Using Marking Ladders to Support Children s Self-Assessment in Writing Victoria Symons and Deborah Currans Wooler First School, Northumberland

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1 Using Marking Ladders to Support Children s Self-Assessment in Writing Victoria Symons and Deborah Currans Wooler First School, Northumberland Project aims This project investigates how effective marking ladders are in supporting children s selfassessment of their own writing. Dimensions of the study We will be working with 25 Year 4 children who in September 2007 were assessed at levels 2c up to 4b. The research will take place in the classroom and the project will focus on children s writing. Summary of findings We found that marking ladders were a useful tool to support children s self assessment of their own writing and help them to focus on the process of writing. However it is important that marking ladders remain adaptable and can be differentiated for different abilities, especially for the more able. Overall they are effective but have to be adapted to suit the pupils and the context. PROJECT FOCUS Tools for Learning 5 R FOCUS RESPONSIBILITY READINESS RESOURSEFULNESS RESILIENCE REFLECTIVENESS

2 CONTEXT School Wooler First School is situated in the small market town of Wooler, at the foot of the Cheviot Hills. The town of Wooler is a very close community and is relatively isolated. Wooler First School is bigger than most other first schools in the area and pupil mobility is low. In 2007/08 there were 97 children in school, but there is a slightly falling roll due to the impact of rural depopulation. Uptake of Free School Meals (FSM) is low, with use of seasonal employment taking some families just above FSM entitlement. The school s ethnic mix is mainly white British. Currently 20% of children are on the Special Educational Needs (SEN) register. Stage 1 for 21 years, of which the last eight have been spent as a Headteacher; both teachers have been at this school for three years. Historically, the close relationship with the local community has meant that the school has not engaged as much with other schools, the local authority or national projects, so our motivation for getting involved in Learning to Learn was a desire to connect with the bigger picture. Throughout this project our Year 4 class trialled the implementation of marking ladders as a method to support self assessment of their writing. Personnel involved in the project The School aimed to improve standards in writing by using formative assessment strategies, this was part of our school development plan for 2007/08. All staff are eager to discover ways of raising standards, pupil motivation and self esteem, and are enthusiastic to trial new ideas and participate in class based research. There are two project leaders, Miss Victoria Symons a Key Stage 2 teacher for three years and Mrs Deborah Currans, a teacher of Key An example of a marking ladder designed by a child THE PROJECT: Developing this rationale: At Wooler First School we feel it is important to involve children in their own learning and we aim to develop and place more emphasis

3 We were involved in the Primary Leadership Programme 2006/07 where we were introduced to marking ladders for writing, currently available on the Lancashire Grid for Learning. These are based on the Nelson Thornes Classworks series. Year 4 Stories About Imagined Worlds Pupil Objective Teacher My story is set in an imaginary place or time It describes what can be seen, heard, smelt and/or touched There are make-believe characters such as elves, dragons, wizards and so on I used special effects such as magic The setting tells us something about the characters I used some made-up words I used adjectives and adjectival phrases to create atmosphere What could I do to improve my story next time? Example of a marking ladder downloaded from the LGfL website on this area. A marking ladder lists all the things which should be evident in the children s writing and helps them evaluate their own work before submitting it for marking. abive is an example downloaded from the LGfL website and this was our starting point. Initially we thought we could see the benefit of the Lancashire marking ladders as a self assessment tool and introduced them to children in Years 2, 3 and 4. However, this trial showed that the children and staff found them over long and the language confusing. The children were unable to use them without considerable adult support, raising issues about their effectiveness as a self assessment tool. Therefore our research seemed a natural progression. Research Question: How effective are marking ladders in supporting children s self assessment of their own writing? We hypothesised that marking ladders would have an impact on the children s writing. We had a strong hunch that the children would have a more independent approach to their own writing and would be able to identify the next steps for developing/improving their writing. RESEARCH PROCESS: Teachers choices: Prior to starting the project we spent some time as a staff discussing and simplifying the LGfL marking ladders, focusing on changing the language to make them more child friendly. We decided to focus more on children assessing what they had done in their writing rather than at this stage expecting them to know what to do next, it was about encouraging independence. Therefore we customised the original LGfL marking ladders to make the tool more suited to the needs of our children. Eventually this came to a point

4 where we involved the children in the design and creation of their own marking ladder. The process we went through is described in the following diary extracts. November/December 2007 We continued to use the double column we found that children were able to see clearly the progress they made. September 2007 We introduced marking ladder to the pupils (they had some experience of them at the end of Year 3) we discussed the purpose all children were given the same marking ladder as an introduction. We discovered this area to be of limited use due to lack of opportunity to improve final draft. October 2007 We added extra column to pupil and teacher tick boxes to be used at the beginning and end of unit children able to see their improvement. Pupil column 1 was used to self assess and check first ever attempt at trying this genre and teacher column 1 was used to feedback on pupils first attempt. Pupil and teacher column 2 were used at the end of the unit. Example of marking ladder including successful use of double column to show progress clearly. Two examples of marking ladders showing development

5 We moved on to differentiate marking ladder to stretch high attainers. This worked well and focused children in on their own writing. We experimented with changing the teacher column to peer children then swapped work and checked if they agreed with their marking partners self assessment. Examples of differentiated marking ladders January 2008 We reverted to one column due to the extended nature of written work, however the ladders continued to be differentiated. Two new pupils with no prior experience of marking ladders joined the class. Other children able to explain their function clearly. February 2008 We attended Ros Wilson Big Writing Course and the decision was made to try and take the VCOP approach and apply it to marking ladders, relating objectives to levels using the Big Writing assessment criteria. VCOP stands for Vocabulary, Connectives, Sentence Openers and Punctuation. The Big Writing course suggested that focusing on developing these skills would lead to an improvement in children s writing. The children were Most of class Higher ability In January we moved back to one column due to the extended nature of the children s writing, but we kept differentiating

6 encouraged to use exciting or wow words to make their writing more interesting. We worked with the Year 3 teacher added colour and star for a wish to replace what I could do to improve my work next time? kept the pupil/peer or pupil/teacher set up, however decided to move columns to be alongside each other rather than opposite (aimed to promote idea of working together rather than checking to see if correct) At this stage we decided to trial removing the teacher column to encourage self assessment. Initially the children relied on the teacher s tick to confirm their assessment of their own work however we wanted to develop more independence and promote confidence in their own judgement about their writing. Therefore we modified the marking ladder to use peer assessment or an evidence column for the children to prove to themselves that they had met the objective. In February we added colour to aid reading of the marking ladders and we also added a wish rather than more formal questions. Most of class Higher ability

7 March 2008 We decided to extend higher ability children further by adding an evidence column designed to encourage the children to reread their work carefully to identify examples of where they have met the objective. Supported by the teacher, however children quickly picked up on how to scan for evidence. May 2008 We attempted to use marking ladder for whole group work. Group evaluated own performance then evaluated peers. Challenging but really made children focus on the performance. Still differentiated but only one example shown. June 2008 Evidence column introduced onto all children s marking ladders. Lower ability supported by TA. Evidence column was added to all children s marking ladders as it was noted many children in class had already begun to underline wow words in their work and this was seen as an opportunity to try finding evidence for all areas. We still differentiated but only one example is shown below. An evidence column was added to all the marking ladders June 2008 Children were showing an interest in what was to be included on marking ladders and began making suggestions to make the more personalized. So we decided to allow children (either individually or We started asking the children to add evidence of their achievements

8 with a partner) to design their own version of a marking ladder to support writing a letter. The children were showing an interest in what was included on the marking ladders and so we started to let them design their own Children then swapped and used each other s marking ladders as a self assessment support to write a letter. They then evaluated the marking ladder they used using three stars and a wish before working together as a class to make a list of what they thought should be included on a marking ladder. Examples of the way in which children evaluated each others marking ladders

9 The list produced by the pupils included: Evidence column Pupil column Bossy verbs wish Column or space for what the child thinks they have done well VCOP sections Traffic light system (Afl method already in place in school) to see if they have understood and show how well they think they have done. Following this work marking ladders were produced using some of the modifications suggested by the children. (Still differentiated but only one example shown) Pupil and evidence columns To be coloured using traffic light system Wish Marking ladder with modifications suggested by the children

10 Evidence collected: This is summarised in the mindmaps below. Pupil View Template Oct and July we wanted to know children s opinions about marking ladders and capture any changes in their views about their learning. Interviews pupil pupil choosing a good piece of work Oct and July we wanted to know children s opinions about marking ladders and capture any changes in their views about their learning. Mind Maps summarising data from pupil views templates Mind Maps summarising data from pupil-pupil interviews

11 Interview with DC talking about marking ladders July during the course of lesson observations children were making interesting comments about marking ladders and how it impacted on their learning and we wanted every child to have the opportunity to express this in a more formal videoed interview. marking ladders see children s understanding of their function. This resulted in a class mindmap about marking ladders and a list of features they thought should be included. Mind Map of the teacher-pupil interviews Examples of children s completed marking ladders and accompanying work to show evidence of understanding about how a marking ladder is used as a tool to support self assessment. Children s own design of marking ladder and peer assessment using 3 stars and a wish - attempt to give children more ownership of their learning through Mind Map of the children s thoughts about Marking Ladders Formal Lesson Observations

12 Mind Map showing the findings from lesson observations Teacher Diary to record in detail modifications to marking ladders and reasons for them. DISCUSSION OF RESULTS: Findings We analysed the evidence we had collected and identified the main themes as shown in the mind map opposite: Mind Map showing the main themes which have emerged through the year

13 Independence and Confidence Children showed growing independence and confidence when writing and using the marking ladder to self assess. The children discussed and explained the use of marking ladders with enthusiasm to many different audiences, including parents, governors and our School Improvement Partner. Graph showing attitudes of the class towards the Marking Ladders Boys: Do you like marking ladders? No. of boys 4 Year yes sometimes no Boys Graph showing whether boys liked the Marking Ladders Example of a pupil views template Confidence in their own understanding of the function of a marking ladder was evident in the majority of summer interviews with children saying Well I think marking ladders are quite useful um for doing your literacy work..because you can check what you ve done and not done. You can make a wish at the bottom to improve something else in your writing. (R, Y4, )

14 if you re stuck on your work you can look at a marking ladder and um see if you ve done that thing so it sort of helps you. (A, Y4, ) As this confidence in using the assessment for learning tool increased, the need for children to seek reassurance from an adult reduced. This was observed both by the class teacher and through formal lesson observations. Some children began to view interruptions from the teacher as interruptions to the flow of their writing. Another example of children showing confidence and less need for reassurance can be seen in their own marking ladder designs, where very few children chose to have a teacher column. However some less confident individuals did not reach this stage of independence and felt they still needed reassurance from an adult. We also found that a lot less time was spent reminding the children what to include in their writing. Lesson observations showed that children were referring back to marking ladders again making a difference to their writing, through fewer interruptions to their flow. Well I like using marking ladders because it tells you what you have to use and if Miss S just said it out loud then you might forget and it helps you to remember things (R,Y4, ) One child commented on the support provided by peer marking. She felt that the peer peer marking ladder gave her more courage and confidence to do her writing. We found that the children began finding evidence for themselves, for example by underlining the WOW words. They no longer just hoped the teacher would agree. When using marking ladders it was a lot less common for children to ask questions particularly is this right? however the quality of their writing improved. Children began to realise that it is their opinion that counts If you tick your work you can agree with the teacher..so it s your opinion what you think if you ve done well or not. (R, Y4, ) Template showing how the Marking Ladder was supporting thinking This was an additional benefit and one we did not expect

15 Process By the summer term the children were focusing much more on the process rather than the content of writing. The marking ladders gave the children access to how the teacher is thinking, because they had been involved in the process of designing the marking ladders. This made the process more meaningful for the children and encouraged them to talk more about their learning and what makes it good. For example, in the October peer-peer interviews they talked mainly about neat writing. These children had the following conversation. I like reading this writing because it was nice and interesting and there was no rubbing out and I enjoyed it. (E,Y4, Oct 07) Why? (S, Y4, Oct 07) Because I just liked it. (E,Y4, Oct 07) My favourite piece of writing is my haiku poem because it says like everything and there s no rubbing out. (S, Y4, Oct 07) Why? (E,Y4, Oct 07) Because it says like everything and my handwriting is perfect. (S, Y4, Oct 07) However children in the July interviews this had become less important to them. They had realised a piece of writing could be good without it looking neat. it s got lots of punctuation in and um capital letters and WOW words but even though I ve crossed quite a lot of it out I still really think it s my best piece of work. (H, Y4, July 08) This is my favourite bit of work even though I ve got mistakes. This is my favourite one because I used l lots of WOW words and it was kind of my style. I used two really, really good WOW words. It was really good because I liked the story and the comic was probably my best piece of work (shows work and marking ladder). (R, Y4, July 08) Children developed a greater awareness of audience realising that if their writing is just for them and the teacher, content is more important than presentation. This is demonstrated by the following child who was speaking about her best piece of work. Probably (looks through book), probably my comic (shows work) because it s got lots of exciting things in it and it was a good one and I ve got 1,2,3 paragraphs in it and it s exciting for the reader. The beginning bit will just make the reader want to read it. (She reads beginning out loud) and then the reader would really want to read it. (R, Y4, July 08) There was also a noticeable change in the interviewer s questions from what is your best piece of writing? and what is it about? in the October interviews, to:

16 So how do you use a marking ladder then? (O, Y4, July o8) Is it in your style? Is it your type of story? (R, Y4, July 08) Children also became more critical of their own work and that of others using the method of two stars and a wish to effectively feed back on writing and marking ladder designs. This is an example of two children s feedback to a partner on her marking ladder design. Feedback from peers on marking ladder design for writing a letter By the summer term it also became evident that children were becoming more competent at transferring skimming and scanning skills they had been taught in Year 3 for reading comprehension. This was demonstrated when they were using the evidence column of the marking ladder and referred to during the summer interviews. I thought of it then I looked all the way through it and I scanned everything and I put in here (points to wish section) think of more WOW words. (A, Y4, ) We look through the book and then we see if we ve done them or not (points to the objectives), then we skim and scan through, then we look in here (looking at marking ladders), then we look through again (points to evidence column) and fill it in. (K, Y4, ) Because when you re writing you can always skim and scan through them and then you can tick them when you ve done all the things in your writing. (V, Y4, ) More able children As the project progressed it became evident that marking ladders were not a tool every child finds useful. Some of the confident and more able children in the class started to think about the draw backs of having a structure and began to realise they could do it without a marking ladder. DC: Do you find marking ladders helpful? J: Sometimes, but sometimes they can be a bit annoying because they put you off what you re gonna think of. (J, Y4, July 08) DC: Do you find them helpful? Sometimes, it depends what kind of story you re going to do because if you re doing it like it s by Roald Dahl sometimes you might need a marking ladder to help but if you re making it up like in this one How the zebra got its stripes (points to piece of work) it s just your making it up what you think about that and then the marking ladder won t tell you what you ve got to put in. (J, Y4, July 08)

17 In October at the beginning of the project this group of children had needed the support provided by marking ladders; however by July they were beginning to internalise the skills of self assessment that the marking ladder supports and they were therefore less reliant on the structure. Examples of completed pupil views templates

18 On the other hand more able children who were less confident felt they still needed the support of a marking ladder to confirm their self assessment. They seemed to need this reassurance. It makes you think.it helps the teacher know if you ve actually done it. It helps you think cos it tells you what you have done and what you haven t done and then if you haven t done it you have to do it. (RD, Y4 girl, July 08) This was also shown in the pupil view templates shown below. The response of the more able children led us to wonder if the children had been introduced earlier to marking ladders, for example in Year 2, whether they still would have required this support in Year 4. Pupil Views Templates providing examples of comments showing how even able students needed reassurance

19 Less able The less able children in the class liked the structure and support provided by marking ladders and used them effectively to improve their writing. They re easy to use. It kinda helps you like think, learn where to put things and stuff. (J, Y4 boy, ) Extensions and changes to method: Next year we intend to introduce marking ladders in year two and continue their use with years 3 and 4. The aim would be to discuss with children the knowledge and skills of a writer and how they become more expert writers. We want to develop the use of the wish on the marking ladder so children become more aware of where their writing should go next. They were starting to take responsibility for choosing whether or not to make it a good piece of writing. This was evident in both the July peer and teacher/child interviews. We felt that Readiness was also a feature of the project. We found that use of a marking ladders reduces the amount of time spent reminding the children what to do when they are writing. Lesson observations showed that children refer themselves back to marking ladders. This makes a difference to their writing by reducing interruption to their flow. We believe the next step with this class would be to extend the use of marking ladders. For example, could the children design a similar tool, such as a checklist, to support them in another subject? We would also develop the use of the wish section at the end of the marking ladder as we found that it was only the more able children who were really thinking about how they could improve their writing next time. CONCLUSIONS: The Role of Learning to Learn Our focus areas were Responsibility and Reflectiveness. During the project the children began to take increasing responsibility for assessing their writing and reflecting on their learning. There was a growing emphasis on the process rather than the content of writing. They gradually realised that they were responsible for finding the evidence to fill in the evidence column and took responsibility for designing a marking ladder for someone else to use. By the summer term we felt they were not just writing for the sake of it. Summary: We found that marking ladders were a useful tool to support children s self assessment of their own writing and help them to focus on the process of writing. However it is important that marking ladders remain adaptable and can be differentiated for different abilities, especially for the more able. Overall they are effective but have to be adapted to suit the pupils and the context.

20 REFERENCES Lancashire Grid for Learning: (http://www.lancsngfl.ac.uk/nationalstrategy/literacy). Gilbert, L. (2003) Classworks: Literacy. Nelson Thornes Ltd. Wall, K., Higgins, S. and Packard, E. (2007) Talking About Learning: Using Templates to Find Out Pupil's Views. Devon. Southgate Publishers.

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