(Before I begin, please award me marks for a title containing both an adapted idiom and a homophone. Actually, forget the idiom – I don’t think the Standards and Testing Agency like them much. Nor will I get many thanks for the double meaning.)
Anyway, I’ve been clearing out the cupboards at Grammarwise Infant Academy* (proper noun!). I’ve found lessons going back to the 1990s, when we did lots of exciting writing (rhyme!) activities. In between trips to the recycling bin I’ve listened as my Year 2 colleagues fume about the judgements made on their pupils’ performance this year. This is going to be a cross post (homograph!).
I’m afraid we need two short paragraphs of background.
When pupils are aged between 6 and 7, their writing ability may range from being able to hold a pencil correctly and form letters in sequences that conform to recognisable sounds and words, to being able to write in demarcated sentences and paragraphs with a coherent thread of meaning. Bear with me – don’t bare with me though, it wouldn’t be appropriate. (Homophones!) We used to assess them (the pupils, not the homophones) as having reached level 1,2 or 3 on a best fit basis: there were several statements of attainment in each category and if the child had achieved most of them, s/he was working at that level.
This year (I quote): To demonstrate that pupils have met a standard…, teachers will need to have evidence that a pupil demonstrates attainment of all of the statements within that standard and all the statements in the preceding standard(s). I’ve not been blogging long and can’t afford losing followers to death by boredom, but full details are at the link above if you’re really keen.
And so the moderators arrived in the third week of June (past tense!) At least one of them is actually (adverb!) just a teacher from another school down the road, something of a rival if the truth be known (subjunctive!) They spend a turgid (adjective!) afternoon looking through all the children’s (possessive apostrophe!) written work in year 2 to check we’re assessing them the same way all the other schools do. The government’s changed the requirements this year, although (subordinate conjunction!) it’s only an interim arrangement and they’ll change them again next year (future tense!), so nobody is quite as sure of the benchmarks as we were (comparison!) when it was a simple matter of levels 1,2,or 3. Heavens – I can’t believe I’m sounding nostalgic about SATs! (exclamation mark!)
Anyway, we (or our children) were marked down. Bright, bright children, shoo-ins for the old level 3, hadn’t achieved the “Working at greater depth within the expected standard” level. Kareena* didn’t appear to have used the word “or” in her writing since September (or maybe she had but not in her school work). Faizal* had used “if” but not in a subordinate clause. Most hadn’t (contraction!) been writing cursive script throughout the year, so that’s not good enough even though they now are (because we don’t usually start teaching it until April). They had used exclamation marks but not with “How” or “What”. (How I can’t believe I’m writing this! What?!)
Never mind. We can be redeemed, it seems (dissonance? assonance?) It’s just a question of providing another sample of writing that does contain all the right ingredients, and our data will shine again.
So (coordinate? subordinate?) I’m now in a small group room with eight children of “middle ability”. This room has no white board so the stimulus is a black and white photocopy of a book about Brazil (colour too expensive), published considerably before Rio received the poisoned chalice it now holds. We have to describe Brazil, and persuade someone to go there, using exclamations, opinions, questions, contractions, adjectives and all the other elements of the expected standard. We read the book, consider the gravelly pictures, and discuss Pele, the Amazon, etc. I write the title on the board “Which would you like to visit, Brazil or the UK?” in the hope of modelling the “or” construction we need. Curiously, when the children copy it, many have written “witch wood you like to visit…?” It’s supposed to be independent writing so I can’t correct them, but Jared’s yell of “Homonyms!” gives me a clue to their reasoning. Did they think they were supposed to substitute them? (Question mark!) Only last week that was what they had to do, and of course, some of them aren’t 7 until August. And as you can see from the writing here, (pre April cursive script) they can get muddled about the importance of component parts of the English language in our daily lives.
“Time for a suffix!” calls Jared* cheerfully (J is always cheerful, and often supplies a commentary to events, including during tests.) Right now he is blissfully unaware that his suffixes have staged a coup over his previously correct full stops.
But despite Jared’s efforts, we sigh. We’re bored. Conversation, always random with 6 year olds, seems to involve guinea pigs and someone’s uncle. Handwriting seeks a distraction anywhere but the line, with unwieldy f’s (always a hard one) and enormous loops like dropped stitches. Nobody learns much about Brazil, and what they do learn is inaccurate (“How happy all the Brazilian people are! What an amazing capital city Brasilia is!”) It’s taken an hour so far and we are still not finished.
I apologise for being another moaning teacher. I’m not holding my breath that the minstars will change their policies any time soon, but next time I blog about children’s writing, I’ll take inspiration from the historic contents of my cupboard and write about how teaching it should be.
*Some proper nouns have been changed for the purposes of this post.
© Jessica Norrie 2016