What does it mean to be a writer?

Now that we have finished the end of key stage assessments and results are in, there is time to reflect on what the new assessment arrangements mean.

One of the things that has become clear with the removal of ‘best fit’ is that we need to adapt our understanding of what a  writer is as defined by national assessments. If we consider the Simple View of Reading, there is a very clear understanding that to be a reader you need to have the decoding skills and language comprehension. You are not a reader if you can decode the words but not understand them and nor are you a reader if you can understand words but not decode them.

svor The two elements are necessary to be considered a reader.

The same can now be said of writing.

svofw To be a writer you need to have both composition and effect and accuracy in punctuation and spelling.

Composition and effect is present in the assessment criteria but worded very differently. It is about noun phrases for detail and precision, about atmosphere, about the use of dialogue to show character and managing shifts of formality. One of the things that the exemplification files did do was to show how the quality of the writing is linked to the grammatical devices used by commenting on their impact.

This year has been stressful in terms of not knowing what the assessment would look like at the beginning of the year. Almost every teacher I have spoken to recently has said that they will start next year very differently to the way  they did this year, knowing what they know now.

Is there anything you will do differently in September?




Managing shifts between levels of formality

I have been working with several teachers on the end of KS2 statement

manage shifts between levels of formality through selecting vocabulary precisely and by manipulating grammatical structures

The exemplification files for Leigh and Frankie show some good examples of what this can look like in writing.

  • in narrative they have shown the difference in formality between the story and some of the speech used by characters
  • in an explanation the text is more formal with a much more informal tone when relating the information to the writer’s own life
  • in a newspaper report the formality of the journalists report is contrasted with the informality of the direct and reported speech
  • in a diary different levels of formality are used to emphasise a point
  • in a letter the personal reflection on what will happen is more informal to show the excitement and enthusiasm of the writer

We then went on to think about texts that would model this for the children. One that we had to hand was My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright – author Marcia Williams.  You can open this book on any page and find some examples of shifts in formality. We happened to open the book on p60 and found diary entries in very informal, spoken language which doesn’t always have subject verb agreement.


Flipping heck, I’m scared. I don’t want to sleep all alone downstairs no more. The Luftwaffe has begun to attack British Ships in the channel; our pilots spotted dozens of German aircraft dropping bombs on a convy near Dover.  Cook says it’s their invasion tactic to draw British planes into battle and then destroy them … I hopes we got enough planes.

This is then contrasted with a war talk in assembly from Miss Duncan on p61. It is more formal, although it still uses the pronouns you and our but it also contains the passive to distance and separate ‘us’ from the downed pilots who are prisoners. Another good page to use would be p22 and 23 where the informality of the diary entries is contrasted with a more formal newspaper report and within the report there are shifts of formality as well.

Which texts have you used to teach this? Has anyone used a film that would support the teaching of this element?

Testing – very testing!

We live in a new world as far as assessment goes and for many this is a very unsettling time. Over the last few months we have been asked frequently about which tests we would recommend. This is an almost impossible question to answer because it depends on so many things. Instead, here is a list of questions that should be asked in order to get the right test for each situation.

  1. What do you want the test to tell you? Do you want to know about a child’s decoding, comprehension, reading age, progress in relation to the curriculum, spelling age, single word spelling, spelling in context etc.
  2. Can you find this information out any other way? Is testing the best/only way of finding out this information?
  3. Are there easy-to-use analysis tools that come with the test?
  4.  Are you concerned about the reliability of the test?
  5. How often do you want to test?
  6. How much are you prepared to spend on testing each year?

The answers to these should help guide you through the wide and varied range of tests available.

Are you using any tests? Are they doing what you want them to do?

Assessing without levels

As we move towards a life without levels, all sorts of providers are moving to offer you the solution to this challenge. However, there are a few things which we need to bear in mind when deciding how we will assess in the future.  These can be summarised as:

  1. Whatever we adopt now will need to change in the future when the performance descriptors become available for KS1 in the autumn term and KS2 later on.
  2. Overtime we will develop an understanding of expectations for year groups that are not end of KS in order to make judgements about whether children are on track or not to achieve end of KS expectations.  Again systems will need to be flexible enough to allow this to happen.
  3. We don’t know what language will be used to report at the end of key stages and some systems may want to report this at the end of each year.  This will develop over time.
  4. Tracking is not the same as assessing.  It will be easier to sort your assessment and then find a tracking system rather than choosing a tracking system which determines your assessment.
  5. We  need a range of ways of assessing.  The report into reading in Stoke on Trent, Ready to Read?, talks about triangulating data/evidence and many schools will want to use a range of data to come to a judgement.  I think there is a real danger in using only one system at the beginning stages of new systems. They are all so untried and no one wants to find that their assessment does not align with the new expectations.

So we too must throw our hats into the ring and say that we have developed a system for assessing reading and writing.  It is a very draft set of documents because we do not have all the information that we need to complete the work.  We have taken statements from the NAHT key performance indicators, test frameworks for KS1 and 2 and a few things from APP that are still relevant.

The documents operate in an APP style in that they are for periodic assessment and are designed to be used with a range of evidence.  We would really welcome feedback from those who have used them in their classrooms.  We will write more about them nearer the start of the new term.

Assessment – evolve not devolve

Like many, I thought I would sit back and wait to see what would happen with assessment under the new national curriculum.  However, I have come to accept that the government have said what they are going to say and now it is over to us. One document that might help those who use talk for writing is Transforming Writing which is an evaluation of Pie’s work. This talks in detail about the improving activities that teachers engaged in with their class.

Sadly, I have  watched on twitter those who have developed their own assessment procedures patronise and denigrate those who are still using Assessing Pupil Progress (APP).  Acceptance that not everyone is in the same place is crucial if we are to move forward, each of us at our own pace.

The NAHT commissoned a report on assessment and whilst it was a little vague, it was  full of principles but light on what we should actually do. There were some interesting parts to it.  One was ‘Don’t Panic’ and the other one that stuck in my memory was evolve; don’t throw everything out and start with a blank piece of paper.

So, if you are using APP, how do you start to evolve?  Well there are all sorts of ways but some of them  might be:

  • Use an elicitation task before starting your teaching sequence.  This will enable you to ensure that your must/should/could statements really do meet the needs of your class.  An elicitation task asks children to write in as similar way as possible to the key outcome.  It is not a test, so support the children with the content through speaking and listening activities, but don’t support the way in which the children write it.
  • Use this to determine the must/should/could statements to ensure that they meet the needs of the children.
  • Mark and identify the innovate writing in order that elements for further teaching are identified and then included in the invent stage of writing.
  • Following on from the invent writing, identfiy what the children need next.  This might mean that you don’t teach the text type that you were expecting to, but  teach a different one that allows the children the opportunity to develop what they need next.  One example of this is that I was working with a school on a narrative unit and found that the key outcome suggested that the next steps were to develop vocabulary choices.  The next unit that the teacher had planned was a non-chronological report.  In fact, what the children needed was a poetry unit. This is a major change for some.  Coverage is not the issue under the new national curriculum.  Responding to the needs of the children is!
  • Don’t plan out a year’s work of literacy in advance.  If you take the above point seriously, you you will understand that this is not possible.  Collect the text types taught and the titles used each half-term and reflect upon genre covered and those that now need to be addressed.
  • Understand the role of testing in assessment procedures.  Some schools that I talk to insist that testing for reading is the way in which reliable reading results will be achieved. If as a school you believe this to be true, then follow it and keep up to date with publishers. (I am sure that when Gove invited the publishers to be involved in assessment, this would be the end result.)  If testing is not your preferred method of assessment, how will you assess reading? If APP is embedded in practice, then start to collect information about what the children can do and what next the next steps might be

There are of course, many other ways in which schools could start to evolve in terms of their assessment procedures.  What are you doing?