Improving Writing

I don’t know why, but writing has always worried me the most, as an MFL teacher and still, as HOF. It must be the years of severe marking from the AQA Unit 4 and many meetings spent as a faculty, scratching our heads, debating if we even knew ourselves, the difference between a B and an A* because the marking made us feel like we couldn’t……

Anyways, we move on and we go again. So, I insist that my students practise writing. A lot. They ask me “How do we improve our Writing?” and my response always is; “Just WRITE! Loads, and often!”

I set my year 11s a task in class the other day, we do the AQA Certificate (iGCSE) now and so are kinda navigating our way through it as teachers as well. I set them a Foundation Q2/Higher Q1 writing choice to do with School. They wrote and then I showed them the mark scheme. We talked through it. They self-marked what they would give themselves for Content and for Range + Accuracy. By and large, they were quite harsh on themselves and were stricter with the marks than I was. I then marked it and gave what I thought it’d be. Then I set them a www/ebi based on it. The ebi is to use the “Golden Rules” template attached. It goes without saying that the F and H students all know they HAVE to include a range of opinions and always look to exploit AT LEAST past/present/future in every answer, so I’ve not included that on the Golden Rules.

The 12 Golden Rules for S and W

I cannot claim full credit for this- it is thanks to an amazing person on the Secondary MFL Matters Facebook page, which I highly recommend MFL teachers join.

Anyone else with tips on improving Writing- please get in touch!

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Marking their work vs Marking their books

I marked a set of 28 books (ok, admittedly, they were year 7s) in 15 mins on Friday during my PPA time. That’s my all-time record.

No, I didn’t tick and flick. In this time, I was able to check who in my class was coping with the work, who needed some more consolidation, who struggles with gluing in their sheets and who isn’t even writing the LO or is making spelling mistakes when copying down any vocab. So, I pretty much achieved what any teacher should be looking for when they collect in a set of books for checking.

So, how’d I do it? I think where we’ve went wrong is the confusion between marking their books and marking their work. My SLT just tell us “mark the books” but I’m not sure that even they know what they mean by this. Our faculty policy has taken into consideration the 2 types of marking of students’ work which teachers do; formative and summative. We know that Formative is your AfL check, it’s how your students are coping with the work on a day by day basis, so that you can address any issues as they arise (and hopefully get them solved before any summative assessment comes up). This is where your exercise book marking comes in. Little and often. Small, but mighty. We collect in the books every 2 weeks. We tell the students that a sample lesson of work will be looked at. They don’t know which one- I pick, perhaps a tricky grammar topic I’ve just taught them and I want to check how they *really* got on in that lesson. I go to that section of the exercise book (won’t be too hard to find, as it’ll be any lesson after I last marked the books 2 weeks ago) and, even though I loathe having to “prove” I’m marking to anyone (SLT, Ofsted) we stamp the top of that page which says “Your teacher has sampled this work” . Admittedly, it does also show the child which section I’ve sampled too. I can then focus only on this lesson’s work, checking the activities were completed, check for literacy, check their presentation etc. I then “diagnostically mark” by circling any errors, helping with vocab that they’ve asked me for (margin words) commenting on their effort/enthusiasm/participation in that lesson and pick up on causes for concern. At the end of that lesson’s worth of work, either I write that there have been no errors and I’m happy with how they’re progressing, or I give them a specific improvement task and I highlight this in a box for them to address. In diagnostic marking- why would you go looking for mistakes? If the sample of work presented is fine, then it’s fine. Would a GP go looking to diagnose a problem in a patient if there weren’t any symptoms? Why can’t some students be told, “Your work to date has been brilliant and I’m satisfied, so keep doing as you have been doing”. My students now love this. They see it as a real status symbol that they had no highlighted boxes when they get their books back. They take pride in their work, they love that I can’t find mistakes! They are now learning to make sure they try their best in all lessons, as they don’t know which one I’m going to moderate – they have to try hard to ensure that the work I see is always their best effort.

Please understand that this is our policy for marking books only. Every 6 weeks, we have formal, summative assessments in MFL. We have detailed, pre-made feedback stickers for this purpose as well. This makes the feedback targetted and the actual paperwork easier for teachers to carry out. These assessments are completed on A4 paper and then get stuck into books. Every result goes on their tracker grid. The stickers encourage student reflection and they re-do the piece of work using their exercise book and checking to see if they were ever given similar feedback about this issue before (because, if so, a different conversation needs to occur!) I’ll be honest, assessment time is very busy, but we rotate the assessments, so, say 1/2 term we do Listening and Writing and then the other 1/2 term we do Reading and Speaking. The Writing Assessment takes the longest to mark, yes, but then it always did! The pre-made, year group specific stickers I’ve mentioned before are a massive help though. At least we only do it once per term!

Also, we always mark homework (but we do 1 learning and 1 written homework every week) so any homework done can be part of the “sampling” of work as well. Again, homework doesn’t need to be onerously marked, use stickers, stampers, whatever, but just comment on the work + give 1 specific improvement strategy (I always do this- even if the work is flawless- it rarely is anyways!) With GCSE Classes, we ask the students to do a self www/ebi on their written homework, and then when I collect it in to sample, I can address what their own thoughts on their work are. I do enjoy this, because they tend to be much more critical of themselves than I am! It also then helps me provide feedback, as I pick up on things they thought were ok!

So, there you have it. While I am not able to speak for other subjects, in MFL we do listening, reading, speaking, writing near enough every lesson. I can’t always evidence speaking, and I’m not going to try.L and R activities are always self + peer marked in class and the levels (soon to change!) recorded in the students’ trackers. Where possible, we really do have to make more of this. We can’t take on the burden of marking 30 books, with, say 6/7 different classes, every 2 weeks and mark everything they even put pen to paper on. It’s ludicrous. When the students sit their exams, they’re only going to be judged on that snapshot of learning. That 1 exam. Not their beautifully (or not so much) presented notes in their exercise book. So we need to stop obsessing about the quantity and shouldn’t try to mark everything. There. Is. No. Need. What about the subjects that don’t even use exercise books? They cope.They actually do pretty well.

At the end of the day, I feel confident that my students ARE getting more than enough feedback on their work. I know them, they’re asking plenty of questions in the lesson, they get verbal feedback (I’m not using a stamper to evidence that one, thank you very much) I see their work every 2 weeks, they do a vocab test every week and they undertake formal testing every 6 weeks. That’s enough. In this climate, it is easy to lose sight of who we’re doing this for; our students. If your way of marking (whatever way that is) genuinely is in their best interests and is moving them to where they should be, then your marking is spot on and you need to stay strong in the face of anyone who doubts you and wants you to mark a certain way just “to be seen” to be doing it.

If you want a written version of this, in a more succinct policy; here is our

Modern Foreign Languages Faculty Assessment and Marking Policy

Happy Marking

Let me know if you can beat 15mins 😉 😉