Thursday, March 12, 2009

Criteria for successful completion

A while ago, I was walking my dog with my elder son. We were following the route I normally take when I walk her on my own, when he turned a different way. In a purely interested, non-critical way, I asked his reason for the different route. "It's a short cut," he explained. This of course led to a discussion about the point of the walk - completion versus process.

That conversation has been pottering away in the back of my mind ever since, popping up its head every now and then.

It made me think of the gym, where you will see these two approaches to exercise (among several others, no doubt). Your personal programme may include work on some of the resistance machines. Some people do the exercises with slow control, while others race through. Those who are going slowly have probably understood the point of the exercise is to really work those muscles. Those who race probably have their eye on completion. Get this done. Go home. Have a beer.

My sons have both always had chores around the house (I know, I know, I'm a battle axe and a harridan - I've heard it all before). Variations on this conversation have happened countless times:

Me: Look at the state of this mug, why is it in the cupboard?
Son: It came out of the dishwasher like that.
Me: But it's not clean!
Son: I can't help that. I washed it.
I have lost count of the number of times I've said something like, "When I ask you to vacuum the carpets, the job is done when the carpet is clean, not when you have run the vacuum cleaner once over the whole area."

I related a while back how my elder son claimed to have taught well in a session about javelin, even though his learners hadn't learned anything. His attitude was along the lines of: I have done what I was asked. The fact that it bore no fruit is out of scope for me.

One of the things primary school teachers often relate in respect of set work is that boys tend to complete the set work as quickly as possible, while girls complete the work as correctly and beautifully as possible. I'm not sure to what extent the gender thing really applies, but I certainly noticed the allegedly typical male behaviour pattern in both my sons in primary school. My elder son still tends towards this when it comes to written work, although his verbal reasoning is in a different league. Since reaching high school, my younger son has become more concerned with presentation, but this may have something to do with his interest in visual art, which is one of his chosen subjects.

Surely the completion thing comes down to understanding and buying into the criteria for success?

I'm not sure where I'm going with this line of reasoning, but it's an interesting conundrum, and I don't think the box ticking approach to education/training, whether in school or at work, is going to result in meaningful learning. It strikes me as being little different from the attitude of my elder son that I mentioned a moment ago. But my son is 17 and has yet to gain a sense of perspective. What's our excuse?

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