Where are the limits of high expectation?

If he doesn't absorb the content, at least some of it might stick to his face.
If he doesn’t absorb the content, at least some of it might stick to his face.

This question came to me during a discussion with a colleague about the volume of reading that children in KS2 should do at home. Something in the region of 14 short books was being bandied about as a reasonable number. That’s two books a night every night of the week! I baulked at the figure but bit my tongue when it came to refuting this figure.
Why didn’t I speak against this recommendation? Well, it has something to do with courage on my part,  but also with the rhetoric of high expectations. How do you argue against an unreasonable expectation without sounding like a reactionary layabout who’d rather be lolling in some hammock than marking a pile of exercise books?
When it comes to children we need to defend balance in their lives to give them the space to develop an exploratory nature. If we load them up with extrinsically enforced requirements, they’ll do as we say but they won’t really know why (even if we think we’ve told them).
High expectations should be of imagination,  creativity and drive; not volume of work. We should expect our students to show enthusiasm,  to participate and be inquiring. Ladling on more work,  more tests and piling them high with books is a poor performance indicator for the core business of learning.
So,  is 14 books too much? And if so,  how do I express my concern without sounding like a softie? We expect hard work: that is not disputed. But it should be purposeful and foster an interest in learning: the enjoyment part of Excellence and Enjoyment. The next time you are concerned that the balance, for your students, is being tipped towards thankless drudgery, keep this in mind: teachers are not time and motion inspectors; we are not corporate executives; we have a responsibility to grow an intrinsic love of and pride in learning. How best is that served? There are moments when a hammock could be the most powerful creative tool in a child’s life – not a pile of books.

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3 thoughts on “Where are the limits of high expectation?

  1. I agree – it sounds like a lot to ask a small person to do!

    You could point out the value and importance of family time. Many pupils may not see their parents until gone 5pm. Before they go to bed (which we want them to do at a reasonable time, right?) they have to get home, debrief and share their day, eat, wash, prepare for the next day and – you’d hope – relax a bit. The pressure to squeeze two books in a night (and then four if you missed the previous day’s dose) could create unnecessary conflict and cause pupils (and parents) who fail to make the target to feel like failures. Worse (IMHO anyway), it might end up replacing the bedtime story.

    Reading happens in lots of situations, can it really be rationed and regulated? Some weeks we read loads, other weeks we read less. We might find a book hard to put down one day, but be so busy with other (equally valuable) activities on another that we don’t touch a book. Why would kids be any different?

    Liked by 1 person

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