Weekend Reading: Learning from SATs

As the mother of a six-year-old, I’ve been learning all about SATs this week, and pondering their relationship (as I do with most things!) to a classical education.

test board


If you’re not familiar with SATs, they’re the tests UK children have to take in Year 2 (and also Year 6, but we’re not there yet!), covering things like grammar, spelling, reasoning and arithmetic. I’ve known about SATs for years, but this week’s parents meeting was the first time I’ve looked at an actual paper – and it was enough to suggest cause for concern among those of us who champion critical thinking.

The comprehension paper (sorry – ‘English reading’ paper) presents a story in several sections, with questions accompanying each section. Some of the questions are quite straightforward (‘What is the name of the boy who lives in the house?’), but others are based on inference. Now, I’m not condemning all forms of inference – but these went too far for my comfort. For instance, there’s a story about a boy who gets out his toys and books in expectation of his cousin coming for her first ever visit to his home; but when she arrives he sees that she’s a newborn baby, and he has to go back to his room and choose different toys. One of the questions asks, ‘Why was the boy surprised when he met his cousin?’ Well, at no point does the story indicate that the boy was surprised; his body language isn’t mentioned, nor does he verbally indicate surprise. He simply looks at the baby, says ‘Excuse me’, and goes off to choose some age-appropriate toys.

Asking children the question ‘Why was he surprised?’ is not just a demand for an inference; it’s an imposition of the question-setter’s interpretation of a situation which could be read in several different ways.

This might not bother my six-year-old, but it bothered me. I was tempted to scrawl on the paper, ‘What is your evidence for this interpretation? What cultural factors have influenced your reading of this boy’s reaction? And do you think it’s appropriate to impose your own reading upon a generation of previously open-minded children?’. I didn’t do that, because the poor class teacher was having a hard enough time trying to explain adverbs to grammar-averse parents. But it made me realise that we are training our children, from an early age, to believe that they need to accept other people’s interpretation of the evidence if they want to succeed in education. No wonder it’s so difficult for us to train ourselves, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, to take a critical approach to published scholarship!


pencil pot


This week’s links from around the Web

From Classical Studies Support

This week I’ve been working (despite my cold!) on introductory podcasts for the modules I’m teaching this year. If you’d like to listen, they’re on the individual module pages, or you can find them all under the Podcasts heading in the Library. Check back for more in a couple of days!

New students might also like to read Participation – a Tutor Manifesto, in which I set out my rather unorthodox views on tutorial participation.


Digging up Roman stuff – Grimsby Live

Making use of Thucydides in Greece – Financial Times 

Lego Roman Empire – Falkirk Herald

Buying a broken bust – The Star 

Scrapping Latin in Greek schools – Ekathimerini 

Roman ghosts in Cheshire – The Express 

Discovering a Roman port – Archaeology News Network 

A painted tomb in Cumae – Heritage Daily 

‘Uncomfortable’ museum tours – Al Jazeera 

A Roman ‘comic’ in Jordan – CNRS [the video is good too]

Upcoming events – The Classical Association


Comment and opinion

How to fatten a rodent – Atlas Obscura 

Talking Varro in Toronto – Sphinx 

Under London’s streets – Smithsonian

Classics and hate groups – The Baffler 

Restoring Aphrodite – Broadway World 

Spotting fake quotations – Kiwi Hellenist 

Same-sex romance in the Odyssey game – PSU

The challenge of choosing a book cover – Sententiae Antiquae 

Teaching Sappho – History From Below 

Myth and autism in Nebraska – Mythology and Autism 

Talking about vaults – Society for Classical Studies 

Textiles and cultural heritage – Institute of Classical Studies 

Non-classicists and Homer – Kiwi Hellenist 

On disciples and sages – Classically Inclined 

The curse of the sarcophagus – The New Yorker 

Uncovering first drafts – The Iris 

Xenophon and the EU – The Spectator

Classics and Scottish mountains – Mountains in the Classical Tradition 

Arachne in Polish animation – Panoply 

Talking about Medusa – Institute of Classical Studies 


Podcasts, videos and other media

Memory, mementos and souvenirs – Classics Confidential 

Carthage and elephants – The Layman’s Historian 

Stephen Fry reads from his new book on heroes – Penguin 

Talking about Amazons – Ancient History Fangirl 

Classics and pick-up artists – Sex Gets Real 

Moving a mosaic – Aeon 

New video game trailer – Syfy Wire 

Mary Beard on The Classical Body – American Academy in Rome 

Edith Hall on swans and swansongs – BBC Radio 4 

On old age in Rome – Emperors of Rome 

Why was Aristotle so popular? – Flash Point History and History of Greece 



2 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Learning from SATs

  1. Hi Cora Beth, you made me think, does she read Latin to her 6 year old? What’s your view on this? There’s a debate in some philology circles about speaking Ancient Greek to babies, and as my brother recently had a kid and I toyed with the idea of speaking it to him (imagine… ἡ σφαῖρᾰ οὐκ ἐστί κῠᾰνέᾱ ἀλλά ἐρῠθρᾱ́, χαχαχα). Thanks for the podcast by the way, good advice as always 🙂


    1. Oh yes, I do read Latin to him – but since he completely ignores me most of the time, unless I’m talking about Lego, I can’t see it having much effect. But I do get some credit for being able to translate the Latin bits in the Harry Potter books…!

      Liked by 1 person

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