Whose work is it anyway?

Imagine a Year 6 classroom in the run up to the end of the year. A teacher, trying to gather the last of the evidence for supporting Teacher Assessment on the 30th June decides to set one final task of writing a fictional narrative.

This isn’t a “cold task”. Instead, the children watch a film that tells the story of a child who ‘learns his lesson’ about unkindness, through some incident of kindness that happens to him. The children are all to write a similar tale, giving their own incident as the turning point in the tale.

Before the children start to write, they discuss the features of a narrative, and record these as success criteria on the classroom display board (a practice that is “sensibly permitted” according to 82% of teachers). Children collectively draw up a list of features that marries well with the interim assessment framework, and are reminded of their own target areas by referring to the ticklists taped to their tables.

After some time planning the basic outline of the story using a planning frame that outlines the key elements, the group collects back together again to discuss the sorts of “wow words” they might use to describe the character both before and after the incident. The teacher adds this vocabulary to the classroom display as a prompt for everyone (“sensibly permitted” according to 68%). Of course, being an experienced Year 6 teacher, she checks that words like aggressive and mischievous appear from the Y5/6 word list.

The following lesson, before starting out on the story, the children have a reminder lesson about the punctuation of speech in a narrative. As a plenary, they each record a few sentences that might show how the character is before and after the ‘transformation’.

Finally it comes to the big event: the writing of the story. The children beaver away for 45 minutes, drawing on help from peers when they fancy, helping themselves to a dictionary to check spellings (“sensibly permitted”: 93%). Occasionally, as the lesson proceeds, the teacher reads aloud from the particular good examples around the room (59%):

“Just listen to this from Arriety – ‘The boy was astounded: he couldn’t believe what had happened’. Isn’t that a great way of using a colon, everyone? She’s told us how he felt, and then after the colon she told us why. I wonder if anybody else could include a sentence like that?”

Eventually, the work is done.

Until the next lesson. Over the weekend, the teacher takes away the books and makes notes on areas to improve, either generally or for specific children. Where spelling isn’t quite up to the standard needed, she writes a little “sp.” note in the margin of the appropriate line, so the child can check again (50%). In a few cases, where there are several trickier words on a line, to save time she underlines the misspelt word for the child to check in the dictionary (20%).

During the next lesson, the children get started on their corrections. In one or two cases, children who struggle with spelling are paired with more able children who give them feedback on the words they need to correct.(34% – a further 29% think it’s unreasonable, but still permitted).

One child has written at length, without any sense of paragraphing. The teacher sits with the child and discusses again with him when paragraph changes are needed. They read through the text together discussing where the child now thinks paragraph shifts should be added (50%).

The following evening the teacher looks over the work again. Some pieces she is happy with. Others she sets aside and finds time to discuss the work again with the children. A few need reminding to look again at how the speech is punctuated. One or two could do with improving the ending. Some still have spellings to double-check.

She meets briefly with each of the remaining pupils, pointing out gaps on their ticklist of criteria. In one case she points out that a child has very little evidence of semi-colons. She suggests that he adds a sentence or two to his story somewhere that includes a semi-colon (21%), referring to the example posters on the wall display.

By Friday, most of the class are doing art with the teaching assistant, while the teachers works with the last couple of individuals. Edward can’t quite believe that he’s onto his fifth draft of the same piece of work (20%). He’s had so many conversations with his teacher, dictionary sessions with Max -the best speller in the class – and pointers to posters and prompts, that he hardly recognises the story he started with. Funnily enough it’s not work that his Year 7 teacher will ever recognise as his either.

He’s on track to meet the nationally expected standard.

But is it still his own work?


21 thoughts on “Whose work is it anyway?

  1. Jan Walker (@jw22304) 17 June 2016 at 6:59 pm Reply

    This describes the last few weeks in my classroom to a tee! The only positive being that the children did admit that their writing is ‘much better now’.

  2. claris2012 17 June 2016 at 7:05 pm Reply

    The problem would be removed if they changed the word secure to best fit. And not expect this year’s y6 to have mastered a new and very challenging y1-y6 curriculum that they have only been studying for two years.

    • Stella Clarke 19 June 2016 at 9:16 am Reply

      Yes, that is exactly the problem, 10 children out of my Year 6 class were either w or level 1 at the end of year 2 but they are suppossed to be ‘expected’ at the end of year 6 which in theory is the same as the old Level 5, when they have only covered the new curriculum for 2 years.

  3. littlemavis 17 June 2016 at 7:37 pm Reply

    This is so very much like the kind of decisions I had to make when delivering BTEC. It got to be even more of a problem when managers took a much more liberal view of what was permitted than the teacher delivering the did. I believe rules have been tightened since. That will probably happen here too.

  4. Sarah 17 June 2016 at 7:40 pm Reply

    I think that the children are SICK TO DEATH of writing like this- onerous and pointless task just to show that teachers have fulfilled their responsibility of teaching what should be taught apparently. These children are writing to the teacher’s dictates and suggestions…what child would dare to go against this after all teachers are always right aren’t they? To me this beggars belief that its how a teacher might operate. Yes by all means run the assessment; take the initial assessment from their first writing. Then two ways to proceed one or the other, redistribute the work in a couple of weeks, and ask the children to write down the good parts of the work and the parts that need to be improved. OR use this piece of writing later on in the year to show their improvement…hand out to the original authors, and ask them to point out their mistakes and god parts of the work. This surely makes drudgery at least a tad more interesting.

  5. Leigh Taylor 17 June 2016 at 8:41 pm Reply

    No: this is ‘directed learning and practice’. Y6 SAT for writing should be a cold task, like old short and long task, in last week of June. Externally marked and moderated and the information used to inform secondary school teachers what/ how their new students can write independently. Sending up their planning, drafting and final piece books to their new schools, before the end of Y6, will show how they have developed, have been supported and indicate areas of strength and those to work on. This will enable secondary schools to prepare effectively for September.

  6. julietgreen 17 June 2016 at 9:05 pm Reply

    Perhaps not one cold task, Leigh Taylor, as that did mean that some children just failed to produce the goods on the occasion. I’d opt for 3 pieces done in ‘exam conditions’ where the best piece is allowed to indicate the level the pupil has attained. These are then ranked using a system such as ‘no more marking’ (https://nomoremarking.com/), giving us all a really good idea of where our pupils are in their writing attainment.

    • Stella Clarke 19 June 2016 at 9:19 am Reply

      I agree, some children just don’t always perform to their best ‘#on the day’ and also some children are better at writing mystery stories than information texts or letters, so I think 3 pieces is a good idea

  7. Mal 17 June 2016 at 10:13 pm Reply

    At least he now understands the process of becoming a published author. Could make a career of it

    • Kate Cameron 22 June 2016 at 10:38 am Reply

      An interesting point!

  8. Suzanne 18 June 2016 at 8:24 am Reply

    The inconsistencies of the assessment process, as shown by your survey, underline the pointlessness of the assessment in writing this year. I agree that ‘best fit’ with evidence gained from cold tasks would allow teachers to make more realistic judgements about children’s writing, consequently passing on valid information to our secondary colleagues. But even then, how many teachers think that the writing criteria produced by the DFE are worthy of teaching to primary aged children?
    As long as schools are judged mainly on test results, schools will do whatever it takes to ensure that children score as highly as possible, in whatever assessment they do. The reality is that all nationally reported assessments, at key points in a primary school child’s life, are nothing more than judgements about our schools and of no use at all to the children we teach. We spend far too much time getting them ready to pass these tests than teaching in a way that we all know would be far more beneficial to their education.

  9. grandmasgrains 18 June 2016 at 11:32 am Reply

    I might be missing something here, but why do Y6 teachers think it is necessary to keep on pushing and pushing the children to redraft? Surely we should let them have a good go at each piece of writing, following discussion about what will make it great, give them some feedback after they have written and give them time to edit and improve as much as they can. Maybe one redraft. Then assess. And if only 50% of them reach the ridiculous standard, then so be it. Schools aren’t going to be judged on the data this year and we should be showing the Government that the standard is very hard for a lot of children to reach. Let’s not take all the fun out of learning!

    • Michael Tidd 18 June 2016 at 11:34 am Reply

      Schools *are* going to be judged on this year’s data, though.

    • Stella Clarke 19 June 2016 at 9:21 am Reply

      Also some teachers will be judged on their data as well

  10. Fiona Domkowicz 18 June 2016 at 4:52 pm Reply

    In our school we write ,peer/ self assess and then redraft and improve. Children can then word process it for a final ‘publish’ .Our marking has become less using this process because the children are actually independently improving their own writing and when they come to write the next piece you can see where they have improved- this is good teaching and what should be happening anyway,regardless of the raised expectations! We have recently finished a 3 week writing story project and the children have loved it. Because the children are experienced now in looking for errors for themselves and in each others’;little marking has taken place during the redrafting and re- writing process , so when they have ‘ published’ it we know it’s their own writing.Yes we have given them the spelling lists from year 5 and 6 and included word cards that they could include ; this is what would happen with words anyway , wow words or no wow words. The secure fit is over several pieces of writing and if children are writing plenty ,then they should achieve- it’s accumulative .Isnt that happening anyway? I’m still incorporating creativity and the children are enjoying it- why are they enjoying it? They are improving in their writing, better still they are reading their writing out loud so the verb tense is accurate . Nobody told me to do this as a result of the raised expectations – I was doing it anyway! You will notice in this comment I have included a semi colon and some contractions but only one – do you know what ?In my next piece of writing I will be doing the same and this is called secure fit-Hopefully now I have met national standards? Rant over, we should just continue as we are helping children in the best way we can to improve their writing skills. I wish my teacher would have shown me how to use semi colons accurately at primary school then my A level English language would not have been so daunting!

  11. Julia Moxon 18 June 2016 at 10:30 pm Reply

    I think this is the right way to teach writing- Mastery. Just like Fiona, [above comment] we model the writing process, then we peer and self-assess using EBI and WWW.
    This has resulted in our children really understanding what writing is and how you have to adapt work before it is published. For the first time ever, boys are enjoying the process and all children feel that they are true writers: ‘Magpieing,’ words, phrases or sentences and using them effectively in their own work.
    What is frustrating is that moderators do not value this model. LO are frowned upon as guiding pupils. Any toolkit and success criteria are seen as somehow not being a true reflection of ability, as one should question whether it makes that writing truly independent. Furthermore, we were recently informed by an experienced moderator that in order for a child to be at ‘greater depth,’ a child has to have an apparently ‘sustained flair,’- this was not something mentioned on the government tick list, but with our list of ticks and variety of genres, it was the only thing holding the child back from achieving this enviable accolade. I don’t think we have ever taught writing as effectively- but I wonder if it will ever be good enough?

  12. MBH 19 June 2016 at 9:35 am Reply

    This is exactly what is happening in my classroom at the moment. Books are going back and forth until I can see what I need to see so that my pupils are at the expected standard! So much has been crammed into my teaching this year and the children have done well to retain most of it but as one child in my class commented: ‘This is ruining my writing miss!’.
    Now this is a child who has real flair and imagination, I can only agree with him! I know how they feel too because when I write now I am constantly thinking if I have used the exclamation mark correctly ( I know I haven’t in this post), where can I use a semi-colon, how can I use an hyphen and have I used words off the spelling list!!! This whole process has put my children off writing so thanks a lot Nicky Morgan, you are creating a generation of robotic writers!

  13. joking64 19 June 2016 at 12:01 pm Reply

    The bottom line is: it’s wrong.

    • Ruth O'reilly 20 June 2016 at 6:28 pm Reply

      Great use of a colon between two main clauses! 🙂

      I am really cross about how we’ve made the children jump through hoops. The article sums up (with only a little exaggeration) what I’ve gone through with my Y6 class in the last two terms. They really want to please. and have gone all-out for everything I’ve asked, which has made it worse. They will happily edit with a partner in order to make sure they’ve included the passive voice and modal verbs, got every spelling correct and not made any errors on basic punctuation. Which is all fine – you could call it an important life skill – but doesn’t in the slightest promote good creative writing.

  14. Ros Wilson 23 June 2016 at 1:23 pm Reply

    This is a great testimony to Big Writing Michael. If the child can’t remember it 2 weeks later, the assessment is not worth the paper it is recorded on. The whole point of BW is that children can write ‘cold’, unsupported writing at that standard whenever they write -as you and I can. Ros :))

  15. lesley fraser 11 March 2017 at 11:00 am Reply

    Brilliant what a farce the whole process of assessment is. Better the children learn from their mistakes and are allowed to show a true reflection of their ability without condemning the teacher who is working their socks off.

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