14 February 2018

It’s that time of the year again (comes around quickly doesn’t it!) – the time for thinking about what counts as independent work for the sake of statutory teacher assessment, and debating whether our current practice with our classes needs amending – so let’s recap on the key messages.

The STA state in their guidance that writing used for teacher assessment must be produced independently but through discussion with teachers and peers.

In essence, it can be broken down into two areas: marking/feedback and success criteria/modelling. It is worth noting, as STA do, that there is no expectation that every piece of writing will demonstrate independence for every single ‘pupil can’ statement. It may be the case that the spelling has been assisted by direct, specific intervention from the teacher, yet the rest of the writing could be good independent evidence for other statements within a standard.

Marking and feedback

All our pupils will be at different points in their developing independence, but what we want to be able to say when it comes down to making assessment judgements and presenting evidence in a moderation, is whether a pupil would be able to spot an error and correct it without it being specifically pointed out. It isn’t about whether a pupil gets something correct first time (goodness knows, we all need a chance to proofread and check our spellings/punctuation/coherence and so on), but rather whether they can see where they’ve made a mistake and use resources to address it. Those resources can be word mats, dictionaries, things on the working wall/displays, ‘every time we write’ prompts on desks or around the room. It is worth noting that the STA do draw the line at electronic spelling aids, so if a pupil is typing a piece of work, it is advisable for the spelling and grammar check to be disabled.

So in terms of what we could be doing from this point in the year, it’s really a case of gradually stepping back, where appropriate, so that pupils can begin to develop their self-awareness and patterns of errors and thus their independence.

So, where to start? Jumping straight into asking pupils to seek and destroy errors in a whole piece is pretty daunting (and not entirely effective). For many of our pupils, they will benefit from a far more gradual process or for the volume of writing that they need to check to be limited.

Let’s take the example of spelling -

If we currently identify a specific spelling that a child has got wrong, and then perhaps ask them to copy it out correctly a few times, how about we just tweak that so that we write the word correctly, but also incorrectly a couple of ways, so that they have to choose the correct one and then copy it out. This could be a first step in building up to being more independent by adding in an extra cognitive step rather than just copying letter for letter and not considering the whole word.

Then, over the next half term, perhaps try to move to indicating an error on a line, and allowing the pupil ‘seek and destroy’ time with their talk-partner, referring to the resources available. Another nice way to help pupils find spelling errors (especially for Year 2) is to get pupils to put a tick or dot over every word on a line they know is spelled correctly. Then they get the excitement of using the ‘purple pen’ (or whatever they use for edits) and can narrow down the field of words they need to check.

As a next step, as we get into the summer term, we could aim to indicate that a section/piece contains errors and pupils work with talk-partners to review and make corrections where they spot them.

It may also be worth thinking about focussing attention on just one pattern of spelling mistake at a time rather than a mixture. So if a pupil really struggles with ‘ed’ endings but also a number of other patterns, just focus on the ‘ed’ endings for a few days or a week. This should help the pupil become focused on the pattern and more likely to recognise and internalise it. This can also work for other patterns of error/misconception too.

What would really help is for pupils to be in the habit of proofreading/reviewing/editing as they write. This could be supported with the use of more stop-gaps/mini-breaks during the writing process. So, after ten minutes or so, stopping the class and asking pupils to check the sentence(s) they have just written by reading them to talk-partners and making changes to spelling or punctuation or composition where needed. To speed up the process, each ‘stop’ could have a particular focus. Pupils are more likely to develop that self-awareness of their writing if they are getting to implement the changes and not make the same mistake in the next line. It also makes it less daunting than to go back and try to edit a whole piece (especially when there seem to be lots of errors).

Other things that could be helpful in developing the self-awareness and independence could be getting pupils to use a different colour for particular elements of grammar or punctuation - for example, green for capital letters and red for full-stops. In the mini-break or end-of-piece editing, it can then become immediately apparent to them if things are noticeably absent, but also, during the writing, it again adds a conscious step in picking up a different colour that may assist in the securing of that element.

Success criteria, modelling and scaffolding

Success criteria absolutely SHOULD be used. They are an important part of good teaching and we don’t want to see them be thrown out in the pursuit of ensuring independence. Writing can indeed still be independent where success criteria are used as long as the success criteria aren’t overly detailed.

One key thing that can be done is to just remove the examples given on some success criteria/writing checklists. So, if we are in the habit of saying ‘include conjunctions’, that’s fine, but maybe just don’t put examples of what conjunctions are. Obviously in teaching or on the working wall there would be reference to examples, and pupils could confer and plan ideas as to what may fulfil the success criteria. We may also want to think about taking out some of the ‘every time we write’ elements of success criteria sometimes so that the criteria focus instead on the text type or are specific to that activity.

Modelling and scaffolding writing is enormously important, and certainly using the mini-breaks to collaboratively improve a sentence or section of work can be really effective. Modelling good writing during the teaching shouldn’t be shied away from, but we may need to accept that work produced following heavy modelling is not necessarily independent. Ensuring independence really comes from getting a sense of whether, in the writing process, a pupil can recall good examples and refer back to the teaching input without copying it. A good litmus test for this is reading a few pieces from the class – do they all sound the same or are they quite different?

We often get asked about how this works for the pupils who are not quite ready to have the teacher start to back away, or the scaffolding removed. We need to make sure we are responding to the needs of the pupil, and for those pupils who we aren’t expecting to get to the expected or greater depth standard, there may be fewer examples of where they have independently corrected their spellings or whatever. It is worth noting that under the 2018 TAF, a pupil can still be awarded a standard if there is a ‘particular weakness’ that can be explained and supported in the moderation professional dialogue. There will be a blog post coming soon to further explore this ‘particular weakness’ element of the TAF.

The long and short of it is quite simple really: take steps back where you want to show that a pupil can demonstrate that they are secure with the ‘pupil can’ statements, but don’t whip away all of the support that they need to get to that point.

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