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?

Effective teaching of spelling

A lot of schools are now focusing on their teaching of spelling.  To be honest, it has not generally been taught well in KS2 for a while but the new grammar, punctuation and spelling test has ensured that we pay more attention to it.  At present two of the projects that I am involved in are focusing on the teaching of spelling and children with disadvantage. Currently we are grappling with what constitutes effective teaching of spelling and have come up with some ideas.  We ae drawing heavily on what we know works in phonics to help us with this list:

  • systematic and consistent teaching of spelling.  We know that fidelity to a pathway has an impact on the effectiveness of phonics teaching and learning and I see no reason why this is not so in spelling.  It helps us to follow the expectations of progress and to ensure that we cover everything that we need to do so.  There are many spelling programmes out there, most of which have to be paid for but ours are free!
  • we know that in phonics children need to blend and segment 20-30 times in a phonics session. This helps to establish the neural pathways for this way of working. It stands to reason then, that the more the children use the convention/rule with words and write the words, the more effective it will be.  Writing the word once will not support learning.
  • this means that one off lessons will not work for those who do not have deep neural pathways for looking at words.  Working on the idea of revise, teach, practise and apply will help to secure this work, Although in phonics, this structure would happen in one session, we use these over a series of sessions; the first being teach, second practise and third apply.
  • in order that children apply what we are teaching in spelling sessions we need a strategy to support this transference.  We use have-a-go sheets. (the next post will focus on these)
  • in the teach, practise and apply sequence, the practise session needs to have a greater degree of independence than the teach session.
  • spelling work must involve writing the words in a stream of words (sentences). In phonics we always finish off the session with reading or writing sentences. It is our experience that children can often read or write individual words but sometimes struggle when doing so in sentences.  Surely the ultimate is that children spell words corrctly when writing in sentences. if this is so, we must practise it!
  • all children need access to age-related teaching with additional work for catch up if they are behind. Our mantra is ‘as well as not instead of’.  This is a fundamental principle and is often one that needs some changes in how things are organised in order that it happens.
  • children need to learn strategies to learn spellings.  This is a routine and can be developed and refined over the years in KS2.

What do you think is important in the teaching and learning of spelling?

Yr2 spelling in the new curriculum

Some of you might have guessed that Becca and I are still working.  We will stop on Friday but here is tonight’s offering.  Spelling in Yr2.

With the new curriculum we have come to realise that phase 6 (in Letters and Sounds) is probably no longer relevant. Our current advice is that Yr1 pupils need to secure phase 5 and then Yr2 need to start a spelling programme.  And so with that in mind we have written a session by session plan.  It starts off with daily spelling and moves in the summer term to spelling 5 times over a fortnight to come in to line with Yr3 and KS2. However, if your cohort is not great at spelling you might need to continue daily spelling all year and Yr3 might need to start with daily spelling in the first term and then reduce the amount.

We have updated the spelling pathway to include Yr2

You will find the overview and what to teach each session available here.

Small school spelling programme

We have had our spelling programme on the website for a couple of terms now for individual and mixed age classes.  However, like all large rural counties, we have a significant number of whole KS2 classes in schools.  So just for you, we have written a two year rolling programme for whole KS2 classes. To start off with there is a pathway through the programme. This is then followed by a session by session overview.

Year 1 is made up of Yr3 and 5 spelling programme and year 2 consists of Yr4 and 6.  Over the four years you will teach year 1, year 2, year 1 and year 2.  We have planned it like this because schools will get new children in at some point during the four years so if you do a four year programme there could be gaps for those children.

What you will need to do is make notes about which parts the children do really well and which will need more emphasis when you repeat the year again.  For all years you will need to differentiate the sessions by the words that you use with groups of children.  For instance, we have given you a range of homophones to choose from.  Some children will only have a few of the more common ones and others will  be working with those that have more challenging spellings.

Find the pathway and session overviews here.

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.

Resources for writing persuasive texts

We are frequently asked for good texts to use as models for persuasive writing.  We don’t have any books on our list of texts that teach which are persuasive because that is not the form that these texts come in.  However, this morning I received two different types of persuasive texts through the post.  The first is from the British Legion asking for money using  the 70th annniversary of D-Day as a focus.


There is a letter with the ‘call to action’ explaining how you can donate money and why.  There is a leaflet which contains four stories of unsurpassed bravery.  Making an emotional link with people is a very powerful persuasive device and this leaflet does it really well. Finally there is a small union jack leaflet which has space on the back for you write a message of thanks to the D-Day heroes.  This is returned in the envelope provided with your donation.  This pack would make a great model for Yr6 pupils to create their own around something that they feel strongly about.

The second is a brochure for cars from BMW and how easily they can be purchased for just a small amount each month. It would suit Yrs 3 and 4 where they could create a persuasive leaflet about pets, toys or  new PE equipment they would like in school.



There are also some good resources online.  Here are some of the ones that I have used recently:

What are your favourite resources for persuasion?

A character’s bedroom

We finally did it.  Having read The Paradise Garden by Colin Thompson, we created the main character’s bedroom.  It was fascinating because this was the second time that we had read the book and so the Trainees saw even more in it.  Because we were trying to make links with a child’s bedroom, we read the book differently and so noticed that red symbolises escape or travel and that there were other characters that appeared on many of the pages.

I had set up a bedroom just inside the door of the room that we use for breaks and break out groups.  This is just the bare bones.

1 2

And here is the bedroom after it had been dressed. If you know the book you will recognise some of the items and be able to make your own mind up about why we included them.



It is a hedgehog and duck on the bed.  They appear on every single page and so have great relevance for Peter. Perhaps they had been favourite cuddly toys that were comforters and so went with him everywhere. At one point a helping dog came in to the building, hopped on to the bed and started to chew the hedgehog!  I didn’t manage to get a picture but if you have visted Colin Thompson’s website and read his pages about dogs, you will recognise the link to Cafe Max that appears on many of his pages.

What role play area do you have in your classroom?






Paradise Garden and holiday monster

If you are a fan of Colin Thompson’s books then you will no doubt already enjoy The Paradise Garden.  We love this book for a range of reasons: it is just perfect; it shows a great voyage and return blueprint; it speaks to most children; the images are very engaging.

What I love most about it though, is the language and sentence construction (I am a primary literacy adviser!).  I particularly enjoy the first three pages where the sentences get longer and longer as Peter relaxes in to his new environment.  Whilst working with the latest group of SCITT trainees we were wrestling with contexts in which we could get children to do the same thing.  One trainee mentioned being uptight before going on holiday and then relaxing as you get to your destination.

That jogged our memories about the advert where Simon the Ogre goes on holiday, gradually relaxes and then becomes a normal human being.  A perfect context for playing with sentence length.  The more he relaxes, the longer our sentences get.  Brilliant!

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?