Over the last two weeks we have been continuing our work on The Jolly Postman and the children have enjoyed writing. On Thursday they looked at the Hobgoblin Supplies sheet and ordered something to buy from it; on Friday they described a witch’s hat from the Reception class dressing up box and created an advert to sell it. There was some good spoken language and good attempts at writing. How does all that fit into my assessment of their learning as defined by the system the school is learning? This is what I find really difficult.
The school uses an online recording system – the curriculum is broken down into simple statements and for each child I have to record if it has been taught, if it is almost achieved, if the child is secure of if the child is exceeding. What on earth does that mean? This coming week I also have to carry out an assessment test on every child which is supposed to tell me if their progress this term is below expectations, at expectations or exceeding expectations. Looking at the text, I cannot for the life of me work out how on earth the short test will tell me that. To add to the pressure, at the SLT meeting it was agreed that for performance management each teacher should have 85% of the class being at a secure level.
How do I relate that to the children in my class? Let me try and talk about last Thursday and Friday’s lessons in the discourse of secure progression and my accountability as a teacher for that progression. On Thursday the class was in a lively chatty mood. They enjoyed looking at all the things for sale by Hobgoblin Supplies and discussing them. They particularly enjoyed the ‘Little Boy Pie Mix’ and so we decided that we would order that. I write the order, as a shared writing activity; we composed a sentence orally and then I transcribed it – even adding a clause starting with ‘because’. The children then went away to write their own orders – several of them included the word ‘because’ many of them copied my sentence exactly. I am happy with that.
Last Friday we wrote an advert for a witch’s hat because, to out surprise, we found that Hobgoblin Supplies did not sell them. We described the hat and talked about how we could make it really attractive to prospective customers. The children thought about the design of their advert and chose words and phrases carefully.
This Thursday we thought about wolves; we read the book Beware of the Storybook Wolves and had great fun spotting the traditional stories mentioned in the text. We discussed the characteristics of wolves in different stories and listed the commonalities. We then put a big outline of a wolf on the wall and did a ‘role on the wall’ activity. Again I modelled the activity and then asked the children to close their eyes and compose a sentence in their head to describe wolves ; they then turned to their learning partner and shared their sentence. Each child then wrote their sentence on a large post-it note and stuck it around the wolf. This was a really successful lesson and the sentences were imaginative and well constructed. I felt the children had made real progress as writers from the previous week.
So what happened today? We carried out the half termly literacy assessment test. The children had to read a two paragraph ‘story’ which was phonically decodable. They then had to tick pictures and words to show which would fit into given sentences; there was no inferential understanding required and there was little opportunity for response to the text as a reader. The answer was either correct or wrong – no negotiation. The second page of the test consisted of five sentences about the ‘story’ and the children had to tick either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. There were five sentences but if the children just ticked all the Yes boxes they would obtain three points without any indication they knew what they had read; I am sure quite a few of my children did that – just going down the list ticking all the Yes boxes which were laid out in a column. This test gave each child a mark out of 10 and in the handbook was a table which told me whether each child was making the expected level of progress, below the expected level or exceeding the expected level. Ridiculous!
I have been looking at CLPE’s Writing Scale (www.clpe.org.uk) and have found the statements in that really useful in helping me to comment on my class’s behaviour as writers. But, as my head teacher, told me there are no numbers and all those who make judgements about my performance as a teacher and my class as learners want numbers and so things have to be counted. What is counted seems almost irrelevant as long as there is an increase over time in the numbers.
I have been reading about all sorts of ways of looking at progress and describing it and would love people to share their views and practices. However, day to day I continue to count, with the nagging knowledge that I am compromising my long held principles.