The Annual Writing Furore

Every year, Key Stage Two Writing creates a furore on social media. There are those who almost accuse schools who do better at writing than reading of cheating and those who despair at the inconsistencies created by different interpretations of the official guidance for moderation.

This year, the arguments seem to have started earlier than ever as different areas hold moderation training sessions and the difference in how the guidance is implemented seem to be further apart than ever. It does seem to defy belief that what should be a simple assessment system is open to such widely different interpretations that it cannot possibly be a level playing field.

There seem to be two different reactions to this situation. One is a call for formal assessment of writing to be scrapped completely, the other is for a return of the old writing task that was done in Sats week.  However, I firmly believe that both of these reactions are wrong and will lead to a reduction in the quality of writing and the teaching of it.

Firstly, I truly believe that if there is no formal assessment of writing at KS2, then it will devalue it completely. If there is no assessment of writing, how many schools can honestly say that they will give it the emphasis that it currently receives. It will be all too easy to concentrate on Reading and Grammar where success is visible and good results will move the school up the league table. Being able to score well on the Grammar paper however, is no indication of being able to write well. Just because someone knows all of the rules does not mean that they can use them effectively and leaves no place for imagination and creativity. Having a Grammar test as the only assessment of how well a Year 6 pupil can write is a really bad idea in my opinion.

The second reaction of wanting a return to the old writing task where it was completely unseen until the day of the test I think is also wrong.  Theresa Cremin writes in the Tes about how important it is that we give children enough opening time, discussion time and time to generate ideas. This can be done in the classroom without any cheating or bending the rules. The children can share their ideas, plan and adapt and redraft their writing. All of these are things that we should be encouraging but cannot take place if the writing is a surprise subject and has to be completed inside an hour.

It takes me ages to develop ideas for lessons or writing and I really sympathise with children who cannot write to order. How many of us could produce a good piece of writing on a random subject in 50-60 minutes?

I readily accept that the current system is flawed and needs fixing. However I truly believe that it should be fixed and not just abandoned. The current system allows teachers to give their pupils writing tasks that will enthuse them and enable them to write to the best of their ability. My class love to write and I love to create opportunities for them to do so. I would hate to have that devalued.

 

Serendipity and Poetry

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I love getting children to play with words and sometimes it develops into a poetry session. My first week plans included looking at abstract nouns. I have often used the idea from Pie Corbett of linking abstract nouns with concrete ones to create images such as the wardrobe of anxiety or the kite of hopefulness. Sometimes we have developed these into list poems.

This year I saw on Twitter that @MrWalkerKPPS was doing something similar with his class but developing the ideas using colours and verbs which made me think that I could do a bit more with the idea than I had previously.

We have also looked at prepositions this week so I had the idea of combining the work on nouns with prepositions to give something like ‘ Inside the wardrobe of anxiety, the box of curiosity. That reminded me of Amulet by Ted Hughes which we had studied at the beginning of the year and so I had my poetry lesson all sorted.

We worked on computers because I think that it is so easy for children to use wordprocessing to write poetry. It makes it so simple for them to insert or delete words and move things around. They already had their pairs of concrete and abstract nouns  and were ready to start writing their poems. When I reminded them of Amulet, I was really pleased by how well they remembered it and how quickly they realised that they could use the idea of end line being the opening in their own poems.

The atmosphere in the room was really buzzy. Many of the children were working alone but discussing their ideas with those near to them. Others were working in pairs and it was great to hear them all rehearsing their ideas aloud and suggesting a range of prepositions to use in their poems.

Then I had the idea of using a verb to begin the lines which added more variety to their work. Again, the children took the idea on board enthusiastically and thought carefully about which ‘ing’ word would work in a particular line.

After 50 minutes of work, every child or pair had completed a poem and they were very pleased with their finished work. It was a really simple lesson and had the benefit of reinforcing several word classes so was a useful grammar exercise as well. I love it when things work out and just wish that all my lessons were as successful. So serendipity because if I hadn’t seen the post by Mr Walker, I might not have thought again about something that I have done in several years previously.

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Welcome 2018

Hello to another year and farewell to 2017. It’s nice to be in a different place this year compared to this time last year. I wrote my review of 2016 but couldn’t face looking forward as I had just been diagnosed with cancer and the idea of it was scaring me silly. However, one year and two operations later, I’m still here and hoping to be around for a long while yet.

2017 was a difficult year not just because of my cancer but also the sudden death of my ex-husband which was an extremely traumatic event for my two children. I have always been proud of them but never as much as on the day of the funeral which they organised amazingly. It really brought it home to me that they are now adults. I may not see them as much as I would like but I am so lucky to have them both in my life..

2017 wasn’t all bad though. Being diagnosed with a serious illness makes you think about what is really important. I have tried to make sure that I spend more time with my husband doing things together. As a result, we have seen more films and shows, been to more places together and walked more. Not to mention eating out. We have eaten so many lovely meals in some gorgeous this year and sharing a meal together remains one of my favourite ways to spend time. We also had some lovely holidays and short trips away. Possibly my favourites this year were going to Norfolk at Easter, Portugal in October and another visit to Collioure.

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Music continues to be important. For the first time in 30 plus years, I didn’t do  our show in Leicester. My heart wasn’t in it and it seemed easiest to drop out. However, I did have two amazing shows with Present Company and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Camelot and White Christmas. I really loved the dance routines in White Christmas and just wish that I was a better tap dancer.

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I have also continued my fairly rubbish efforts at improving my art work. I don’t think that I have really improved but I enjoy it and it’s something different to focus on. Reading is still my main leisure activity and according to Goodreads, I have read over 200 books this year. I have tried to read more books that are relevant to my Year 6 class so that I can recommend a wider range of things to them to extend their reading. My favourites of 2017 have to be Cogheart and Podkin One Ear.

Teaching continues to be stressful. I love my job but hate the continued focus on progress as measured by Sats being the only thing that is seen as important.

Looking forward to 2018, what do I want from this new year?

Primarily,  I want to still be here. The odds are in my favour but the death of our lovely Chair of Governors from secondary cancer after having breast cancer has reminded all of us that you can’t take anything for granted. I have another operation to go where the reconstruction will be completed and then hopefully it will be over.

I want to continue to sing, dance, read and paint and to do each of those as well as I possibly can. I am looking forward to My Fair Lady in April and then we will see what else is in store.

Holidays are important. We have booked a trip to Venice for May half term and are both incredibly excited by this. We don’t have anything else planned yet but I am determined that I am going to make the most of our time together at weekends and holiday times.

And what about teaching? I have a lovely Year 6 class and I am really enjoying lessons with them. I passionately believe in getting each and every pupil to achieve as much as I can but just wish that the stakes weren’t so high for us if enough of them don’t achieve the magic 100 in their tests. Funding is also an issue now and the struggle to cover classes when teachers are absent makes life harder than it used to be. In theory,  I have just over two years to go until I retire. I always meant to carry on for longer as my husband is younger than me and won’t retire for several years yet. The prospect of this seems increasingly unlikely as I’m honestly not sure if I will have the energy or the will to keep going. Teaching is incredibly tiring and the negative aspects are almost beginning to outweigh my love of my job.

So, that’s my review and look forward on this New Year’s Day. Now it’s onwards and upwards and hopefully 2018 will be good for all of us.