As another round of our assessment moderation clusters draws to a close, I can now pause to reflect on some of the fantastic discussions we’ve had over the last few weeks about our pupils’ writing and their learning through this pandemic year. This latest set of clusters was for Year 2 teachers, and throughout the many sessions, I was consistently blown away by the resourcefulness, adaptability and resilience of teachers in dealing with an ever-changing educational landscape.
We may not have National Curriculum assessments and statutory moderation in 2021 but accurate and helpful assessment is needed more than ever to help our pupils on their journey and to aid transition in the summer. Discussions in the small group clusters centred on taking a very formative view in assessing where our pupils are currently, where there are gaps and what we can be doing as immediate and longer term next steps to support their progress.
Sharing useful discussions and great practice is central to what we do, so here are some of the things we talked about in the sessions.
Accepting where we are rather than where we ‘should’ be
This was a common theme across most of the clusters. The last year has meant that there are many pupils who are not where they would have been in a normal year, and that accepting that is part of the journey we’re all on. That does not mean that we don’t have high expectations for our pupils, but rather just doing what great teachers do – establishing where our pupils are and responding to that using quality formative assessment approaches and planning next steps and lessons as a result.
Commonly discovered gaps
Nearly every teacher talked about how some of the basic fundamentals of writing and spelling seem to have suffered. The reduced opportunities in the late spring/summer term of Year 1 to have secured some skills was frequently evident in pupil work shared. A number of schools talked about how they were using spaced retrieval techniques and activities during remote learning to ensure that pupils can regularly practise spellings of high frequency and common exception words, elements of phonics and so on, to help pupils secure that content from last summer as well as practising Year 2 content from the autumn. Other schools talked about how they have included discrete sessions to focus on the basics of grammar or punctuation as they are quite practical for a remote context and also will hopefully keep the skills fresh for pupils returning to the classroom.
Using edit/improve to address those gaps
We spent quite a bit of time discussing the ways that schools were incorporating reviewing, editing and improving practice into remote learning. For pupils to be supported in this, it can be helpful for pupils to have their ‘every time we write checklist’ or Year 1 and 2 spellings available to refer to.
Editing whole pieces of writing can be quite a challenge for pupils, especially for those who find writing difficult already. Building ‘stop-gaps/mini-breaks’ into activities to encourage reviewing of sentences/sections as they go can be a way of helping pupils see editing as part of the writing process as well as developing their self-awareness as writers.
For pupil edits following feedback, one teacher had been applying the ‘yellow box’ approach to identify a section of the writing that they’d like the pupil to review, with prompts where they thought the pupil may need them in addition to the ‘every time we write’ checklist. In discussions, many teachers suggested doing similar but perhaps just identifying specific sentences for the pupil to go back to check.
In the classroom we would often use collaborative improvement to practise editing skills. This is far more difficult in remote learning settings, but some schools talked about ways they they’ve been able to do this in ‘live’ sessions using a model/example shared with the group or using Google Slides for collaborative writing. For asynchronous teaching, it could be possible to share an example of writing either from the class (or a different class) for an edit and improve (or magpie) exercise.
Support for parents to become talk partners rather than teachers
Discussions around editing and gaps often led to another key talking point – the difficulty in assessing how pupils are doing when we can’t be sure what is being done independently. Parents may not know that struggle and making mistakes are helpful for the learning process and may feel under pressure to over-correct their child’s work. Parents may also feel like their child’s writing is a reflection of them so are anxious to get things ‘right’.
We discussed including prompts or suggestions for parents at the top of activities so that they were placed more in the coaching/talk-partner role.
Suggestions could be things like: ‘read your child’s writing back to them and ask them if they can see anything they think needs changing’, or ‘identify an example where your child has used their capital letters and full-stop correctly and ask them if there are other places they can see that, or think they may need to include them’.
Building confidence in writing
During the clusters many teachers mentioned that some pupils had lost some of their confidence in writing and were opting to ‘play it safe’, for example, with sentence complexity, sentence starters, and vocabulary choices. We discussed various approaches to helping with this including:
pupils using a dotted line under words they were not sure of how to spell to be a way of safely trying out a more ambitious word by indicating that they are unsure
asking pupils to put a little tick above (or highlight) words in a sentence that they know are spelled correctly to help take a more positive view on identifying successes and what they are not sure about. This is also helpful for showing teachers where there are misconceptions if a pupil ticks a word that isn’t actually spelled correctly
encouraging the use of magpie journals where pupils can jot down interesting words, sentence starters or phrases when they are reading, making a collection from which they then can draw on in their writing
metacognitive strategies that can support pupils to become more reflective and build understanding of the writing process. We have a blog about getting metacognition into remote learning that could be useful to check out.
‘Free writing’ for emotional well-being and confidence building
In a number of the clusters we talked about how pupils could be given opportunities to regularly write a little (or a lot if they so wish) reflecting their day-to-day and how they are feeling. This might be writing that is never formally 'marked' or corrected, but rather just writing for thinking and processing events.
Pushing on higher attainers
In addition to using a ‘magpie journal’ to support drawing on reading, Bob Cox came up frequently in the sessions as being a useful source of inspiration for how to develop our higher attaining writers and nurture that love of writing. His Opening Doors series is fantastic – information about this and a number of free resources are available on his website.
Using live sessions for feedback and coaching
Not all schools use live sessions with pupils, but those that did were often using them for 1:1 or small group conference feedback or supporting those pupils who were struggling with working fully independently. A few schools talked about how they were structuring ‘whole class’ or larger group live sessions – starting with ‘carpet time’, then sending pupils away for doing an activity keeping a handful for conference teaching/feedback, with the others returning for a show and tell of what they’ve done. For schools that were following a more asynchronous route, there were suggestions for making videos addressing common points of feedback that pupils could then watch and apply to their writing.
Supporting parents with being reading partners
Lots of schools have sent out guidance and advice for parents, but many of our schools felt that this was still an area where parents need support. The EEF have produced some useful infographics for parents regarding reading. This one is more detailed and this one has been translated into different languages to support parents who have English as an additional language.
Reminder about the Digital Classroom Toolkit
HfL has teamed up with HCC to create a toolkit of resources free for Herts schools. There is a whole host of resources including phase specific resources and content and helpful ‘How Tos’ for GSuite, Tapestry and more. Most schools have already signed up, but if you haven’t already, you can sign up here. As an individual teacher you can sign up to ensure that you get notifications of updates and new resources.
We have more cluster cycles coming up after the half-term break for Years 3, 4 and 5 where we will be standardising, sharing work and discussing strategies for helping our pupils continue to make progress. Further information and booking details can be found by searching on 'moderation'.
If you would rather have more bespoke assessment guidance and moderation within your school, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.