Writing assessment 2017 or Post apocalypse writing.
Part one – The content of the Interim frameworks 2016 and their adverse effects.
Has the dust settled on the 2016 assessments yet? No way I hear you say. I agree with you, I continually get asked about them on social media and when I go into schools. There is much debate on Twitter and Facebook about what the writing assessments will or will not look like next year at the end of KS2.
Will it look the same as this year? Will the interim framework just become the framework? I cannot imagine there will be many changes if any at all.
The way writing is assessed against the framework is, anecdotally, having a negative effect on the teaching of writing in some schools, especially where the tick list method is used.
Gone has the teaching of writing which focused on effect on the reader, an outpouring of the author’s creativity and feelings - to be replaced by staid pieces of writing whose main aim is to demonstrate the proficient use of complicated grammar and punctuation which is often unnecessary in quality writing. Pick up a novel – go on… get one now… open it to any page. How many exclamation marks, colons or semi colons does it have? I am guessing in many cases that they are rarely used and if they are used at all then they have been inserted sparingly.
This week I heard via Twitter of a child in Y2 being assessed as below expectations because she had only used exclamations in two of her moderated pieces of writing and thus didn’t demonstrate sufficient secure use. (Surely if the two were used correctly this demonstrates a secure understanding?)
The sad thing is that I can’t see anything being done about this at a governmental level any time soon. However, as teachers we can still focus on creating opportunities for our children to create writing which is creative and imaginative, which looks at the effect on the audience, develops vocabulary use and choice etc. Whilst teaching grammar in context as part of the writing journey, which can then be used by the children as and when necessary. This needs to be done, as it says in the National Curriculum, through the teaching of reading, writing and speaking and not as a separate bolt on. If this is done from year 1 onward, at a level appropriate for our pupils then we should see the effect in future years.
Part two – Flaws in the assessment process.
Recently many people have been expressing their displeasure in the moderation process, that they have been forced to produce tick lists and endless evidence for moderation whereas other schools have had quite a positive experience. Other schools didn’t have to experience it at all and we’ll just have to trust their results, with some teachers worried that they have been too generous or too harsh.
A friend of mine believes (and I am swayed this way too) if one school is moderated then they all should be. This would certainly seem fairer although it would come at great expense.
**Typing from my Anderson shelter**
It may be much simpler to return to the writing tests.
Not quite as they were before but still a one off test which would allow children to show off their writing skills.
I would personally go for a ‘cold’ write narrative which had an interesting and engaging prompt and a non-fiction ‘hot’ write.
How would that work?
Firstly, we would need a sea-change in what we (teachers) think the assessments are for. At the moment I feel that many teachers think assessments are a way of students proving how good they are, showing off their very best work which is why it is produced over a period of time with a number of rewrites. Is this really the purpose of the year 6 writing assessments though? Not really, the purpose is to level/rank children against their peers and use these levels/ranks ultimately to rank their schools against those in the LEA and nationally.
Not many pupils are going to produce their best piece of writing under test conditions, not many of us would. But what the tests would give is a standardised piece of work which can be easily ranked and compared across the country.
So what would these new tests look like?
They would be four hours long. Two hours for non-fiction and two hours for narrative.
Give children an engaging stimulus, an image or a short film and ask children to write a narrative piece based upon this. It maybe that if they are watching a film extract they could write a conversational piece, they could be asked to write a description of setting, character or both. They could be asked to write an ending for a short film or a piece of action. It would be short and not a whole narrative. Children should be used to this type of writing as it is standard fare in most schools. The two hours would allow for 30 mins thinking/planning time if needed followed by an extended writing session of 90 minutes which would allow some children time to edit and redraft sections.
(Disclaimer) This is just an idea that I think could possibly work.
Two/three weeks prior to the test date teachers can download a 2/3 week basic unit plan on a topic with key focus points, key information and key vocabulary. This, for example, could be Volcanoes, Castles etc.
The teachers then have 2/3 weeks to teach content and vocabulary whilst revising text types and applying them to the topic.
On the day of the test the task is revealed. Something like non-chronological report, recount of visit to… etc
The children at this point should have the content knowledge and also knowledge of text types in order to ‘succeed.’
Although in a perfect world none of this would happen, we would just teach our pupils how to write creatively, passionately and accurately without the need for testing.
As always I welcome your comments.
I like to use films with an emotional story line with children. It often leads to deep and mature discussion, allowing the teacher to draw out emotive vocabulary from the children who are then inspired to write using this language whilst including the emotional content in their writing.
I was thinking about the films that had an effect on me as I was growing up. I was born in 1982 and I still love watching children's films today, so I thought I would compile a list of the 6 saddest moments in Children's films. (I have 6 as I couldn't narrow any further to a 'top' 5)
I tried not to include 6 death scenes in the list, although this is often the saddest point of any film. Some of the obvious ones are not in there - Bambi's mother for example, but I have never seen that film (or Starwars!) I would also like to feature 'Land Before Time' - When Lightfoot's mother dies and the death of Mufasa in 'Lion King' but again more death scenes, so they only get a notable mention.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Toy Story 2 (2000)
Monsters Inc (2002)
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
I watched this film with my 6 year old and we were both in tears when Stoick died, I have just asked Noah what the saddest part of any film he has seen is. He said when "Dumbledore dies or when Stoick dies." When I asked him why this was sad, he said "because Stoick was the leader so more people are sad." But "also he is killed by 'Toothless' - Hiccup's best friend so it makes it even worse for Hiccup." I think he puts it rather well!
I would be happy to hear your comments about the list. Maybe you agree with the tear ratings or maybe you would like to add your own scene to the list, please do so using the comments below.
A quick video of me exploring the Warhorse Interactive App. It has a mass of information on there. Start with the illustrated novel. Then you could open the timeline and read about key events including maps, images, audio and videos. There are also interviews with historians on the battle sites. You can then see an excerpt of the novel read by the author himself.
I recently came across these great interactive story books on the app store, like all great finds, whilst I was looking for something else.
The iClassic bundle contains 12 interactive tales from four of the world's greatest authors: H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Alan Poe, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.
The Lovecraft stories are probably more suitable for students in secondary school (age 11+) The Poe and Dickens stories are suitable for students in UKS2 (ages 9+) but it will be a good idea to read them before sharing with your class. The Oscar Wilde texts are suitable for children from around Year 3 (7+)
Lovecraft titles - The Hound, The Window and Dagon - there is also a brief biography of the author.
Poe titles - Eldorado, The Cask of Amontadillo, Alone, The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar.
Dickens Titles - Christmas Ghosts, The Ivy Green, A Madman's Manuscript and a brief biography.
Wilde titles - The Selfish Giant, The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose plus a biography.
In December 2014 I wrote a blog entitled Story Starters with 60 original story starters in. You can read them here.
I thought I would add to that with another 25. So here you go! Some have been provided by Literacy Shed users. They are credited in brackets.
3. She felt someone tug her sheets. She woke up thinking it was her cat. She looked down and fell aback. No cat, no dog, only a hand... (Dyna Wilson)
4. I had failed the test. There was only way I could solve this problem...
5. Because of you I only a pair of cerulean eyes to bury in an otherwise empty casket. (Schuyler Loughlin)
6. I hated moving house. They are never the one I grew up in. Never the one where my dad died. (Emily Thomas)
7. He had been waiting for ages. Why hadn't he come? He had promised.
11. It was just a game, but like everything can, it went horribly wrong, as the body at your feet proved. (Erika Adams)
12. There was a note in my fortune cookie that said, "Leave now don't say anything to anyone and never come back!" (Bradie Rouse)
13. The pages flickered, there was no breeze, as if an invisible hand was turning the pages. It stopped on page 73...
14. "I can see you!" said the text, she looked around nervously.
15. He wasn't leaving - he was King of the Mountain, no one could take that from him.
16. The air filled with a familiar smell.
19. The bed began to shake... the air turned grey... where had the walls gone? The bed began to spin as it rose into the air.
20. Lightning struck the tree in the garden. Another flash and Arthur could see someone standing there looking up.
If you enjoyed these visit the original post for another 60 here
Please add your own story starters in the comments and I will compile a new blog of them soon.
One from the master:
I saw this earlier and thought it looked amazing. Then I was tweeted by Mr Young (@mrysgc) on Twitter that he is going to use it with his Year 6 class this week.
There are some stunning settings shots in the opening sequence. Which the pupils can describe.
They can describe walking towards the castle in the snow and how they would feel as they approach the castle, before going inside and seeing the cobwebbed interior.
There are some discussion points to talk about with the pupils, such as who is the girl? Who is speaking? Who owns the castle? 'What if she is the one?' What does that mean?
My Young is going to pause the film at 1 minute 6 seconds and ask the children to carry on the story. This is a great idea, especially if they do not know that it is Beauty and The Beast. Most children will not have seen the trailer, the only clues are the 'Be Our Guest' titles and the piano music playing at the end.
We would love to hear about how you think this could be used too, so leave us a comment.
I’d like to use a sports analogy to explain how I feel about the changes to the writing assessment.
Imagine you had been training for the Rio Olympics to be held in the summer of 2016. You could be a high jumper for example.
The qualifying height for Rio ’16 is 2.29m (men). So, imagine you are that high jumper and you hit your target again and again and again. You feel like you are ready for qualification. Ready for Rio.
But a few months before, there are rumours that the bar will be higher for qualification so as an athlete you start to jump higher, training harder and exceeding your personal goals.
Once again you feel as though you have cracked it, however four months before qualification there comes a shock announcement from the governing body. As well as jumping 2.29 metres you also have to jump 2 metres horizontally. Now you may think that ‘good’ athletes should be able to jump 2 metres anyway so this should not have a detrimental effect on the athletes. However, for some athletes the original 2.29 metre target was their best. They focussed fully on achieving more height as this was what has always been measured. For these athletes, jumping horizontally is almost impossible as all of their effort has been expended on the original vertical target.
So what happens to those athletes who do not meet the new targets?
They lose their funding, they are labelled as failures and they feel that all of their training has been for nothing. There are athletes who can meet the new expectations, they cannot see what the problem is, in fact their coaches support the changes as it makes their athletes and themselves look even better than usual.
What happens to the coaches of the ‘failed’ athletes? They are put under increased scrutiny and eventually lose their jobs while the governing body touts their positions to the highest bidder.
Now imagine that instead of athletes you are a 10 or 11-year-old who has gone through their whole primary school career with one curriculum. This was changed by the government less than two years before testing and the bar was raised. Their teachers heard rumours that the standards required would be higher so they taught accordingly. Then four months before the assessment process the goals were changed. Under the old system some objectives were not put under as much scrutiny as they are now, which meant that in some schools they were not practised as much as there could have been. This could have been for a number of reasons but perhaps all of their energy was expended on reaching that ‘higher bar.’ So now a large amount of our pupils will be labelled as failures, their teachers will be put under greater scrutiny and could possibly lose their jobs when their schools are forced to become academies by the government.
In summary, I am all for ‘raising the bar’ but raise it gradually, and then just move it vertically and not horizontally. If you want to move it sideways or even change the bar altogether then give teachers and schools enough time to implement the changes before testing the children and using the results to label them, their teachers and their schools as failures.
As I have said in my previous posts - I am not opposed to testing. I do not like high stakes testing and how the tests are used to judge teachers and schools.
However, I am against tests that are filled with 'booby traps' and questions designed to confound and bamboozle young children. I call them 'trick questions,' but it has been pointed out to me that they are not trick questions just difficult ones.
I have come across a few sample SPAG test questions recently that have made me think.
The first from the KS1 Sample test.
"We want children to be able to identify verbs in a sentence." says one civil servant.
"I agree!" says Morgan "but how can we make it as tricky as possible?"
"Let's put them in the past tense and make them irregular!"
"Then just to trip those 6 or 7 year olds who may be stressed and flustered by the tests we'll put in an adjective that looks very much like a verb."
"Yes, Yes, Yes!" squeals Morgan with delight! "Gotcha!" she shouts, pumping a fist in the air.
The second question is from a KS2 Sample test. The question is testing the child's understanding of apostrophes for contraction.
So the (un) civil servants designing the tests have lots to choose from. In their question the could ask which words have been contracted to form the following: Shan't, Couldn't, Wouldn't or even Won't which is common but irregular. Which do they choose? One that is the most irregular. Unique amongst its peers.
Can't - You may not think this is very difficult. However, Can't is the only* contraction that is formed from a single word. Cannot - no credit will be given if the children write 'can not'. This is grammatically correct but it is again another trap, into which 10 and 11 year olds who have not been exposed to a full and rigorous grammar curriculum, will fall into.
I know they will because I carried out a very unscientific experiment. I asked the following question on twitter.
I would like to think most of my twitter followers are well educated adults, most of whom are teachers or within the educational system. However, as you see from the image above only 1/3 of the 130 respondents would be given credit on a Spag test and this wasn't in a highly pressurised timed test.
So 1/3 of adults would have got credit but many schools are aiming for at least 85% of their students getting these correct. Fair? I do not think so.
Please share these examples far and wide. Parents of our children need to be outraged by questions like this. Parents need to know how the government are purposely trying to make children fail in their tests.
As I always I welcome your comments.
*I couldn't think of another one word contraction other than cannot.
Grammar does not need to be taught out of context, it can be taught in English lessons through the use of quality texts. (Quality texts include film, drama and teacher modelled texts) In this blog I will share six steps follow in order to embed grammar into weekly English lessons. This process may take a single session plus the revisit or it may take a number of lessons, this is dependent on the ability of the children and the difficulty level of the task.
The six R’s of Grammar are:
1. Read – Reading for enjoyment and familiarisation with the text in the first instance. Allow children to read and and discuss freely without the shackles of ‘grammar spotting. The text does not have to be a written extract at this point. It could be a film or spoken piece. Both of these use identifiable grammar features.
2. Retrieve – Reread the text in order to identify and retrieve the grammar features that are the focus of the session, pupils may want to highlight or underline them. This could be done individually, with a partner or alongside the teacher in a group where necessary.
3. Rehearse – practice using the found grammar as part of a shared or guided write. Pupils may rehearse on whiteboards. This could be done out of context but it doesn’t need to be. For example if the text used in 1 and 2 was The Three Little Pigs and the grammar focus was expanded noun phrases then the children could rehearse phrases such as 'the small, hairy pig,' 'the house was made of soft yellow straw' etc.
4. Repeat – Children repeat this practice in their own writing. It may be prudent to scaffold this into the given task if children are insecure. Teacher could model how to effectively insert it into their writing.
5. Revise – Look through their own writing and that of peers to discuss/check accurate and effective usage of the focus. Teacher could share a different model from that in the ‘Read’ and ‘Retrieve’ sections so that pupils can identify grammar focus.
6. Revisit – For children to become secure the grammar focus needs to be revisited as often as possible. Teachers and pupils may point out the focus in their reading, teachers may ask for contextualised examples in other subjects such as science or history.
For the love of facts: There is nothing wrong with the KS2 Spag test.
(That is what some people say!)
There is something fundamentally wrong with this test. It is testing knowledge that children have not had time to learn. It is assuming that children leaving Y6 have had a rigorous and thorough grammar education, which is supplied by the government in the form of a GaPS curriculum.
However, herein lies the problem for the children taking these tests in May. They will not have had 2 years of learning from this new curriculum because it hasn’t been out that long, and the tests are taken in May cutting a further 20% of the learning time in Y6.
I have recently read arguments on prominent blogs and on twitter that suggest grammar teaching does not have to be dull and boring, that learning grammar will not turn children off learning English and that just because the children have to learn to label the language terms (in order to pass a test) this doesn’t mean that they won’t enjoy learning them because ultimately children like to learn. I agree with the fact it doesn’t have to be dull and boring.
However, with the rushed implementation of the tests comes a range of implications.
So that is the problem - what is the solution?
I am not against the testing of children and I am not against the GaPS test per se.
What I am against is the children currently in UKS2 being tested on it. That and the fact that this measurement is then used to judge teachers.
In previous schools I have been given targets based on the outcomes of children at the end of the year. Basically I was given the number of children who were expected to pass the range of tests at the end of each year group at age related expectations or above.
I was told that these targets would be used as part of our staff performance management and that this could adversely affect our pay, either by halting a rise up the pay scale or leading to a reduction in pay for those staff on UPS who did not meet the targets.
This may not sound too bad; you may think that teachers who are not getting children to reach their potential don’t deserve to travel up the pay scale. A teacher who does not do their damnedest to teach their children meet their potential is a rare teacher indeed.
Further worry is caused by schools using ‘aspirational’ targets. Targets set by SLT who decide where it would be ‘nice’ to get to and often these are unachievable targets for some pupils. This has huge implications too. More drilling, more cramming, more missing ‘lesser’ parts of the curriculum in order to bash the targets.
For me the solution is easy. Implement a rolling programme for the new testing regime. Introduce the new curriculum but test pupils in two years’ time when they have had time to learn the content in an interesting and engaging way: a way which is not superficial and decontextualized. Test the pupils when they have had opportunity to embed the new curriculum in their learning and use it in a range of contexts ensuring that they are secure in their use and application. Test pupils when their understanding of grammar is deeper than surface level and they are able to retain and use their knowledge more than to simply select the correct multiple choice answer in a test booklet.
As always I am happy for you to point out errors and I look forward to reading your comments.
Rob from Literacy Shed