We were tested every Friday morning and where you finished determined where you would sit for the following week. Top of the class would sit at the back beside the window, while the bottom of the class would end up at the front and nearest to the teacher.
It became quite competitive I recall, but in a good way, at least for me. The pre-test atmosphere had the same sort of adrenalin nervousness that you might get before the start of a race or when waiting for the referee’s whistle for a football match to begin.
What we were tested on I have no idea. Presumably it was on the usual spelling and arithmetic and other stuff you’d been learning that week, but I can’t say that with any certainty. However, I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t asked about preposition phrases, subordinating conjunctions or mordal verbs.
I mention this in light of the parents who kept their offspring from school on Tuesday in protest at the new SATs which appear to expect six and seven year olds to be budding grammarians and mathematical prodigies. If you don’t believe me, try the English and maths tests yourself and see how well you do.
I have no problem with testing children per se. For me, it’s important to know how well or how badly a child is doing if weaknesses are to be spotted and corrected. And I don’t buy the argument that too much testing causes children to be depressed. It is a competitive world and the sooner they get used to that idea the better.
But I would question the usefulness of being able to name a grammatical rule. I would imagine that if this is all you worry about when reading a passage of prose or a chapter in a book, then all it does is to suck out any enjoyment you might otherwise get from the experience.
I was an avid reader as a child and my love of words came from teachers who encouraged me to wrap myself in the stories we read together and not by worrying whether a sentence used the past progressive or not, or analysing the use of adverbials. All that came later in our English language lessons at secondary school, and what a bore they were even then.
Surely the point of language is that it is a skill we use every day, whether we want to or not, and as long as we can spell correctly and have an accurate grasp of a word’s meaning, then the structure and grammar follows naturally by the osmosis of reading and speaking. And anything that puts children off reading must surely be a bad thing.