Up to the mark?

Lots of marking... and that's not really my crochet in the top left... honest!

Lots of marking… and that’s not really my crochet in the top left… honest!

My least favourite thing about teaching is… marking. I’m supposed to be doing some now, but I keep finding other things to occupy me. In fact, I’m only managing to do any by rewarding myself with some other activities after every two of three scripts. I love interacting with learners on courses, but the impersonal act of judging their written work is quite unappealing to me.

Unfortunately, public funding for the sort of courses for adults that I teach generally relies on written assessment, as this is considered to provide proof of learning. When setting assessments, I always choose “formative” rather than “summative” ones, i.e, activities during which my learners will learn more as a result of doing them, rather than ones where they just regurgitate facts or demonstrate skills already acquired. Even so, I still end up with piles of marking… and it all has to be looked at.

I do teach a few courses that are not publicly funded, and in these there is no assessment… just the opportunity for learners to explore the subject as we go along and for them to find out whether they understand. In my teaching, there is no ban on asking questions, so once we’ve explored any given subject, everyone will have had the chance to find out everything they want to know about it… even me!

A soon as the marking was out of the tray, Max was in there... this may be a sign of things to come.

A soon as the marking was out of the tray, Max was in there… this may be a sign of things to come.

My days of marking, however, may be numbered. Not because our government has had decided it’s no longer necessary (quite the reverse is, in fact, the case), but because I am considering my future as a teacher within the university system. An unsatisfactory re-grading and a change to the calculation of travelling expenses has resulted in me not signing a new contract… yet. And on a sunny day like today, I’m thinking that working in the garden might provide me a with a better return; editing certainly would… and with much less stress.

I still love teaching… indeed, that’s what I will be doing for the next three days… but a cost-benefit analysis seems to be revealing more negatives than positives… we’ll see.

Learning junkie

I hated school – I loathed the place. I was the clever skinny child with glasses who was rubbish at sports. I got picked on and I didn’t have many friends. On reflection, I think that I managed to learn in spite of school rather than because of it. That said, I did have four great years at middle school (aged 9 to 11) and I did have a couple of inspirational teachers at high school: Mr Hall, my geography teacher all the way through my five years there; and Miss Bray, my biology teacher for my final two years, the dear lady who persuaded me to apply to go to university, convincing me that it was nothing like school.

And so it is, perhaps, surprising how much I have enjoyed learning during my subsequent adult life. I’m a bit of a collector of qualifications¬† (a BSC, a PhD and an MEd). I’m a member of two professional bodies – one educational (HEA) and one environmental (CIEEM), both of which required me to produce substantial portfolios to be admitted. But my education does not end in academia, I have a Permaculture Design Certificate and am currently working towards my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, but I’ve also spent four years recently studying French, I have attended classes on felt making and basketry in the past couple of years, and I have¬† a crochet course lined up for later on in the summer.

IMGP0774And classes are not the end of it – the internet is great. YouTube has turned out to be an amazing resource, where I have learnt about all sorts of things. The latest video I watched, for example, taught me how to knit a magic loop and I have greatly expanded my range of knitting techniques through watching clips on YouTube. It seems that you can learn how to do almost anything via YouTube – from playing the guitar to building a chicken house!

Trial and error - learning as I go in the garden (with a little help from books)

Trial and error – learning as I go in the garden (with a little help from friends and books)

I’m also willing to give things a go and learn from my mistakes. My garden is a particularly good example of this approach, and it has certainly evolved over time as a result of trial and error. I expect that this will continue to be the case. Because many of the crops I grow are annuals, I can experiment one year and apply the lessons the next… hopefully gaining expertise as I go, but always with the opportunity to make improvements. The garden is also, one place where I apply lots of my book-learning and advice from other gardeners.

So, it has turned out that learning has enhanced my life and continues to do so. And I’m not alone – there is clear evidence that people who continue to participate in learning through their lives are healthier than those who don’t. In his paper Lifelong learning, welfare and mental well-being into older age: trends and policies in Europe, John Field (a well-known expert in lifelong learning) states

Increasingly, though, researchers have started to identify wider social and cultural benefits from participation in learning, and there is also growing evidence of small but important improvements in mental well-being for individuals. This suggests that older adults can experience significant improvements in quality of life as a result of participating in learning

So, I will continue to participate in learning, mainly because I enjoy it, but also in the hope that it will keep me healthy and mentally stimulated… how about you?

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