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November 24, 2012

This week has epitomised “Digging”:

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun

– Seamus Heaney

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For two days, I wielded Staedtler fineliners across student exam papers with suggestions/ edits/ positive feedback, and reminders about what-is-already-known, such as punctuation of text titles; marks were circled at the base of A4 sheets etched greater than the weight of their own penned outpourings. Scores tallied out of 15 or 30. The sum of one year’s effort yet again condensed to percentages, a numeric. Data.

Simultaneously, I wrote emails to stressed voices in compressed echo-chambers of belated fear: What if? When? Sorry…. Students who stressed over margins of error, grades and consistency. Wondering if they’d done enough to maintain an A. Irony was not lost on me that my own assignment deadline – Task 2 Action Research worth 70% of the semester’s mark and restricted to 4000 words – loomed last Tuesday.

Each year’s inevitable closure invites the hope of another beginning, and so it emerges with our collaborative staff teams now planning courses for 2013 based on indicators derived from current performance. What worked? What didn’t work? What do we need to do differently?

Here’s this year’s course outline for Year 11s curated on Claco. In their journal evaluations, students tell me that they loved The Great Gatsby, but polarities emerge in response to Man on Wire. I am left feeling scoured by the surgical assessment procedure that slices through the school year. Honed edge, and bright gleaming in finesse; sterile accountability.

For Heaney, writing was a process analogous to his father’s more literal labour in the garden with his spade sinking “into gravelly ground”, and tending “new potatoes that we picked/ Loving their cool hardness in our hands.” My toil is with students and their learning processes; reading landscapes of comprehension and analysis through their body language, classroom discussions, tasks produced under time constraints and within contextualised parameters of word counts, rubrics, indicators and key terms.

While, like Heaney, “I’ve no spade to follow men like them” digging turf

Between my finger and my thumb

The Squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.


Heaney, S. (1990). New selected poems 1966 – 1987. London: Faber and Faber.


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