How much information is too much? When does record-keeping tip over into surveillance? In this post I want to explain what our approach to record-keeping is, how it fits in with our ideas about freedom, and the implications for teachers.
In the image you can see a “panopticon”. This was a style of prison invented by Jeremy Bentham in England. In the centre there is a tower where the guards sit. Around it are the cells, all of which are completely open to inspection from the tower. Bentham thought that this constant openness to supervision would lead to improvements in morality, health and industry. Read more here.
The ideas that motivated the panopticon are easily seen in education. The teacher is at the centre of a web of information, looking into the private world of each child. This supervision will help the child. It is motivated by uplifting ideas of controlled learning, development and growth. And, with modern technology, there is the possibility of an ever-increasing fine texture to the supervision of the children: applications allow teachers to record and communicate information about them at the tap of a screen.
MBAT is a free school. Children have free choice of action. This means there are times when they are involved in their own freely-chosen activities or play. The freedom wouldn’t mean much if teachers were following them around with their mobile phones clicking the equivalent of Class Dojo every time a child hit an official learning objective. We are serious about freedom and we protect it.
Teachers have to understand what freedom of choice of action implies. It may mean changing the presuppositions they have grown up with about teaching and teachers: that the teacher is there to ask the difficult question; that good teachers get inside their students’ heads to find out what makes them tick; that anything that happens is good evidence that can be recorded.
I have seen this happen. When a teacher internalizes the curriculum and learning objectives, she may approach a child with a grid overlaying her vision. She will be like a fighter pilot with an intelligent helmet. Everything the child says or does will be filtered through the presuppositions of the learning model she is using. Needless to say, this strips any communication of authenticity and purpose. Whatever a child says serves the higher purpose of learning, a purpose that is pre-planned, designed and packaged.
Our policy on record-keeping safeguards children from this level of supervision.
Protect them from supervision
Record-keeping is important. MBAT, however, provides free spaces where both teachers and children are liberated from the burden of surveillance. We help teachers to understand when they can step back and let things happen. We limit our demands for information on both teachers and children. It is important to do this because we live in a world where it is often assumed that the more information the better. We do not agree with this. We think children benefit from times and spaces where they are not being watched, monitored, measured and controlled.
- we do not assess freely-chosen activities
- we do not try to “improve” free play
- behaviour is not recorded
We even go further than that within the communities from Junior upwards. When the students are able to run their own community meetings much of the burden of discipline and control falls completely from the shoulders of teachers. They do not act as police, judge and arbiter. Those functions are assumed by the community itself.
What are the implications? For teachers there is a dramatically reduced burden of record-keeping.
What teachers record
Teachers must keep records of what happens in their classes, in the project area or in activities. These records must be made available to their team leader on request as they may help with further professional development. They contain, at the very least:
- the learning objective
- what happened
- whether students met the learning objective.
Class teachers collect comments, photographs and work to add to the online portfolio. Parents can also add to the online portfolio. These portfolios are not graded or marked.
As children move up through the school, teachers use tests and examinations more frequently. The results of tests are included in the online portfolio, which is open to parents, teachers and children. We still do not mark or grade projects and activities and some testing is not recorded. For example, many of the online exercises give a score which we do not record. This is essential for motivation: children must feel that they can come back and take tests as many times as they need to without the pressure of performance. Children often ask for tests because they like to know whether they have learnt the subject in hand. When we employ teachers, we ask about their experience in testing and assessment. We look for teachers with imaginative and compassionate ideas.