It's not the most tasteful joke, but it does draw attention to the absurdity - or worse - of focusing on a minor aspect at an inappropriate time.
Some inspectors pride themselves on being able to make judgements quickly. Unsurprisingly, such judgements are often inadequate. This can be because the evidence which informs them is partial - an exclusive focus on pupils' secretarial skills, and the teachers' neglect of these in favour of attention to meaning and writing confidence. It would be a tragic irony if inspectors' unfamiliarity with the use of writing journals, and the evidence of their effectiveness, led to condemnation of the very methods by which young writers' confidence might be increased, and by which meaningful improvement in standards might be achieved.
‘… Rizo sced the ducks a wa. we lrft with joy.’
(These two sentences were written by a y2 boy at the end of his ‘weekly news’.)
This writing is economical; it’s not always ‘good’ to list everything in detail. It can be more engaging to give readers some ‘space’ to make inferences for themselves. He doesn’t need to tell us that Rizo is a dog. Indeed it’s a more intimate relationship in which you don’t need to spell everything out – and he’s writing this for trusted readers – his teacher and class. Equally, the shift in subject – straight from description of the dog to a description of the family’s feelings - allows readers to deduce that there is a causal connection between what Rizo does and how ‘we’ feel. Another (lesser?) writer might have become entangled with ‘because’ or felt the need to explain why ‘I’ has changed to ‘we’ – and spell out precisely who ‘we’ are. The immediacy of this writing suggests to this reader that Rizo’s behaviour is so joyously instinctive – and, for the ducks’ sake, one hopes, life-affirming rather than life-threatening – that it seems to bond the family in a shared joy which requires no explanation. ‘Joy’ is certainly a good word to end with: its resonance stays with us beyond the end of the sentence. And this form is fit for purpose and audience - the author sharing recent personal experience with his teacher and his class.
Therefore, to leap to attach a ‘level’ to this kind of writing might be impertinent – and also misleading. Unintended mistakes may be easier to see than meaningful achievements – and looking for what is easily measured can reduce writing to its lowest common denominators.
We can all see the following: one sentence does not begin with a capital letter. ‘Scared’ and ‘laughed’ are misspelt. ‘Away’ is misrepresented as two words. But what was the writer trying to do? Shouldn’t we care?
Furthermore, in developing a writer’s confidence, it can be better first of all to share what moved you, letting the writer know where he/she produced an effect, gave you a picture in your head – rather than immediately say, “Right, now that would be even better if …” – words likely to induce weariness and dread. The child who is encouraged to see him/herself as a writer will be more motivated to return to writing with commitment – and therefore get ‘better’ at it. We should concern ourselves first with encouraging this writer, not judging him.
The trouble is that some people are very quick to leap to judgement. The speed at which some inspections take place means that, sometimes, inspectors don't always take time to triangulate sources of evidence. They should discuss as well as observe: what did the writing mean to the writer? how does 'sketch-book' writing fit into a balanced writing curriculum? It is by experiment that young writers develop independence. Editing and proof-reading can come later.
Now, my point is this: paragraph 54 of the current inspection framework says:
'When evaluating the quality of teaching in the school, inspectors will consider the extent to which:
... teachers and other adults create a positive climate for learning in which pupils are interested and engaged'
Moreover, it's worth bearing in mind that the previous HMI for English, in his 2010 report , 'English beyond the crossroads', recommended that the following was one of several ways of raising standards of writing:
- 'More emphasis on pupils having chances to explore writing, taking risks, playing with language, experimenting without the fear of assessment, perhaps writing for themselves through diaries and journals. Allowing pupils at times to write in the knowledge that teachers will not “judge” their work.'
However, I am concerned that some inspectors may not be aware of this wording or these recommendations.
CALL FOR EVIDENCE:
I would be interested to hear from any readers of this blog, with recent experience of Ofsted inspection, any evidence about the following:
A. When evaluating the quality of writing, what proportion of the inspectors' focus was on meaning, and what proportion was on technical accuracy?
B. Were any positive or negative comments passed about
- the efficacy or otherwise of free-writing (pupils deciding),
- the effects of pupils' keeping journals or
- free-writing notebooks which are not marked?
Please add a comment.
NWP outreach director