I have an idea.
It’s a way to help improve children’s mental health…
It is something that could happen in schools, especially primary schools…
It would cost, …. ummm … £0.
Yup. Zero. Nothing.
I can just imagine all the cash-starved Head teachers out there, sitting up and starting to pay attention 😉
If you were to survey 100 children between the ages of 5-10 it would be really interesting to see what they think about themselves. If anyone has already done this please let me know. I have a theory.
The thing is that mental health is often related to body health (which is why so much can be improved through optimal nutrition, movement and sleep). It is also shaped by life experiences and rooted in subconscious beliefs.
In my experience of working therapeutically with children, coaching parents and supporting adult clients for many years, there is 1 belief that seems to be present for so many:-
“I’m not good enough”
The seed of the belief that we are not ok, we are not enough, we are not good enough and what we do is not good enough, can be sown in us in so many different ways. That seed will be nurtured, fed and watered by future experiences.
I was speaking with a lovely mum recently. She told me how her daughter, a bright, sunny girl, started to develop a shadow over her a few years ago in school. She had a tricky time in Year 2. Don’t get me wrong, she was a perfect student, great behaviour, trying her best, lots of friends so it was not ‘that’ kind of tricky. Nothing was ‘really’ wrong – yet she started to feel the weight of self-doubt. She started really questioning her self, her abilities and whether she was good enough.
The reason? The school changed their marking system and were now using the ‘developmental marking / feedback marking’ (Assessment For Learning or AFL to some).
What that meant in plain English was her work got marked by the teacher and beside the smiley face, and maybe a positive comment, she always got a suggestion of what she could do to improve her work next time:-
“Next time try…. ”
“When you do your next …. Can you…”
“Have a go at ….”
“You could make this even better by….”
Many teachers love this marking. It gets results. I can understand why. Children pay attention to their personalised comments (don’t you remember devouring every word personally written to you by your teachers as a child?). The majority of pupils try their best. They want to get better. They want to make their teacher / head teacher / parent happy. Most of them will do whatever it takes to work harder and do better. It’s all looking good. Work gets better, marks go up, levels go up, Ofsted is happy, SLT is happy, everyone’s happy…
And yet this system held within it the power to erode a child’s self confidence and self esteem one tiny bit of work at a time.
Can you imagine someone, who’s opinions of you matters, constantly telling you to improve?
Can you imagine how it might feel if your success is never really celebrated but always pushed into second place by a suggestion for ‘better’?
Can you imagine how the seed of not being good enough gets sown and/or nurtured faithfully, diligently by those guiding your development?
Can you remember the last time you did something out of your comfort zone (presentation, speech, blog etc) and you got feedback – some good, some not. Which are the comments you heard the loudest? Can you imagine that feeling for a child?
I am obviously not saying that this is the only factor in a child’s mental health. I’ve worked therapeutically with children for so many years now, and I know very well that it’s not. However, in a time when so many of our young people ARE struggling with mental health issues, and schools ARE struggling with budgets shrinking – isn’t it a good time to look at everything we are doing (however, well established) that might not be helping?
I wonder how many schools could help support / improve the mental health of these children by changing how they use this marking scheme?
I wonder what might happen to how children feel about their work – and themselves, if more of the time the comments coming back were just highlighting the positives?
“I loved your adjectives. I wanted to keep reading.”
“You have got full stops and capital letters nailed! Well done.”
“I can tell how hard you worked to get these words down today. Well done on not letting yourself get totally distracted. That’s a great skill to have.”
“You come up with such great creative ideas. I love reading your work.”
Please hear me on this. I am not suggesting we stop this feedback / developmental marking altogether – clearly we ALL need to have help to see how we can grow and what our next step could be. I am just talking about using it more sporadically. I wonder how much more effort you would put into noticing and implementing a suggestion for improvement if it came once in a while rather than every piece of work?
I also wonder how often teachers let pupils know what they are currently working on improving themselves – so children see it as a life skill, not something they have to do (directed by a perfect teacher) just because they are children and not good enough…yet?
I really don’t think that tweaking this approach to marking would cost any money… and yet could have a significant impact on the children trying their best to be good enough… before they grow up bringing those beliefs into their tweens, teens and adulthood.
I’d be curious to know what you think… Is this idea good enough to be considered?