By Jo Gray on 13 Sep 2018
September always brings great joy as the leaves begin to create autumnal rainbows and the long evenings become cosy nights in front of the fire.
In school, the term is busy, exciting and filled with new beginnings for children and staff alike. I always love the hustle and bustle that a new term brings and, whilst this can be done at anytime in the year, I enjoy revisiting my vision and the ideologies that I hold in regards to education at the start of a new academic year.
This year is no exception; what has been on my mind for the vast majority of the time recently is the curriculum. More specifically, the way in which some of our education frameworks are shaping the curriculum. There seems to be a growing pressure on teachers in the end of each Key Stage to ensure that children do well in the current assessment system.
The New Framework...
In her recent speech, Amanda Spielman explained that, “In the new [Ofsted] framework, we’re thinking about how we can take the inspection conversation even further on education itself and less on data.” She goes on to explore what the new framework may focus on, “We will be interested in why schools make the decisions they make, whether that’s about shortening Key Stage 3 or the range of qualifications on offer.”
With reports in the news of children starting GCSE options early and an increasing number of KS2 SATs results being annulled, many comments have made me realise that I am not alone in my view that pressure is increasing.
I have experienced first-hand the pressure some Year Six teachers are facing: after placing a sheet of paper with the end of year data for her new class in front of me, a teacher asked, “Looking at this, which ones do you think I can get to the expected standard this year. Which ones should I focus on.” This is no fault of the Year Six teacher, she is just another who has become part of this system where teacher’s first thoughts are “How many children can get to the expected standard this year?” It is likely that they did not come into education thinking like this. I sympathise with the pressure that these teachers, and school leaders must feel to ensure that their children ‘perform well’, but at the same time I am sure that they all feel similar - it’s not right. It is not fair on the children.
Imagine, for a moment, that the end of Key Stage assessments in writing didn't exist. Would this change the way you approached the teaching of writing? What would be similar and what would be different in your approach? Would you allow the children to have more choice in what they write? Would those children who were struggling to meet expected get more support in securing the basics? Would projects be longer, and more exciting, so that pieces of writing could always be published and celebrated? Would the type of text you use change? How about the way in which you gave children feedback? It might be that nothing would change because your approach is purely for the children and what is best for them. Chances are though that something would change because we are all working to the educational system that we are in.
Focus on what really matters!
Trying to keep hold of our core beliefs can be difficult at times but by ensuring we revisit our vision and our purpose, we can help ourselves to focus on what really matters. One way of doing this is by taking a small area of your current practice and reviewing it against your over-arching beliefs. A review does not need to be lengthy and is something that can be done quickly but still have a big impact.
Take, for example, a belief on assessment for learning, an area that many practitioners are discussing at the moment. Using the grid below, I have quickly reviewed this area:
|Belief||Assessment for learning should be purposeful for the child.|
|Area for review||Feedback on children’s writing|
|Current approach||Currently, I mark in depth every long piece of writing that the children produce after they have edited and improved it. I highlight what the children have done well and what the children could do better. I write a comment that the children then respond to.|
|Does this approach
fit in with my vision?
|No, it doesn't give children the best feedback due to the amount of time it takes to mark 30 children’s books. They do not get the quality of comments that they deserve. The comments are often written after the child has completed that unit of work, so the marking is not purposeful. Also, as it is done after the children have edited their work, it can demoralise the children as they have already tried to improve it. It therefore doesn't sufficiently improve outcomes.|
|How can it be improved?||To give children feedback before they edit their work and give more purposeful feedback that can be applied to their writing to improve the outcome. Look at whole class marking as the approach to feedback.|
|What can I do now?||Order ‘Mark. Plan. Teach’ by Ross Morrison McGill to look at a possible change in approach. Contact a local school via twitter to visit them to see impact of whole class marking.|
|What can I do this term?||Read the text. Visit local school. Trial approach in my classroom and adapt to work for our children. Disseminate information and findings at staff meeting.|
|What can I do this year?||Embed the approach through school and ensure feedback is taken.|
|What do I hope is the impact?||Children’s outcomes in writing improve by responding to relevant and purposeful feedback.|
|Review by:||At the end of term and then June 2019.|
What matters to me..
Assessment is just one part of the curriculum that is important in children’s educational journey. For me, getting all aspects of the curriculum right for our children is of paramount importance as it will help in shaping our children’s thoughts, beliefs and attitudes to learning, now and in the future.
#LitConf18 Our Literacy Conference this year has a focus on ‘Literacy beyond the classroom.’ It will focus on how we can give children who feel isolated, because of their home-life circumstances, the opportunity to explore situations and emotions through texts.
Then, as they grow up, they have an emotional intelligence to understand themselves a little more when they have a period of anxiety or depression . The conference will explore how we can teach Literacy through technology in order to help children of today be ready for the world of tomorrow. It will focus on how we can encourage children to see the benefits of learning to write in contexts that can be applied to real life so that they are confident in writing an application for their dream job.
It focuses on everything other than how to get children to the expected standard within a test, after all, if you get the curriculum right, test results will fall into place. Children are much more important than the three little words “reached expected standard.”
Get in touch...
For more information on whole class marking, or on the Literacy conference, please visit our events page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jo is a primary school literacy specialist who has experience of working in schools across Greater Manchester and the North West, including schools in Trafford, Warrington, Manchester City Centre, Oldham and Bradford.