Helping KS2 pupils reach full potential

As teachers, you’ll want to inspire your pupils to write creatively while developing a skill set aligned to the teacher assessment (TA) framework. At times, these two objectives might seem at odds with one another, but it’s important to focus on how ‘pupil can’ statements might enhance, rather than hinder, creative writing. So how can you make sure pupils are able to showcase their writing knowledge without allowing assessment to dictate teaching and learning?

It’s so important that pupils with the potential to meet a particular standard by the end of the key stage are given every opportunity to do so. Without sufficient opportunity to demonstrate their skill in relation to the teacher assessment framework, it’s highly likely there will be a lack of evidence for the ‘pupil can’ statements they’re capable of meeting. In our experience, this tends to apply mostly to pupils with the potential to work at greater depth, but it can affect other pupils too.

Task setting matters

Some tasks can differentiate by outcome, where pupils are set the same task and the outcomes differ from pupil to pupil, depending on aptitude and capability. It’s also possible to differentiate by task – that is, by setting different tasks for different pupils according to their needs and abilities.

Of course, you’ll also differentiate through your teaching – setting tasks and providing targeted support to pupils to help achieve their best possible outcomes. Guided group work (or guided learning) can be particularly good for this, enabling you to focus on the developmental needs of a specific group of learners.

When setting writing tasks, a middle ground is sometimes favoured – providing choice, but steering pupils towards a particular activity that enables them to follow their own interests and needs.

What’s critical is that a task enables pupils to showcase their learning and evidence the framework statements you know they have met. This doesn’t mean stifling creativity. Far from it – tasks should inspire and excite pupils, spark their imagination, encourage them to research, and help them to develop an individual writer’s voice. Providing a strong sense of purpose and audience will help pupils to select the appropriate register and write with a clear awareness of the reader. Such tasks often stem from reading quality texts, where pupils can immerse themselves in character, plot and setting – as well as the rich language of storytelling or the structure and presentational features of non-fiction.

Levels of formality

To achieve the highest standard – working at greater depth – pupils need to ‘exercise an assured and conscious control over levels of formality, particularly through manipulating grammar and vocabulary to achieve this’ [1].

Of course, pupils need to be taught how to select vocabulary and use grammar appropriately for different levels of formality. This might involve, for example, the use of passives to create an impersonal stance in a formal report; the use of expanded noun phrases to convey detailed information economically in a newspaper article; or the use of language reminiscent of speech to establish a relaxed, conversational tone in a persuasive leaflet.

However, in order to deploy their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary in this way, it goes without saying, that pupils need to be given the opportunity to demonstrate their ability by writing for more formal contexts as well as those that are less formal.

Keeping track

We know how important it is for young writers to be given choice in their writing, but this can sometimes lead to an imbalance of – say – too many narratives or recounts at the expense of other types of text.

It’s why each book in Bite into Writing – NFER’s new resource for year 6 teachers - includes a helpful writing showcase record, with a separate column to note the level of formality on a simple continuum. This is a useful way to keep track of the range of writing pupils produce – and to take timely action to redress the balance if you notice they need further opportunities to write for more (or less) formal purposes.

Securing the evidence

Providing high quality teaching and learning opportunities for pupils is not incompatible with having a good range of evidence that demonstrates what they can do by the end of the key stage.

In Bite into Writing, we show how a wide range of creative writing tasks can elicit evidence for the framework statements at different standards. For example, Book 2, which is based on the illustrated non-fiction text ‘Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’ by Alexandra Stewart and Joe Todd-Stanton, shows how correspondence can be a helpful vehicle for using different levels of formality in writing.

Pupils from schools which helped us develop the materials clearly relished the opportunity to take on different personas, resulting in some highly authentic and creative writing. You can find some of their letters in Book 2, written in role for different purposes and audiences and requiring very different levels of formality. There’s an informal letter from the young Hillary written to his family, capturing his excitement on seeing Everest for the first time; there’s a respectfully polite, relatively formal letter inviting Tenzing to join an expedition; and there’s a highly formal letter to the George Medal Committee, nominating Hillary and Tenzing for the award of the Medal.

It’s relatively straightforward to elicit a range of writing in this way from a single quality text, with no compromise on choice or creativity. We’d certainly recommend that it’s worth thinking about year 6 curriculum mapping with this in mind.

Written by Jo Shackleton and Margaret Fennell – highly experienced writing moderators and authors of NFER's Bite into Writing

[1] Teacher assessment frameworks at the end of key stage 2 for 2018/19 onwards: English writing – Working at greater depth