UPDATE: This blog has been updated to include links to moderated greater depth examples from this class. They are all free and accessible through my TES profile (morganell). The GD examples can be found below in the context part of the blog.
Two years ago, the lead moderator for my borough told me that the children’s writing in my class was not independent enough. She also was quite unclear in defining what she classed as independent writing. So, last year, I changed the way I taught writing to give children full control over what text type they wanted to write and how they planned it, mostly through class discussion that was student-led. Once children had selected a text type, we would discuss the features of that text type and what we would commonly expect to see. If any of the exemplification materials were of the same text type, we would pick those apart first and use as modelled examples (e.g. short story – opening the fridge). Once children had finished their writing, they would edit it in green pen. They would look to edit and improve upon their punctuation (making sure it was used correctly and a range of KS2 punctuation), spelling (focusing specifically on Year 5 and 6 spelling rules that we had learnt this year) and verb choice (when necessary for the text type). The editing process was mostly done through self-assessment, as the majority of writing pieces were produced later in the year, once they were more confident with grammar, spelling and composition. Occasionally, children would peer-assess and work would be shown on the board to discuss strengths and weaknesses as a class.
I’m now going to talk briefly about the different things I did to achieve 100%.
No extended writing pieces until Christmas – Instead of doing an extended piece every 1 or 2 weeks, I didn’t do any. I chose to spend more time on teaching grammar and sentence structure, how to ‘uplevel’ writing, how to find spelling errors, how to check if punctuation had been used appropriately etc. Alongside this, the children were still doing writing pieces, but they would only ever be half a page or around 10 lines. These pieces would be dedicated to checking their understanding of the grammar they had been taught, and afterwards, how to edit and improve them.
Using videos and experiences as writing stimuli – My class had quite disproportionate reading abilities, as well as hugely disproportionate levels of interest in reading generally. Naturally, we still read a lot together and did some pieces using books as the inspiration, but these were proving to be pieces that lacked engagement or appeared weaker generally. I changed focus and started to use videos as the stimuli for their writing. Our first writing piece (at Christmas) was based on the Sainsburys’ Christmas advert from a few years ago, which can be found here – https://www.literacyshed.com/the-christmas-truce.html
Children loved the independence of it. They chose to write a letter as one of the soldiers received one in the video and because we discussed how important letters were to soldiers at war. They then chose which soldier they wanted to write as. Because there is barely any speech in the video, children could explore all different avenues of what they imagined each soldier was thinking and feeling.
Similarly, the children really enjoyed writing a short story based on the short film ‘Rubato’ – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D7D3_HFB3o&vl=en). Again, this video had no speech so children could explore their imagination. Children decided to make it a short story, they decided whether to write as either of the main characters and they thought of speech that could have been used.
We also wrote a persuasive piece where they would have to perform to their classmates, based on the idea of Room 101 in George Orwell’s ‘1984’. I showed them a few clips from the BBC TV show and asked them over the weekend to think of 2 things they would like to banish. The independence of this task was what made it so interesting to them. They all chose different ideas, ranging from plastic surgery to KFC (the news story about KFC running out of chicken was very recent).
Another strong piece came from an experience they had – science week. We had a science assembly with loads of different experiments ran by a scientist, the scientist came in and performed an experiment in our class, I did an experiment with them and the children also did some research on Stephen Hawking (who had sadly passed away days before). Therefore, this piece didn’t follow any conventional text type. It was a mesh of a recount, a chronological report and a biography – the moderator loved the fluidity and uniqueness of this.
Whole class feedback – this was the quickest and most efficient method of feeding back to the children. I did not mark a single piece of writing last year. Yes, you read that right. This allowed every piece to remain wholly independent and also meant we could redraft any piece we like close to the time we were being moderated (that saved me a lot of time). I would browse through their writing and jot down my comments on a post it note or scrap piece of paper. I would write down common spelling errors, what they were using too much of or not enough of etc. Here’s a more in-depth blog about this by @primarypercival – http://primarypercival.weebly.com/blog/no-written-marking-job-done
I would scan in a strong piece of writing and a piece of writing that could be improved. This allowed children to see the editing process repeatedly and they became more successful in their own editing approach.
Typing 2nd draft – I always followed the teaching structure of a 1st draft, feedback, 2nd draft, feedback then 3rd draft written in neat for their portfolio book. After a while, writing can become very strenuous for both the teacher and the class – this is especially true when writing daily in the lead up to moderation. So, even if it were to be a handwritten piece, I would let children type their 2nd draft. Naturally, all the spellchecker and grammar checking tools were switched off. This made the writing process phenomenally quicker. Children also found it much easier to edit and improve their writing when it was typed and a lot easier to copy it up into neat when it was all printed onto one page – rather than written across 2 or 3 pages in their book. The moderator had no issues with this, as long as the grammar checking tools were all switched off.
Greater Depth children – it wasn’t always easy to find time to work with these children as a group or individually, due to the writing levels of the other children in the class. So, I dedicated a lot of time to them over the space of a couple of weeks to discuss and demonstrate what a greater depth child’s writing looked like and then encouraged them to take complete control of their writing, by showing evidence of each of the greater depth standards. Whenever they finished a piece of writing, I would get them to outline three things for me: they had to underline any use of cohesive devices; circle any spellings they thought were a year 5 and 6 word; and highlight any use of formality or informality in pink highlighter. This was useful for two reasons – it really challenged their knowledge of what they had been taught, and for me, it made it much easier for me to help them in a shorter space of time because any issues would be apparent from a quick glance at their writing. I was expecting 6 children to achieve the GD standard, but the moderator pushed this up to 8 after seeing all the evidence the children had shown in their writing.
Moderation – this was a very positive experience, mostly because I made sure I was prepared and ready for any question or challenge the moderator might have for me. Firstly, I prepared a ticked checklist for 6 pieces of writing for every child. Inside each of those pieces of writing in their books, the moderator would find a post-it note that had all the pieces of punctuation and all the year 5/6 spellings I thought they had used – this meant that all she had to look at was the language and content, which is what truly showed their writing ability. Next, I provided her with a sheet explaining the context of every writing piece we did, so that she knew why this piece was very informal or why that piece was in 1st person etc. On this sheet, I had all the children’s names next to the grade I thought they were at. I knew in my mind who to show if asked to show a ‘strong expected’ or ‘weak GD’, which made it a lot easier when she asked to see 2 children who were working towards, 2 at expected and 2 GD. Here is the context for the Christmas advert piece mentioned above:
‘Christmas letter – At Christmas, we watched a Sainsbury’s advert from a couple years ago about soldiers celebrating Christmas during WW1. Children decided they wanted to write a letter as one of the soldiers in the video – either portraying the British or German soldier. Their audience was someone of their choice – a mother, grandfather, a girl in the advert in a photograph etc. We discussed how most soldiers were working class men who weren’t well-read, so language may appear very simple and informal in this piece, even for greater depth children. Children decided it should be very informal as they knew their audience and they were retelling events of Christmas eve/day. The only exemplification material applicable was a formal letter – this wasn’t entirely relatable so it wasn’t used.’
I also had the exemplification materials printed and ready to use, if she challenged something a child had used or not used. By the end of the year, I believed I only had 2 children at a working towards level. Because I had the working towards exemplifications with me, I was actually able to argue that they were both better than the exemplifications and they were then pushed up to an expected grade.
Exemplification materials – using these is an airtight way of demonstrating the level of writing for each individual child. If your writing in class is modelled on the exemplification materials, then there are no arguments about what language is used, or why it has been written in a certain way. As long as there was a piece that was relevant, I would use the exemplification materials to demonstrate to the children what their writing should include or look like. Taken from my context sheet again, here is an example of how I used the exemplification materials in moderation:
‘Short story – We read the short story – ‘opening the fridge’ – from the GD exemplification materials. We discussed how we didn’t know what was going on initially and the class decided their story was also going to start like this, although this wasn’t compulsory. They tried to keep their writing intentionally vague, so there may be an absence of description despite it being a narrative. The class felt too much description would give it away to the reader, and that some of them did not want to reveal anything until the very end. The atmosphere from the piece arrives from this ambiguity and through use of short sentences, similes and building tension.’
It allowed me to justify very clearly why the children had written the way they had.
Writing across all subjects – Lastly, I made sure we did writing across a variety of subjects (literacy, history, RE and science). I brought all of these books into the moderation with me, but the moderator did not look at them once. In fact, she did not look at the post-it notes I prepared, the sheet with the context of each piece of writing and only briefly browsed the ticksheets. However, by having them there, it was clear to her I knew what I was talking about and my judgements of the children were sound.
Feel free to contact me on Twitter – @_mrmorgs
I’ve attached the context sheet for the writing pieces below, should you wish to read them:
Science Week – Children had an entire week dedicated to science week in school, where an assembly was held by a scientist, they did multiple experiments and researched about Stephen Hawking. The children decided that their audience would be other children and that they wanted it to follow an informal report style but also to be informative. So, this text type may feel like a blend of a recount and an information report/instructional text as you read it. We looked at the exemplification materials on ballet shoes and analysed it, although it didn’t fully match how the children wanted to write so it may appear very different. Children decided that an informal style was appropriate as their audience was other children and that a formal shift would come through use of technical language (sodium polyacrylate etc).
Free GD examples – https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/greater-depth-examples-science-week-recount-12065166
Christmas letter – At Christmas, we watched a Sainsbury’s advert from a couple years ago about soldiers celebrating Christmas during WW1. Children decided they wanted to write a letter as one of the soldiers in the video – either portraying the British or German soldier. Their audience was someone of their choice – a mother, grandfather, a girl in the advert in a photograph etc. We discussed how most soldiers were working class men who weren’t well-read, so language may appear very simple in this piece, even for greater depth children. Children decided it should be very informal as they know their audience and they were retelling events of Christmas eve/day. The only exemplification material applicable was a formal letter – this wasn’t entirely relatable so it wasn’t used.
Free GD examples – https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/greater-depth-examples-informal-letter-12065882
Short story – We read the short story – ‘opening the fridge’ – from the GD exemplification materials. We discussed how we didn’t know what was going on initially and the class decided their story was also going to start like this, although this wasn’t compulsory. They tried to keep their writing intentionally vague, so there may be an absence of description despite it being a narrative. The class felt too much description would give it away to the reader, and that some of them did not want to reveal anything until the very end. The atmosphere from the piece arrives from this ambiguity and through use of short sentences, similes and building tension.
Free GD examples – https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/greater-depth-examples-short-suspenseful-story-12108885
Room 101 – Children watched 3 different celebrities banishing their pet peeves to Room 101. I also explained where the initial concept came from (Orwell’s ‘1984’) and how it was designed to house your worst fear or something you didn’t really like. The class decided they wanted to vote on their proposals; just like they did on the TV show. They wanted their audience to be each other as we like to read work aloud in class. Therefore, they decided to write a sort of speech that they could perform to the class – please keep this in mind for intonation as it may not be apparent when reading through them initially. There was no exemplification material relevant so children decided what features they thought their ‘speech’ should include. They knew it was persuasive so intended to use a conversational style to win over their peers, including a lot of over-exaggeration and powerful language to try to portray their pet peeves as very negative.
Free GD examples – https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/greater-depth-examples-room-101-speech-12108879
Newspaper report – We had recently read about Jesus’ Easter story of the Last Supper, arrest and trial, crucifixion and resurrection. Children decided that because there were a lot of events that they wanted to write it as a newspaper report, informing residents of the local town about what has happened in case they missed it. We looked at ‘Pig Palaver’ – the exemplification material from last year to use as a modelled example. Children used speech as a chance for informality to contrast with the more formal style of the newspaper. They decided that cohesion would almost exclusively be through time connectives or fronted adverbials of a time nature, as it was a series of events that needed to be ordered for the reader.
Free GD examples – https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/greater-depth-examples-newspaper-report-12067339
Rubato – Children watched a short animation film that had no dialogue. They decided to rewrite it as a short story from either the perspective of the dog or the musician. No exemplification material was relevant so children were using their own knowledge to rewrite the story. The class decided to keep it from a first person perspective as they wanted to be one of the characters. This meant that some children chose to switch between past and present tense when retelling the story.
Leaflet – After studying the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, we discussed how the catastrophe could have maybe been avoided. Children said that someone could have performed a speech at the local amphitheatre to inform people, send a leaflet around town or write graffiti on the wall (as this was a common way of sending messages in Pompeii). In the end, children chose the leaflet as the most effective and decided to write one. It was meant to have an informative tone, but at times be informal as they wanted the reader to understand and be persuaded to read on. This was the first extended piece children wrote this year.
Complaint letter – We read through examples of these from my previous class. Children decided who or what they wanted to complain about for homework. We discussed whether the letter should be formal or informal and the children decided it should mostly be formal but that an angry customer may be informal at times when showing they were angry. Children also decided that they wanted to inform the company of their shortcomings as well as making suggestions about how they can improve for the future. They also discussed asking for refunds or some sort of recompense so this may also be present in their work.