Taken from a painting of Kapiti Island at Sunset.
by Sonia Savage.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Writing and E-Asttle Cluster Day.

Yesterday I attended our local cluster day on E-asttle writing. ( E-asttle is a  web site which can be used by New Zealand schools to assist in the assessment of Reading, Writing and Maths.  Once data is fed in, reports can be generated and next learning steps can be planned.)  For me it was a time to reflect on writing in my classroom.

That reflection of course is always ongoing - most of us are always asking how we can teach writing better, motivate our students to write and really enjoy expressing themselves by writing.  A month ago I was again at a cluster meeting when the facilitator of our cluster mentioned my class blog to some other teachers.  They explored the idea and asked - did I set up criteria for writing and then respond to the writing with feedback? The facilitator answered for me, saying she thought that rather - I responded to the message of the writer.

Meanwhile I had gone into my own little world! Firstly I was noticing that I was feeling somewhat guilty because I don't set criteria - but then I realised that in fact I found it slightly abhorrent to do so. If that pressed the buttons for some teachers great - but that's not me.  I like my students to endeavour to express themselves, to develop their thinking and reflection, to try things out or to share something important to them. Or to write for whatever purpose that they see fit - within reason! It's why I allow my students - mostly boys - to share their exploits in gaming.  While I don't particularly enjoy their posts and I admit just ignore them sometimes, I allow them because that is their interest and world.  I do believe in balance and I do expect other posts as well.  That can be an uphill battle!

During the E-asttle day I overheard a very sincere teacher sharing with some others the programme she was teaching and using in her school that she had brought back from Britain.  I am sure it works because she makes it work; however the little that I heard did not appeal to me. I know I only overheard a snippet so I really shouldn't be expounding on it - but  I am!  The part I overheard was about a checklist that could be ticked when a student included conjuctions, adverbs etc in their writing.  That felt too mechanical to me, I know it's probably a small piece of the whole, but no I am not a ticker of boxes!

Back to E-asttle.  The writing section has just been revamped, hence the roll out of some more training with it.  We had already in our school just given our students a test, marked it and have been in the process of doing some moderation between the three teachers I work with.  The first thing I noticed was how closely aligned the areas for assessment were to the six traits plus one writing model!  Hmm - for myself very happy with that.  The areas E-asttle sets aside for assessment are:
If you know about six traits you will know that missing from that list is Voice and that Punctuation and Spelling are part of the plus one part. I like to teach writing using the six traits - it makes sense for me, and my teaching of writing has improved since I started using it.  I can also say that I believe it has made a difference to the students' writing.

All in all the day was useful as we explored pieces of writing and discussed in groups various rubric scores for each section of each piece of writing.  We had quite clear guides and exemplars at various levels. It has always irked me that this scoring of writing to quite an extent is not an exact science. Yet we  have the audacity to say that we have national standards around writing - that only depend on each teacher's knowledge of writing and their opinion of what level this particular piece of writing is at.  It still irks me - however I am also grateful that we don't have more rigid testing of writing, as they do in some other countries. 

As the day wore on, it did become apparent that there was some common agreement and that while there were still differences of opinion, we weren't differing by large amounts.  It was good to know that if we got it somewhat 'wrong' we would still be reasonably close!  I also liked the message that if you were hopping between one number and the next, err on the side of the student, and give the higher mark.  Today I was talking about something else with my Principal and I commented that I wasn't very good at 'playing the game'.  However, I have to admit that now with national standards sitting there in judgement, it's definitely better to mark up! Just saying!  It probably still doesn't make me a game player, but just a little toe dipping!

I want my students to be able to express themselves well by writing. The truth is I have some excellent writers in my room and some..... still finding their feet.  The range is wide - a challenge to me. Hence I am dipping into the expertise of those wiser than me and I am off to read "10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know" by Jeff Anderson. He asks the question - 'What makes writing work?'  And so I am off again on the journey of teaching and learning to write - because the truth is I am a writer learning to write too.


  1. Hi Kathryn,

    It seems that you have a milder form of complaints about the new standards/national assessments than many in the US. I like that you collaborated with your colleagues. It might have been challenging, but it sounds rather nice too. I like that you are giving some freedom of choice in your blogs. That's great. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Linda
      It certainly does help to sit down and talk with other teachers outside your own school.

      Yes as I think more, I do like it that my students choose what to write about, choice is an important value for me, and writing helps me to clarify that and chases the guilt away. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. It is great to read about the passion you put into teaching our children to write.

    I've been flabbergasted by the advances my daughter has made in her writing this year, so you're obviously teaching her well.

    Thanks for opening up this blog so we can see what goes on 'behind the scenes' in our children's class.


  3. Roly
    As I say some of my sttudents write extremely well, easily the most talented bunch I have ever had the pleasure to teach. M has a great imagination and a way with words that is for sure.

    Thank you for commenting, it's nice to have a parent drop my!


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