What exactly is “Independent Writing”?

    Published: 23 March 2016

    When assessing the standard of children’s writing, most people would agree it should be their independent work. But do we all agree on what “independent” means?

    I recently attended a briefing for Local Authority moderation managers, delivered by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA). The key purpose of this event was to unveil the new national exemplification materials to support teacher assessment of writing at Key Stages 1 and 2, but an interesting side issue was when this question of independent writing arose. The following points were made by one of the STA representatives, who had been involved in putting together the Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks for writing.

    The writing that children produce, and that moderators will look at, should be part of their normal classroom practice in writing. There is no need for “cold tasks” – exam condition-style experiences in which there has been no real stimulus for the writing or discussion. Discussion of ideas and “immersion in vocabulary” is all part of good teaching and in no way disqualifies the writing produced from being part of the evidence base.

    The writing that moderators look at could have been produced following a unit of teaching about a particular text type. Success criteria might have been generated as part of the teaching process and these can still be on show as children are writing. However, directly copying from a model would not be considered independent; neither would something that has been “heavily scaffolded”.

    The key point about independence is that children are making their own choices about how to apply the things they have been taught and the ideas discussed.

    Use of dictionaries, word banks and working walls is fine, as this is part of normal classroom practice and the child still has to make the decision to refer to the resource. However, electronic aids that provide correct spellings (e.g. Clicker) are a step too far – you can’t say that a child has correctly spelt those words if the electronic aid provided the spelling.

    Crafting and making improvements to one’s writing are a key part of the National Curriculum and should therefore be part of the writing moderators look at. This includes responding to feedback (teacher or peer), as long as it’s not too direct. For example, if a teacher had said to a child “have a think about the adjectives you have used” and the child went on to identify some areas to improve, that would be OK. But “change the word ‘nice’ to something more interesting” would be too direct.

    The improvement and redrafting process is crucial to enabling pupils to produce their best work. It provides an opportunity for children to use dictionaries to double-check their spellings, ensure that they haven’t made any basic errors in punctuation or grammar, and check that the writing all makes sense and is well structured. These crafting skills are evident in the National Curriculum, and are therefore acceptable and expected elements in the evidence for the writing teacher assessment.

    If your school is selected for moderation, please don’t panic. Moderators are not trying to catch you out – they just want to find positive examples in the children’s writing that support the judgement that has been made. Further information will be sent to schools when they are alerted of the moderation.

    Ben is an experienced member of the assessment team, with an excellent knowledge of issues regarding assessment and works across all phases of education. He has worked in the primary sector, but he has supported schools in all phases of education in developing their assessment practice.

    By Ben Fuller, Lead Assessment Adviser

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    This article is from the March edition of The Exchange. To read the full newspaper please visit: bit.ly/TE-March16