Assessing Writing Assessment: what’s it all about?

Just when you think all the tests are over and the leavers’ assembly, the summer holiday and big school are smiling at you from the near future, what happens? Writing assessment!

In my experience of teaching children in Y6 for the last decade and more, the teaching, learning and assessment of writing has changed mightily in that time. If you were a solid level 4b writer (a good standard) back in the old days of around five years ago, now you would be assessed as ‘not at the expected standard’ for a child leaving year 6. Harsh? Well, have expectations and standards risen? Yes. Are children, on balance, better technical writers now? Yes. Do children still enjoy writing? Yes and no. ‘Yes’ because the less creative writer at least has a checklist to refer to, but ‘no’ as the more fluent writer may feel restricted, what with all the inserting of colons and exclamation sentences for little useful effect.

Getting back to basics, is writing an important skill to have? Of course! It is crucial.

According to Psychology Professor Jordan B Peterson of the University of Toronto and creator of https://selfauthoring.com/, he says,

‘You should learn how to think and formulate arguments… you should learn to think, speak and write…to make you dangerous… because if you can think, speak and write you’re deadly. In a complex job, you’re exactly what’s necessary.’

He’s talking about university students but I think we can apply that logic shared on this YouTube clip (from 2:13:35) to much younger learners.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsZ8XqHPjI4&feature=youtu.be&t=2h13m17s

However, one of the aspects I find unkind and unnecessary in the assessment of writing in Y6 is the idea that you either pass or fail, and the bar is raised very high. The amount of energy and effort put in by teachers, parents and carers to encourage as many children to clear that bar as possible is matched only by their consistent reassurances for young learners to ‘just do your best and we’ll be really proud of you anyway’ which is right.

I remember recently a talented writer I taught who was on the autistic spectrum and simply chose not to use semi-colons as he didn’t like them. He ticked every other box, but when we were externally assessed, he was downgraded from ‘achieving the expected level’ to ‘not achieving the expected level’. Despite the Deputy Head haring around and looking through all his writing, on display, in his reading journal, everywhere… no semi-colon was evident; we could not complain, as ‘them’s the rules’ but it seems rather draconian, doesn’t it? Likewise, if you are dyslexic, you are likely not to pass, as one’s writing must include ‘spelling most words correctly (years 5 and 6)’. When this list includes such words as embarrass, mischievous and hindrance, even your best writer with dyslexia is going to struggle. 

On a more positive note, most children actually quite enjoy learning about all the technical terms, including them in their writing and showing off this feat to their fellow students, teachers, parents and families. Often, it’s the adults who then feel a little uncomfortable as they don’t know what little Jimmy is going on about when he says something like,

“I ought to tell you that this sentence has examples of both modal verbs and passive verbs placed there by me.”

So enough of my anecdotes as a Year Six teacher, how can one use government literature to help with writing?

Government

Teachers are currently in the process of assessing Year 6 writing (from June 5th) and the deadline for submitting data is 29.6.17. Here’s a link to the planner.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/key-stage-2-assessments-2017-planner/key-stage-2-assessments-2017-planner

And what is each child expected to be able to do in terms of writing? Well, the interim frameworks will help you with that. Included within this is the necessity to: use adverbs, prepositional phrases and expanded noun phrases effectively to add detail, qualification and precision; select vocabulary and grammatical structures that reflect the level of formality required mostly correctly; and use inverted commas, commas for clarity, and punctuation for parenthesis mostly correctly, and making some correct use of semi-colons, dashes, colons and hyphens.

Phew.

There’s lots more.

Follow the link below to see if you can write as well as a ten-year-old is expected to write!

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/538415/2017_interim_teacher_assessment_frameworks_at_the_end_of_key_stage_2_150716_PDFa.pdf

There are quite a few examples of children’s writing available to download to use as reference. Some examples are annotated so you can see how they are assessed. I’ve found these useful for me as a teacher as well as sharing with the children and getting them to assess pieces as they are often the harshest critics of others’ writing! You may enjoy reading Morgan’s short story following reading Tom’s Midnight Garden, which she starts with…

“Happy 13th birthday, Ana!” Anabeth’s mother exclaimed loudly, while handing Anabeth her birthday present.

I bet you can’t wait to read more, and spot the other spelling mistakes, too. Well, you can. Here’s the link:  

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2016-teacher-assessment-exemplification-ks2-english-writing
 

Where does Mantra Lingua fit in?

So where does Mantra fit in to assessing writing assessment? Well, first and foremost, good writers are almost always good readers, and Mantra has a massive selection of high quality reading books available, in English and many different languages. The younger you start introducing children to books and reading with them, the better.  http://uk.mantralingua.com/content/search-age-groups

When using Mantra’s resources with children and their adults, I have always found that they respond in a positive and enthusiastic way.

Good talking leads to good writing, and the PENpal  http://uk.mantralingua.com/penpal and viVOS Artframe http://uk.mantralingua.com/vivos are always popular. Whether you’re a teacher, parent, carer, grandparent, tutor, headteacher, governor or local authority, Mantra Lingua will help your children become ‘deadly’ writers!