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APP and "quality" writing

Discussion in 'Primary' started by dapto9, Feb 22, 2011.

  1. APP as means of assessing the quality of children?s writing is without value.

    The Assessment of Pupil Progress treats writing as a soulless set of rules: as steps in a procedure.
    ?To achieve a level 4b, add a consistent spread of full-stops and at least three other kinds of punctuation. Mix in 4 types of interesting adjectives and adverbs. Insert some (correctly punctuated) dialogue (and for GOD?S sake do not forget the comma.) Arrange neatly into an orderly pattern of paragraphs.?
    This is not teaching good writing. It is teaching children to go through the motions. It rewards ?intelligent? children who can do what they?re told and remember to do it each time. We encourage children to follow these rules, not because it will make their writing ?better? but because APP says they have to.

    Writing is (at least it should be) an art form. We teach children the value of adjectives not in the context of improving their writing, but in the context of ticking a box in their Success Criteria. Success Criteria? What an awful phrase. For what is the opposite of success? We are telling children that if they do not include these specific features or devices then they have failed and as such their writing is not good enough. What utter nonsense. Good writing is a natural, creative process. Why should our children be forced to use an adverb? Who is to say a piece of writing with an adverb in it is ?better? than a piece of writing without one?

    We place such an enormous value on trivialities like full stops and spelling that we lose sight of what it is that makes writing great. We send home Oxford Reading Tree books thrice weekly, but for the life of me I cannot imagine why. Such banality is more likely to detract from a child?s understanding of literacy and good writing than it is to help. They are (without exception) fine examples of punctuation and in using ?interesting? words, but surely a more uninteresting and bland collection of books is not in existence. One truly great children?s book (such as the work of Neil Gaiman) is far more valuable to the development of child?s appreciation of writing than any number of those horrible books. It seems an unfair punishment to force our children to read these soul destroying books with such regularity.

    We preach the value of ?quality texts? in the teaching of literacy, but then put no value on ?quality? writing. Quality writing should not be evaluated on the basis of a success criteria prescribed by a assessment grid seemingly laid out more in accordance with scientific evaluation than by any literary quality. We reward simply the ?smart? children. Not the ones with potential to be great writers.

    I remember a girl I taught in year 3. She could barely read. She could barely spell save for the simplest of sounding out techniques and had only vaguest notion of punctuation. But she was a good writer. Not because she knew any of the rules (she didn?t) but because she understood language. Once I had gone through her writing carefully and figured out exactly what she meant? it was a better piece of writing than most of the other children in the class could manage. But what did APP say? Did it value what she could do? Did it value her author?s voice or the vivid imagery she managed to convey? No. She was a 1b. She couldn?t write. She wasn?t a ?good? writer.

    Furthermore, APP seems hopelessly inadequate in assessing the progress of the writing of EAL children. The way in which the writing of an EAL child develops is completely different to the way in which a child of English speaking background develops. Nowhere is this clearer than in the annotated examples supplied by the National Strategies. The example I looked at for a 3b was of a year 2 girl who had written some incredibly simple stories and recounts. It bore no resemblance whatsoever to the children in my class who are pushing towards 3b. Her writing was completely uninteresting (although obviously impressive enough for a year 2 child) and yet it was accurate. It was accurate writing. It was not good writing. There are EAL children in my class who I consider to be far, far better writers than this girl. They write interesting characters with humour and an understanding of the way stories work that is far beyond the capabilities of a year 2 child. But again, this isn?t valued. They didn?t have their full stops totally accurate.

    A number of times I have sought the opinion of another member of staff regarding the level of a certain child. I show them a piece of writing which I have read carefully and I know that it is good writing. They don?t see it that way. They quickly scan through and say, ?Probably 2b? her full stops aren?t consistent.? So what? We are teaching children who will produce most of their work on computers before too long. Where those wonderful squiggly lines will tell them where they?ve used the wrong inflexion or if their sentence is too long (or indeed if it is a ?fragment? (God forbid) as I?ve just been informed this sentence is.) Microsoft Word can correct all their spellings and sort out their apostrophes. We are teaching them largely redundant skills. Word can make their writing ?accurate? it cannot make their writing good.

    From using APP over the last three years I am yet to see any real value added by this procedure. Are our children better writers? Not really. We have taught them how to follow a checklist, but what happens when this checklist is taken away and they are asked to write in a different situation. When asked to sit their SATs, do our children produce good writing? Not particularly. They do not know how to produce good writing. They have not been taught how to produce good writing. They?ve been taught that writing is a process of following rules that they usually forget as soon as they begin to write.

    We need to change our approach to the teaching of writing. To do away with the constrictions of APP. To value children?s writing on the qualities they have shown rather than the things they have missed. We need to go back to our quality texts and teach our children WHY they are quality texts. What makes them truly ?good? is not their mastery of punctuation or their vast vocabulary. What makes them good is their understanding of language and narrative - their love of what they are writing.

    We need to teach children to love writing. We need to get them excited by writing; to find joy in the process. There is no joy in the process of following a checklist.

    But before we can do that, we must learn to love writing ourselves. Michael Morpurgo said in a recent address (and it is a sentiment I have heard many times before) that the children who love to read have parents and teachers who love to read and that share that love with their children. It is these children who love to read that become our great writers. Kurt Vonnegut (one of the greatest writers of the 20th century) said that the biggest problem is that ?people don?t read for pleasure any more.? As educators we know this to be true. Many of the parents of our children do not love to read. It is therefore up to us to instil this love in them. The same, then surely follows for writing. How can we expect our children to become good writers if they do not enjoy writing and how can we expect them become enjoy writing if we do not instil that sense of joy in them? If we can teach our children to love writing? then the rest will follow. They will use adverbs and interesting adjectives, not because they are on their checklist, but because they WANT to. They will make their writing interesting, not because we tell them they have to, but because they want their writing to be interesting.

    APP grids are not the way to achieve this. A love of writing is the way to achieve this. And if we are struggling to love writing, we must learn to fake it until we make it.

    Grant Williams
    dapto9@yahoo.com
     
  2. wow, you really needed to get that off your chest.... I love your post, and coudn't agree more!
     
  3. yes yes yes!!! One day we'll all look back on this era of education as just as damaging as the free for all that happened in the 60's.
     
  4. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Established commenter


    I agree! Well said. There are few things sadder than a piece of 'good' primary school writing with an overabundance of adjectives, adverbs and more interesting words than 'said'. It's exhausting to read so I can't imagine what it must be like to write. I tell my year six son to forget all that garbage and have a look at what real writers do.

    Where did all this come from? Not from writers, that's for sure.
     
  5. Milgod

    Milgod Established commenter

    I agree that APP is a waste of time but I don't see why you can't teach children to be good writers anyway (or at least help them along their way).

    Punctuation is important to writing. Let's not act like it isn't needed. The same applies to adverbs, adjectives etc. The problem lies when teachers just 'teach to the test' by only focussing on having a certain number of commas, adverbs, connectives.

    It's like when people (on these forums) discuss the use of the word said. It isn't long before somebody comes along mentioning that this author and that author uses the word said all the time . . . so why should we force children to use other words. Any teacher worth a damn won't force children to use other words all the time. What many teachers do is to show their class that there are other words that they could use, that's all.
     
  6. Ha.... yeah it DID have paragraphs when i wrote it (and very well structured they were too...) but when I copied and pasted it they seemed to disappear...

    Obviously there needs to be some explicit teaching in terms of full stops etc. I just feel that children end up focusing so much on the "bits" that they don't really think about what they are writing. They just try to cram as many adjectives/adverbs/clauses/whatever into a sentence as they can rather than thinking about the story they are trying to tell... and I think the way APP is set out it is pushing us to encourage this kind of writing.

    Another thing that gets me is the way they will describe characters. They know they have to describe the characters. I see so many year six children start their stories with "There was a girl called Wanda. She had long brown hair and green eyes. She wore a blue striped dress with a bright red coat."... or words to that effect. And they are seemingly encouraged to do this by their teachers... and they get a big tick for describing their character.
     
  7. tange

    tange New commenter

    Here here!!!
    To top it all off, we have wasted last year/are wasting this year several of our INSET days on APP!!!
    APP reading INSET
    APP writing INSET
    APP maths INSET
    Will it be here in a few months time????
    Probably not... hence, more valuable time wasted!!!
    Don't you just love it when a new initiative comes out.
     

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