time.

Another thing I asked them was that before auto-saying “no”, ask why the “no”? Was there any way a “yes” would not wreck the project? So the staff member, though in practical terms it would not come up, needed in his or her head to ask him or herself why he/she was saying no. And if there was a reason, then fine.

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4 responses to “Who are you to judge?

  1. Yeah, you have to watch these flaming redheads, you can get badly burned!

  2. Interestingly in the anecdote, the young girl was able to judge her peers but did not want them to judge her.

    Are children a work in progress? Of course; as we all are. The lessons for the teacher lies in various directions including how best to formulate judgement. After all it is what I call a ‘higher-order’ human facility and the means have to be provided as a part of the education process.

    Trying out the ‘means’ as described needs more directed thinking to be imparted to the children. No doubt these were although not detailed in the anecdote.

    Personally, while understanding the girl’s explanation, it does need to go further in regard to the teacher’s role. Were the children (including the girl) given guidelines of a general nature about judgement as a process, for example, other than the focus on the materials from one another that they were asked to ‘score’?

    It reminds me of the incident between a schoolmaster and a pupil over ‘opinion’ where the pupil defended his ‘right’ to his opinion, but had it explained to him that while he certainly did, he had also a duty to first formulate one in a manner that rendered it opinion and not simply prejudice. He had to do the work of evidence gathering, assessment, knowledge of the deeper considerations by more knowledgeable people before him, the pro and contrary arguments and all the known ramifications of the tried judgement options. Without such work he would be pre-judging.

  3. Rossa – playing with fire is the greatest game of all.

    Amfortas – yes, you rightly mention the groundwork. The exercise was about honing judgment in the end.

  4. Sounds bloody communist to me (The Chinese Red Guard “group criticism” sessions).

    Why should someone who contantly gets mimimum grades have the “right” to comment, (or even by their comments EFFECT their grades) on someone who constantly gets top marks?

    Basically “What do YOU know?”