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?