Objectives to assess writing

If you click on the objective you can access what we are doing regarding assessing writing.

Objective

Children will be given a couple of tasks which will be decided by the teacher. One task will be fiction and the other will be non-fiction. The task will be linked to the curriculum that they are being taught so they have knowledge of things to write about. Younger age groups will be asked to write about real life events that they have been involved in. This could be the child’s own choice or a school experience.

If you wanted to read more detail about the why and how then this link will help.

https://craigwestby.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/writing-assessment-there-and-back-again-part-2/

It is important to note that the children do not have to get every single point on the criteria. If the children haven’t used a certain bit of punctuation it does not go against the child. It will be up to the teacher do check in their lesson to see if they can do them. The idea of this reduced checklist is that the children can do the basics as they go through the school. The ones that we have chosen are going to help children when they have to write more complex pieces of writing as they go to secondary school. Some objectives have been missed off because at this stage in a child’s writing life we do not see them aas being absolutely fundamental. If the child has already achieved the basics in our objective list we feel that the other objectives are much easier to obtain for example:

  • using passive verbs to affect the presentation of information in a sentence

The final point I’d like to make is that I am still adapting these objectives as I am not 100% happy with them.

 

 

 

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Retrieval in year 2

I’ve now been working with my current class 2 for past 5 weeks or so far I’m impressed with what they are retaining. I have been most impressed when it came to finding out what the children have learnt in science. If you were to look in my books you would see children doing lots and lots of drawings of plants and dual coding words. For example they have dual coded the functions of roots. We have planted cress seeds and sketched them as they grow. We have been growing pansies and the children have been excited as the plants began to flower. They have been equally saddened by the pansy we left in the dark as it turned yellow. Again the children have been sketching and colouring in their pictures to show what they have observed. I was a little concerned though because they haven’t been writing much so surely they can’t be learning? Surely they don’t know that much?

Before we observed the plants growing etc we did lots of work on basics such as the functions of the roots, stem, flowerhead and leaves They learnt about the life cycle of a plant; how the roots grow first, then how the shoot grows before leaves begin to grow. Again they didn’t write much they just did lots of drawings.

At the start of each lesson the children would do a quiz about what they had learnt so far. This test was done in pairs and then we would go over the answers together. I was still concerned that the children hadn’t retained enough information though. So I decided to do a structured ‘brain dump’. All of this was done bit at a time as research tells us that giving young children a blank piece of paper probably wouldn’t work. So I asked the following questions or complete the following tasks:

Can you draw a plant?
Tell me the functions of the different parts to a plant
What does a plant produce during photosynthesis?
Draw the life cycle of a plant and label each part

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I have been so impressed with their knowledge and yes we do use words like photosynthesis and respiration. The children love showing off their knowledge and what is great is that they are applying it to real life science. Today I asked them to draw what a good plant would like like and they spoke with such confidence. I then asked them to tell me about what a plant growing in bad conditions would look like. These 6 year old children were able talk about why it wouldn’t grow well because of photosynthesis. Also they thought that plants with more leaves would grow better than plants with a few leaves because more food could be made.

I will be updating this blog with a few more pictures from various children’s books and other brain dumps that we have completed in other subjects.

Retrieval

I think that retrieval practice and the research that has gone into it has made me realise how, me as a leader, should look at all the details of teaching to improve performance of our children.

We have many children who enter our school working below national level in speaking etc. Many of the children come from difficult backgrounds and they find making progress in school difficult. Don’t get me wrong we normally have around 10 children in each year group who will make some progress in each year group regardless of the teacher; they seem to have an innate ability to make things stick. To only have 10 children make progress isn’t enough and anyway could those children make more? What about the rest of the children? Don’t they have the right to a good learning and to have knowledge about the world that we live in?

Before going to teach in year 2 I had always worked in year 6 and spent a couple of years in year 4. When I was in year 6 I was always using test questions to review learning and giving them tests on stuff they’d learnt weeks before to make sure that they could remember it. At the time, I didn’t know that what I was actually doing was retrieval practice. I have a suggestion for most schools across the country- check out what your year 6 teachers are doing because I bet they are making stuff stick by doing lots of mini quizzes etc to see what their year 6’s know. I kept having these conversations with a colleague of mine and we kept saying imagine if every year group did this. Just imagine if every teacher quizzed their pupils on a regular basis then just think of the progress. By the time the pupils got into year 6 they would have a good idea about how good they were and what their own weaknesses were. The year 6 teacher wouldn’t have to waste time teaching them exam technique. I know this because I’ve been there.

Anyway I digress a little. I was asked to go into year 2 (teaching 6 and 7 year olds). It took me a little while to adjust to the children touching my shoes and children crying. Finding empathetic side took a little bit of retrieval but I got there. Before going into year 2 people would often tell me their too young to do this, their too young to do that; never have I been so determined to prove these people wrong. I decided that I would do what I did in year 6.

I set up regular testing. And yes I use the word. The children didn’t mind because they knew after talking to them that it was for their benefit. Anything they got wrong I assured them that I just needed to re-teach it for them. I wasn’t going to shy away from the word test because the children are going to have tests all their life and I don’t want them thinking of that word in a negative contexts. We as adults think of tests as bad because of our personal experience and I wasn’t prepared to put my experiences on them. I did have one boy who would cry all the time at the thought of testing. Again after talking to him and explaining that it didn’t matter. After a few weeks he changed his opinion completely; I had won over a 6 year old boy scared senseless by the thought of doing work independently and having to think hard by himself. Now he would cheer whenever I said the word I’m testing you to find out what you know about a subject. In fact the whole class did. All the tests were low stakes. I created tests in a number of ways:

I used Socrative (multiple choice questions is what I preferred);

I used testbase questions

SATS tests.

I used this method in maths at first because that was easy to do. To start off each lesson I would quiz the children about work that did the day before. I would write say 5 questions on the board but then in the middle of those questions I would ask them a maths question on something I’d taught them 6 weeks ago. To start off with this would throw them but eventually they grew accustomed to it. This method of teaching was not only taken from Barak Rosenshine but it is also taken from E D Hirsch. My main influnce without a doubt has been the Learning Scientists and their great work. This method of teaching maths has stuck with me and has seen amazing results with the children I teach. If you forget the results the greatest accomplishment is that the children are not scared about tests nor are they worried about working independently. They can see the benefits. They know what they are good at and understand the importance- remember these children are 6 and 7.

I began to apply this method of teaching to spelling. Like most other teachers, I would give out the weekly spellings and tests them on a Friday and collate the scores. When it came to independent writing the children would get those spellings wrong even though they got them correct in the test. I decided enough was enough. Each week I would give out the spelling list as normal. I would test them at the end of the week. That was not the end of that list though because every day I would bring out an old spelling test and test them alongside their new spellings. A spelling session lasts around 30 minutes and it looks a little like this:

Teach spelling rules/phonics/morphology

Give them an activity that encompassed new spellings, common spelling mistakes and old spellings

Test the children on a  mixture of old and new spellings.

I think this method has worked well and the local authority inspector couldn’t believe how good the spelling ability of the children actually was. In Daniel Willingham’s book ‘The reading mind’ he tells us of the importance of spellings and this proved the case because the reading improved astronomically as well. In my class reading ages improved by around 2 years per child. Obviously some were well above 2 years progress and some were below. No one actually scored below 18 months progress. I have to say i do have a fabulous team working with me in my class.

The next phase of introducing retrieval was in my teaching of theme lessons (history and geography). I’m going to cut to the chase on this one. I made socrative quizzes that I used at the start of each session. Sometimes I hadn’t taught the lesson to some of the questions but I still went through the answers. Again I told the children it didn’t matter because they were learning. On a number of occasions the children would say when we got to the lesson of a question they didn’t know the answer, “Oh that’s the answer to that question!” When the children did the quizzes it made the children think of more than just the question but the lesson they were involved in. So much more information was brought to the forefront of their minds when answering the simple multiple choice questions and so more stuff would stick. I have also experimented with brain dumps. Sometimes the children required prompts. I would say things like what were the houses like in London at the start of the great fire of London? The children would then draw a picture. I have used retrieval to compare different environments. I couldn’t believe the quality of work when I asked the children to draw or write everything that was different and similar about Antarctica and the Sahara desert.

Thinking more about retrieval has made me a better teacher and as a result the children have benefited. I have helped to rewrite our whole curriculum with retrieval at the very heart of everything we do. Every year group begins a topic now with retrieval from a topic taught in a different year group. Socrative quizzes have now been set up for every year group. Brain dumps are expected in all year groups from year 1 up to year 6. I believe that the amount of information that our children will be able to access to create stories and know about history, geography and spell correctly will be amazing.

Behaviour

I only wish I knew what I now 13 years ago when I first became a teacher. 13 years ago I began my teaching career and I really didn’t know anything at all. When I think about all of those children that I let down in the first few years of teaching; it’s heartbreaking really. When I was an NQT I think I based my teaching on teachers who taught me at Secondary school and tried and failed to model myself on those styles. Some of it worked but most of it I replicated badly.

One of the things that I really struggled with was effective behaviour management. My style at the time was to shout at the children. At times this was encouraged by those around me. People would say he’s got a loud voice so he’ll control them. I can’t believe that I allowed myself to do it. When I think about it, if someone had shown how to deal with difficult behaviour and that all it takes is really high expectations and a whole school approach to dealing with misbehaviour, then my teaching career would have got off to a much better start. When I see Michaela school and the excellent work from Tom Bennett, it makes me envious of people who are receiving the correct guidance. In the school I work in we have just introduced a new whole school behaviour policy that means that we insist on behaviour being impeccable. We now insist on silence in lines. No more shouting, pushing and lines being all wiggly. We insist on silence when walking in the corridors. We expect our children to walk in school.

Some people see this as draconian but they don’t see the impact that this has on learning. I teach year 2 and for the first time the children in my class walk into the classroom calmly. They don’t talk they sit down and they are ready for learning- this means an extra 5 minutes a day teaching. Now add that time up for the whole year and you see the impact. I have spoken to dinner supervisors and they can’t believe the change. Shepherding the children into the dinner hall at lunch time used to be like feeding time at the zoo but now because of our policy the children line up in alphabetical order sensibly. One of the supervisors is a parent and she says the impact has been amazing and whilst at first she had reservations she can see why we have done it.

lineup-edited.jpg

It is still early days but we are pleased with how things are going at the moment. Below is a very quick summary of what is expected:

All children at the end of lunch and break time walk to their spot when called and line up in alphabetical order (all in silence)

We have a yellow and red card system. If children get a yellow card they miss 10 minutes of lunch and if they receive a red card they miss 30 minutes. There are all sorts of reasons for receiving the cards which I shan’t go into here.

Silence when the children are walking around the school.

We use Dojo points for encouraging good manners, wearing the correct school uniform and working hard in the class room which if they get enough of these points they get a prize.

The great thing about all of this is that the behaviour policy that we have introduced is manageable for all the staff and it aimed at reducing their stress levels. It is also to help the children with managing their behaviour. I really hope that this works and I am confident that it will.