The ‘quite tidy garden’ …or why level descriptors aren’t very helpful.

Dear Josh,

Thank you for agreeing to sort out our garden over your long holiday. As we’ll be away all summer here is a guide that tells you all you need to know to get

from this…

…to this

STEP A: You should begin by assessing the garden to decide its level. Read through these level descriptors to decide:

Level 1: Your garden is very overgrown. Any lawn has not been mown for some years. Shrubs have not been pruned for a considerable period. There are no visible beds and typically there will be large areas taken over by brambles and or nettles. There will probably be an abandoned armchair (or similar worn out furniture) somewhere in the overgrowth as well as assorted rubble and the old concrete base from a fallen shed. Boundary fencing will have collapsed.

Level 2: Your garden is just a little overgrown. The lawn is patchy though neglect and has only been mown sporadically. Shrubs generally have not been pruned recently. Beds look neglected and are not well stocked. There may be various forms of old rubbish abandoned in the far corners of the garden along with old lawn clippings and hedge trimmings. Boundary fences are in disrepair.

Level 3: Your garden is well tended. Lawns are mown regularly and contain no moss and weeds and shrubs are regularly pruned. Flower beds are well demarcated and contain no weeds. They are well stocked with appropriate bedding plants. The garden is quite tidy and boundary fencing is new and strong.

STEP B:

Josh, if you decide the garden is Level 1 (that is certainly our view) then I suggest you look at the Level 2 descriptor to guide you as to your next steps. It is clear that you need to move the garden from ‘very overgrown’ to ‘just a little overgrown’. For example, in a Level 1 garden, shrubs ‘have not been pruned for a considerable period’. You need to move on from that to a Level 2 garden where ‘shrubs have not been pruned recently’. The lawn needs to move from having ‘not been mown for some years’ to Level 2 ‘has only been mown sporadically’. Aim to move the boundary fencing on from Level 1 ‘will have collapsed’ to Level 2 ‘in disrepair’.  To move on from Level 1 for rubbish, for example, you’ll need to move that old armchair to a far corner of the garden.

STEP C:

Now move the garden from Level 2 to Level 3. This means you should ensure the garden is ‘well tended’ rather than ‘a little overgrown’. What useful advice!

Using level descriptors makes it so clear for you doesn’t it? Hubby is trying to insist that I also leave you his instructions but they are hopeless as he doesn’t understand that you need to know your next steps to make progress in gardening. He’s written reams and reams of advice including instructions like:

‘You’ll find the strimmer in the garage’

‘Start by clearing all the nettles’

‘Ken will come and help you shift the concrete’

‘The tip is open from 10-4 at weekends’

‘Marion next door can advise you about the best bedding plants to buy’

His instructions are just too specific to our garden. To learn the gardening skills that will achieve a Level 3 garden what you need is to really know your next level targets. I won’t confuse you by leaving you his nonsense!

We’ll see you in September and in the meantime we wish you happy gardening!

 

With apologies to any actual gardeners out there who know what they are talking about and enormous thanks to Daisy Christodoulou whose recent book helped me appreciate just why we shouldn’t use level descriptors as feedback. 

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6 thoughts on “The ‘quite tidy garden’ …or why level descriptors aren’t very helpful.

  1. This isn’t analogous to learning though is it…? Do learning level descriptors tie themselves back through the use of time-related descriptions such as the growth ones?

    1. I think it is important to see that it is sometimes ridiculous to require a ‘Level 2’ performance as progress towards ‘Level 3’. Often this is nonsensical and that is what I wanted to highlight. That in this case doing so was also impossible, I hope highlighted the problem (and added to the entertainment value).

  2. In this week’s TES, Lee Eliot Major–the CEO of the Sutton Trust–asks “Why is effective feedback so important for good teaching?”. He’s by no means the first person to stumble on the level ladders–he says “Feedback can be given at four levels. The first three are about the learning activity itself (how well-written an essay is, for example, or how pupils regulate their learning…Feedback at these higher levels can have a lasting effect on learners. Finally, feedback can be about students as individuals…This should mostly be avoided.”

    Although he admits that AfL has become rather formulaic, he shows no sign of understanding why this is so. His final advice is no more helpful: “Try to find a balance of suitably challenged but sparing feedback”.

    I wonder what he’d make of Michaela, where feedback is built into lessons in the form of constant questioning and quizzes–all of which ensure that the lower rungs of these ladders are absolutely secure, and have the added benefit of informing teachers exactly where teaching and learning has broken down. Otherwise, their feedback is as sparing as you can get: teachers don’t mark workbooks, full stop.

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