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A Better Way To Find Evidence Of Key Grammatical Objectives

Squeezing the passive voice into stories where it doesn’t belong is not the best way to evidence that children have met key grammatical objectives. There’s a much easier approach...

  • A Better Way To Find Evidence Of Key Grammatical Objectives

Not so long ago I worked with some experienced and skilled Y6 teachers who were having a few problems. They needed to find evidence of key grammatical objectives for the ITAF (Interim Assessment Framework) but were struggling to find it within the written tasks they had given their pupils.

Quite unsurprisingly, one of the objectives they found challenging was ‘using passive and modal verbs mostly appropriately’ (KS2 ITAF p.4). Experienced educators know teaching the passive voice for the spelling, grammar and punctuation test is fairly straightforward. Knowing when and where pupils will use it with purpose and for the appropriate audience is, however, quite another thing, and this was the problem for the Y6 teachers with whom I was working. They were providing children with sets of success criteria that included the passive voice and then looking for them to include it in their work. Cue problem one: the success criteria were so prescriptive that they were influencing the independence of the work. Problem two: the children were squeezing the passive voice into texts where it just didn’t fit. Problem three: the teachers were manufacturing ever more writing opportunities, which created more work and stress for them and the children.

Where we go wrong

Helping my teacher colleagues solve this problem required some lateral thinking. I’ll explain. Most teachers want children to write for purpose and audience and for their writing to be embedded in the curriculum being taught. We don’t have to do this. We could quite easily teach grammar on one day, spelling on another and follow this with extended writing. But most of us prefer writing to have some context and be based on what’s going on in the curriculum. This means we tend to have themes such as The Polar Regions, Life in the Stone Age, Dragons and so on.

Within these themes, teachers also use their collective expertise on genre. What we see then is diaries and letters about polar exploration, non-chronological reports about life in the Stone Age and explanation texts about how to look after a dragon. The problem facing so many practitioners is that, having done all this wonderful writing, they can’t always reference the specific grammatical objectives for their year group. All too often they end-up doing exactly what my Y6 colleagues did; they create a new writing opportunity so that they can find evidence that pupils can use specific skills.

Match grammar to subjects

We all know the best evidence comes from children applying skills in their cross-curricular writing, but our anxiety to shore-up grammar gaps means we’re frequently assessing through additional tasks undertaken in English lesson time. We don’t need to do this.

The way I supported my Y6 colleagues was to help them think differently about writing – to look at the objectives they need to teach and which types of writing lend themselves to these objectives. That’s not to say that children shouldn’t write to inform, to instruct, to explain and recount previous events. They should. But they should do so as part of their mastery of different grammatical structures.

To stay with the example of passive voice used earlier, I asked my Y6 colleagues to think about what types of writing use the passive voice. They’re a sharp bunch and knew that scientific write-ups (salt was added to the water…) recounting events (evacuees were transported by trains…) and formal persuasive texts (it was proven…it cannot be tolerated) are all examples of how the passive voice can be used authentically.

A smarter way of working Identifying these authentic uses of the passive voice meant they could go away, look at examples of children’s writing across the curriculum and see just how well the children were using the passive voice. What it also did was sharpen their teaching focus.

If they still needed evidence of passive voice and they knew they had a science write-up to complete in the next week, they could ensure that passive voice was revised during their English provision and modelled in science so that ‘salt was added to the water…’ rather than, ‘me and Sarah added some salt to the water…’

By knowing when we use different grammatical structures in authentic writing we can be more selective about the text types we choose to use at any given point with our children. We need to adjust our understanding of genre so that we have a full understanding of the grammatical components of writing for different purposes. Some objectives and genres are easier than others (such as teaching instructions for command sentences). But with a little bit thinking about the grammatical requirements of different written forms, we should be able to select activities purposefully, saving us time and ensuring that cross-curricular writing is used to showcase children’s authentic application of grammar.

How to embed grammar across the curriculum

Here’s how you can use cross-curricular writing to demonstrate children’s understanding of grammar. You can also download a free booklet I put together called ‘Embedding Grammar by Writing for Different Purposes and Audiences’ here: primaryenglished.co.uk/resources.

Year 2

If you’re struggling to teach the progressive form in context, watch a video of part of a sports game before trying to use the progressive form to say and then write sports reports. E.g. The player is / was running down the line…The goalkeeper was / is diving to catch the ball…

Year 4

Consider writing reports in geography and science that use prepositions after the noun as a way of helping children to expand noun phrases in varied and interesting ways. E.g. The polar bears with thick white fur…The isolated forests of northern Europe…

Year 6

If you’re looking for an authentic context for teaching hyphens, why not write kennings? These could take the form of riddle poems. E.g. Shirt-ironer, graze-cleaner, lunch-packer: that’s my mum…

Rachel Clarke is director of the training company Primary English (primaryenglished.co.uk)

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