Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Assessment, the earlier the better

Or neither, as the case may be

I was having an amiable conversation last week, about the new demands for ‘assessment’ now being imposed at the end of English preschool. One outcome of this conversation was the article ‘A pedagogical obscenity’ (Sutton, 2009a) but I had already, however, sat down and bashed into the computer the position that I had been trying to convey on the (to me) linked issues in the philosophy and politics of pedagogy involved. I write ‘philosophy‘ rather than ‘theory‘ because there seems something more profound here, a question of personal and societal orientation and values that runs deeper than mere psychological or pedagogic theory).

I have just published this note as a knol (Sutton, 2009b).

Conductive Education

Readers of Conductive World should note that my conversation and the subsequent note that I wrote were not specifically directed towards Conductive Education, though of course Conductive Education at its best offers very a good example in action of the wider questions involved of this philosophy in action.

A very good example indeed, this being an important reason that I came into this field in the first place.

Conductive Education would do better in getting itself better acknowledged as a serious contender if proponents made greater attempt to articulate themselves in these terms, allying themselves explicitly and publicly to major congruent schools, individuals, movements that have already carved themselves out considerable niches in the world.

If Conductive Education were to do this, then it would find that it is no mere Johnny-Come-Lately but that already, as a matter of routine, it manifests long-established and robust practical measures that are in effect in advance of much of what is still regarded elsewhere as trendy or advanced.

Thus I am reminded that dynamic assessment is still cutting-edge stuff. Really, though, it does look like it sits there in a twenty-years time warp, still focussed primarily upon children, albeit their learning rather than their attainment. It has not heeded Reuven Feuerstein’s advice and redirected the finger of responsibility for children’s failure firmly back upon the educators themselves. and the interations that they generate. Conductors’ operative assessment is a paradigm leap ahead of dynamic assessment as she is still spoke, at least it would be if only it were properly articulated, fit for public discussion.

An experiment

I recall some twenty-odd years ago being profoundly shocked when we opened the first real project to establish the conductive system outside Hungary. A group of conductors arrived ‘to make the assessment’ and to find out which children would be ‘suitable for Conductive Education’. As stated in these terms, this went against the very principles that the project had been set up in the UK to demonstrate! Putting a favourable light on the decision-making involved, however, I was able to accept that this was being done to create a group that would not be too hard to work with when starting up in in a context wholly new to everyone involved, that would offer a good base for training tyro student-conductors, and that could be implemented within the resources available.

Unfortunately, others at the time took the conductors at their word (particularly unfair as the words used were in English, then a very ‘new’ language for Conductive Education) and there was enormous, hostile interest in how children were ‘assessed for Conductive Education’. Assessment is after all a vice Anglais, and the English do like tut-tutting over their vices! Even now, after all these years and the colossal practical demonstration to the contrary, ones still hears and reads authoritative statements to the effect of ‘Conductive Education is selective’ and ‘Conductive Education is not suitable for all children’

This has harmed the conductive movement, and certainly not solely in the United Kingdom. So be careful what you say. It helps shape what you think. And it effects what other people say and think too.

There was an early intervention that we could have all done without! Nevertheless, as we all know, it is never too late for people to learn.

Why not then, at the very least, start teaching them by totally purging your own vocabulary of the word ‘assessment’ (except of course when speaking of the activities of people outside Conductive Education). Just don’t say it, and certainly never write it about yourself. Get rid of it from any forms, brochures, publicity materials etc that you have. Don’t suggest to others that you think (and act) like the rest of the world does. Either you have a distinct conductive practice, or you don’t, and if you don’t then what do you have?

But, what might you say instead? Why not work out what precisely you mean when you are about to say or write ‘assessment’, then say or write precisely what it is that you intend to do. If this is to follow the ‘tax-man model’ (see the knol referred to at the foot of this article), then again you have to consider the nature of your conductive practice. In many cases, though, simply substitute the neutral word ‘consultation’, as many already do, and that will be change enough (it may also have a possible advantage in raising what is being done in the estimation of service-users). In other cases, just don’t say anything!

In some instances losing the word ‘assessment’ may prove hard (but the problem is not insoluble). In others it will prove surprisingly easy. Do it consistently for a month and you will probably find that you have expunged the word entirely from your own speech and made a start on affecting the thinking of everyone involved.

Waste not, want not

I have a new ‘policy‘, not to write things without publishing them somewhere, albeit in many instances ‘only‘ on the Internet.

It is a source of regret to me that I did not publish more over the years. I have too many ‘unpublished papers’ in my bibliography! Maybe now I should do something about that too, if and when I have time!

Certainly others in CE should seriously consider doing the same, both with what they do now and what they have done in the past.

The world outside Conductive Education remains almost wholly unaware of almost anything of significance in people’s experience of the system, its theory, its practices, its human effects, never mind its implications. If people in Conductive Education (and I do not mean just conductors, these matters are far too important to be left to conductors) do not articulate them, if they do not teach about such things, then they can hardly be surprised that nobody knows about CE and that nobody learns.

Hardly a surprising message, I am sure, for people involved in Conductive Education


Sutton, A. (2009a) A pedagogical obscenity, Conductive World, 17 March

Sutton, A. (2009b) Assessment, the earlier the better, Google Knol, 19 March

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