A few days ago, having been moved to comment following to a couple of blogs that I had written around World Book Day, a young respondent posted a reply in which he expressed his own love of reading and bemoaning the fact that doing so for pleasure was not given sufficient value. Adithya told me of his love of Dickens, Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde but felt that at present in his life reading has been reduced to an unrewarding task. I would like to reassure Adithya that his passion for literature will serve him well throughout his life, and hopefully he can grit his teeth and get through his current frustrations with the demands of his current situation.
Adithya had written:-
“The fact that we read to pass tests is absolutely true. I am currently writing my 12th grade board exams that so many parents make a hue and cry about. I sit with the textbook and read through for nearly 6 hours just to score an 80% on that test”.
It isn’t so much the fact that Adithya is having to spend so much time reading to pass a test, that interested me in this statement. Though I do feel that six hours cramming from a text book may not be a terribly effective way to learn; at least not if your definition of learning, like mine extends beyond simply being able to regurgitate facts. My interest was drawn much more towards the concerns expressed about parental responses to the test.
All parents are understandably concerned that their children achieve well at school, and quite rightly take a pride in their achievements. Testing is an inevitable part of the education assessment process, but we must recognise that for many children this is accompanied by a high degree of stress and anxiety. Parents can play an important role in either alleviating or exacerbating the stressful experiences of their children at this time. When I read the comment from Adithya I was suddenly taken back to my own school days and recalled the experiences of a school mate for whom examination time was a period of excruciating anxiety.
Robert (not his real name) was well known as one of the brightest boys in the school. His course work was outstanding, particularly in mathematics and the sciences and in his early teenage years he had aspirations to go to university to study medicine. I remember in mathematics classes, never one of my favourite subjects, Robert always found the work so easy whilst I had to labour hard to keep up. Everyone assumed that he would sail through the final examinations and advance towards his ambitions of being a doctor. We all knew that his parents were already planning for his departure to university a few years hence. But sadly this was never to be. As the examinations loomed near Robert became increasingly stressed and started to doubt his ability to pass the examinations. The more his anxieties took over, the harder he revised, spending hours over his books and occupying every waking hour attempting to cram his brain with information.
I would like to report a happy ending to Robert’s endeavours but sadly this was not the case. As he himself had predicted his results fell well short of what either he, or his parents had desired. Whilst he may well have continued his studies and retaken his examinations he opted to leave school for a less stressful life and the last time I saw him he was managing a book shop in Cheltenham. His parents blamed the school for failing to push him harder to ensure he got the results they wanted, but I suspect that his teachers, just like his friends in school, knew that the problem was not with the school but far more with the pressures created from outside.
The expectations we place upon learners are probably more influential than we realise. Reading Adithya’s posting brought back these memories of Robert and started me wondering what he is doing now. Perhaps he is still managing the bookshop in Cheltenham, if so I have no doubt that he will be making a great contribution to his community and serving his customers well. Maybe he overcame his anxieties, returned to education and is now working somewhere as a doctor. Whatever the situation I hope that he is now happy and experiencing a lot less anxiety than he did during those last few years of school.
Everyone has their own way of approaching examinations and tests. I am sure that for some, late nights cramming from textbooks will be the answer. For others a steady approach over a prolonged period and maybe a quiet evening with a novel or some favoured music the night before the test is just as likely to gain results. Of one thing I am sure, the effort to ensure that learning is seen as a pleasure and not a chore is more likely to achieve a positive attitude towards study.
So,I’ve been working hard all day, it’s now ten o’clock at night and I’m going to settle down for a good read.