At Michaela, we have two exam sessions each year: in February and the end of June. Nonetheless, when completing a unit we do sometimes give pupils an assessment to see what they can do. Recently, our year 8s finished learning about Romantic Poetry. To really stretch them, we decided to give them a poem they had not seen before, and ask them to write on it. The responses were phenomenal, and you can read some below. But today, I want to focus on how we give feedback following such an assessment, using a specific example.
I visited Joe Kirby’s year 8 lesson, just at the moment he was testing them on the words they had misspelled. He tested them on the spellings (in the same way as I have written about previously here) and then went on to look at what else the pupils needed to do to improve their essays.
He began by looking at grammar, a key aspect of our English curriculum at Michaela. At Michaela, we focus on memory and automaticity, and we know pupils need to overlearn each aspect of writing in order to improve. If a couple of pupils are misusing the apostrophe, we know all pupils will benefit from overlearning this key ingredient of accuracy. Joe has written three sentences on the board which come from different pupils’ essays, and he asks them to write them correctly in the back of their books. He then goes over this as a whole class, leading pupils to articulate why each apostrophe is needed:
Following the focus on spelling and grammar, Joe goes into what not to do, using examples again lifted from the pupils’ essays, and helps them to see how to improve these by explaining from the front of the class:
Here are some more examples of ‘vague’ sentences, with Joe explaining what pupils need to do better:
He then goes on to explain what precision means, and gives concrete examples of how to be precise:
Joe then leads pupils through some of the most impressive insights from their essays. This was my favourite bit of the lesson, and something I tried with my own year 8 classes the following day. When reading their books, you put a tick in the margin of a sentence you found especially impressive, and note their name and a trigger word on your feedback sheet. You can then say, ‘Elena, can you read your sentence on alliteration?’ It is lovely to celebrate the impressive responses of pupils, while also helping others see what they ought to be writing about:
Following this, pupils read one of their classmate’s essays, again focusing on what precisely made it so effective:
After this, pupils re-wrote a paragraph in their books.
The above approach is simple, and requires no marking. The teacher reads the essays, noting down examples of great work and ‘non-examples’, or examples of what not to do. The teacher then structures the feedback in a clear way, for us beginning with accuracy, moving on to ‘non-examples,’ and finishing with exemplars.
Here are some further examples of the pupils’ writing. Remember, this was analysis of John Keats’ ‘This Living Hand,’ a poem they had never encountered before. Some sophisticated insights they have written include:
‘Keats keeps the poem following free verse and no rhyme scheme to perhaps inform readers that the possibilities and powers of the ambiguities, hidden meanings and unknown capabilities are not so easily understood and that the power is so strong that it breaks all form of rhythm and pattern.’
‘This poem could be about the relationship between the poet and poem and the emotion it gives the reader. Keats could be saying that poetry is capable of inflicting an outburst of emotion, which is recollected in “tranquillity.”’
‘At the beginning of the poem, “now warm and capable” is used combining life and death imagery to describe the transience of life in the present.’
‘The poet does not refer to an actual living hand in his poem, instead it is used to symbolise the poem itself, personifying it. He does this to illustrate that life may be transient however this poem shall be transcendent, otherwise “haunt” our “days” and “chill” our “dreaming nights.”’
Thanks for this, Jo. I’m busy adapting schemes of work to incorporate many of your approaches and the scheme I’ve started on has been on imaginative writing, something I haven’t seen how you do. Do you teach writing through the reading tasks that you do or is it separate.
I’ve just about finished a first draft of a knowledge organiser that, if you don’t mind, I’ll email over for you to take a look at?
Hi Kieron! Definitely send your KO through if you choose! We don’t teach imaginative writing at all. We did a one off task to see how they’d go, as we hoped a literature-rich curriculum would just mean they could sort of just do it. Their pieces were fine, and so we’ve decided to not explicitly teach it until we have to (KS4) as we believe they need to be exposed to heaps of brilliant examples in the meantime! But we’re developing and re-thinking all the time so this could well change in the future!
Can you confirm whether you still don’t teach Creative Writing? If so, how have you found students’ progress in this field without explicit teaching? It is something I toy with as Curriculum lead and not sure I am yet so bold!
Thanks in advance,
Definitely teach creative writing! In fact, I’d do more practice of this and embed from the beginning. Thanks for reading!
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