It has been over three months since I last blogged. It started off so well, completing two blogs in November after beginning my Blog earlier the same month (amazingly impressive I know), but things have been a little busy since then. Saying this, a recent Twitter thread and set of comments on Facebook have inspired me to put my thoughts down in black and white again (for whatever they’re worth). Before I start, I am by no means an expert in this area and am merely offering my thoughts and opinions on the matter. If I am ill-informed or misinterpreting something, then please don’t shoot me! Also, I am not criticising anyone involved, but instead, highlighting what I believe is a flaw in the system within which we all work, so fastidiously may I add! I welcome any feedback, advice or help so please feel free to comment.
Recently @MissNQT Tweeted asking for advice from her fellow ‘Twitterers’ on levelling a piece of writing.
With the introduction of a new curriculum and the removal of levels, I watched the thread grow and the number of comments increase, with interest. I wondered if I would be able to gleam any interesting tips or advice from the thread or just reminisce of days gone by when we had a system, albeit a slightly flawed system, which almost all of us understood. In total @MissNQT said that, including comments made on Facebook after the question had been posted there as well, there were well over 300 tweets, and 100 or so comments on Facebook. Impressive response from a brilliantly helpful group of professionals.
There is no denying that this sort of response was and is amazing, especially when you consider that so many teachers are incredibly busy at present. However, the thread left me slightly perplexed. The range of levels suggested for this one piece of writing varied from 3a all the way up to a level 6! This for me highlights a bit of a problem.
How can there be such a wide range of opinions as to what ‘level’ a child is working at? How can assessing writing be full of such subjectivity? Can we reliably assess a child’s writing from one piece of writing?
…and the bigger issue in my opinion
Such subjective discussions around ‘levels’ both detract and distract from the most important questions. What has the child done well? What do they need to fix? What can they do to fix this? How can we go about helping this process?
This year has been challenging in regard to the assessment of writing. Removal of the assessment system, and with nothing being offered in place of it, has meant that, particularly on a personal level, uncertainty has increased and I’ve worried more than in the past about assessing children’s writing accurately. I find myself regularly asking what ‘good’ year 5 writing looks like now. I know I am not alone in this as others in my own school are struggling with this also and I very much doubt that we are the only school unsure at this present time. Is there a solution? Can this be fixed?
I am not sure if this issue can be fixed overnight and I am certainly not saying I have all the answers. I don’t! But here are my initial thoughts, which I intend to begin to discuss with my SLT and work colleagues when we go back to school after half term. They may help. They may be utterly useless but they will hopefully start a dialogue which will lead to a clearer understanding of the assessment of writing and its role in driving up standards.
With the removal of a nationally agreed assessment system (old NC levels), there is an opportunity to devise and take ownership over the assessment procedures and systems we use in our schools, ensuring they make sense for the teachers that use them and that they are useful for the children. Jason Hughes (@jhughes71) recently shared his school’s writing assessment sheets and has since given me permission to not only use them in my class (and hopefully school) but share them on this blog. For this I am hugely grateful as they have helped me no end. I think these are a fabulous example of an assessment system designed with the primary aim of helping improve children’s writing and not just ‘level’ their writing. They are clear, specific and more importantly accessible. Take a look for yourself! dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/44908324/Writing assessment grid St.1-6 @.pdf
These sheets will be useful I feel, in helping tackle the first part of the problem mentioned earlier. They offer a relatively simple, clear and explicit set of criteria for all the staff to use. Instead of vague criteria like ‘Can write in a lively and imaginative way’ they begin to define what such statements mean and more importantly what this may look like. Obviously, we will need to organise some training and writing moderation in regards to these criteria sheets but this is all part of the process.
During the first half of the Spring Term, I have used these to inform my assessment of the children’s writing (in Target Tracker Bands and Steps) alongside our assessment criteria, which are a little confusing and at present unclear and time consuming to use. Jason’s sheets, with each child’s next steps highlighted, have been shared with the children and their parents at parent’s evening. Four or five targets areas have been selected. These can then be practised in our weekly 30 minute Target Time slot starting after half term. This idea is in its infancy but I will judge the quality of this strategy as we progress. My initial thoughts are that regularly practising in class with some support from the staff and maybe their parents will help develop their writing rather than just assessing it and giving it a ‘level’ or Band/Stage/Step (levels in disguise).
A change or shift in what and how we assess (writing) is challenging and possibly quite daunting; however, it is a problem that can be solved by collaborating, focussing on how we can improve the children’s writing and not on ‘levelling’. Whatever system is used, the focus should be on assessing and NOT tracking. Many stakeholders want to track how the children are doing or progressing, which is fine, but this should not be at the expense of a detailed working knowledge of assessment and how this can be used to help develop the children’s writing. Know what they can do, know what they can’t do, know what they can do about it, and know how we (teaching staff) can best facilitate this process.