Monday, 2 February 2009

The Value of Author Events by Marie-Louise Jensen

I recently did a school visit to a delightful secondary school in Bristol, where the children were engaged, interested and well-behaved. They listened to my talk, asked questions, became enthusiastic as we began to talk about books by other contemporary authors and produced some great writing in a creative writing exercise afterwards.
It was all very enjoyable and the time flew by. Several children were interested enough to buy my books, which was also nice. :-)
I was very perturbed, however, to hear from the member of staff who arranged the event that she’s been asked to prove that these visits are of quantifiable benefit to the children in the school, or the funding for them won’t be continued.
Now, I can quite see that scientists may be able to prove that a certain drug can be used to treat an illness (after expensive trials, of course). But I’m not aware that any one educational method has ever been proven to be better than any other. So how do you prove the value of author visits? (I’m not aware that the school were offering money for a research project on the subject…)
The success of education in general, and perhaps English more than any other subject, is dependent on so many factors. Most subjects go beyond the classroom and are affected by home environment, parental expectation, and socio-economic factors. With all these influences, it makes it very difficult to accurately assess the impact of any individual classroom method over another.
I know that author events have had a huge impact on my own children’s reading. Thank you and bless you Francesca Simon for getting my youngest son interested in books! And gratitude also to Anthony Horowitz and Michelle Paver for extending his reading beyond Horrid Henry. I saw the effect of those events on his reading and his English over a two year period. But would I be able to prove that’s what made the difference? I wouldn’t know where to start.

7 comments:

Nick Green said...

> she’s been asked to prove that these visits are of quantifiable benefit to the children in the school, or the funding for them won’t be continued


That is alarming, for it sounds as if they've already made up their minds! As you say, you can't prove it. You can't prove that teaching them maths is of quantifiable benefit, either. (It certainly wasn't of quantifiable benefit to me.)

However, if someone gave me the taks of 'proving' this unproveable, I might simply say, 'Reading is one of the three fundamentals of education. Author visits enthuse kids about reading, probably more than anything else does. People who are enthusiastic about something invariably do better at it than they otherwise would.' Job done, I hope.

John Dougherty said...

The obsession with targets, and measurements, and "results", and "standards" is not only rather silly; it's extremely damaging.

The measure of an education system is not how well a child can read at age 5, or add up at age 11; it's what kind of adults come out the other end. When they work out a way of definitively gauging the effect on an adult of a single event that occurred when (s)he was a child, then and only then will it make sense to lay down these ridiculous requirements for proof.

Ooooh, it makes me so cross!

Penny said...

My queries here are "Who exactly is the person or organisation who doing the asking? Who is it who's in charge of the giving out of funds?" Is it someone at the school, in which case they should surely ( for heaven's sake!!!) have a better level of educational understanding? Must go out and stand in the snow to cool down! Grrr!

bookwitch said...

Penny - You'd be surprised how many non-readers lurk in every school staff room. Usually the ones who make the decisions. But then, I used to volunteer in a school library where the librarian chucked out books at an alarming speed. Most of them ended up in my house, for 10p each.

Most of the parents were more in favour of lots more homework and less praise, than more books and reading. I despaired, but what can you do?

Katherine Langrish said...

More stories, that's what schools need! Full length books if possible, but if not, short stories, read aloud by a good reader or told by a good storyteller. I used to do a lot of storytelling in schools - folk and fairy tales - and I never ever had any problems with the kids - they always sat around like lambs and listened and listened.

What annoys me is that children are expected to learn to read - which is hard - without having the pleasures of reading demonstrated to them first. So why ever should they bother?

Anonymous said...

Aha! I hear the dreaded word OUTCOMES. People are expected to know outcomes in advance. The only sensible answer, if required to fill in forms and forms of justification, is "Nobody knows."

lindanewbery said...

Aha! I hear the dreaded word OUTCOMES. People are expected to know outcomes in advance. The only sensible answer, if required to fill in forms and forms of justification, is "Nobody knows."