05 Focusing everyone on agreed writing goals

ERO’s report Raising student achievement through targeted actions (2015) concluded: “Successful schools set effective goals and also took effective actions to accelerate learning. Their targeting demonstrated two key qualities. Goals and targets set an optimum level of challenge for teachers and students, by being low enough to seem achievable but high enough to make a real difference. Goals and targets also created maximum visibility and alignment between the targets and objectives set, and the plans and initiatives of trustees, school leaders, teachers, students, parents and whänau. This ensured that daily actions were taken in classrooms and across the school community that supported successful learning outcomes.”

The number of children reaching the appropriate level in writing was improving every year at ORATIA SCHOOL. A key strategy to enable the ongoing improvements was to make sure everyone in the school understood what progress teachers and children needed to make, and how to make the desired improvements. Writing assessment data was rigorously analysed and deliberately shared with everyone.

School-wide writing assessment data was collected and analysed twice each year along with other reading and mathematics data. Teachers carefully assessed children’s writing samples and moderated their assessment judgements in their teaching syndicates. Teachers from one syndicate also had teachers from other syndicates assess some writing samples to promote greater consistency when making subjective writing judgements about children’s achievement. Working cooperatively in shared-teaching spaces allowed for greater flexibility when grouping students to match their individual writing goals, determined from analysis of writing samples. Having more than one teacher’s perspective when analysing a child’s writing also helped teachers increase their understanding of what was limiting some children’s progress and how to respond to their strengths, needs and interests.

Trustees’ response to achievement challenges

Every six months leaders provided trustees with comprehensive reports about progress and achievement in writing, reading and mathematics. Teachers fully understood the information leaders shared with trustees, as they had discussed and contributed to the reports before they were presented to the board. To gain a wider understanding of each other’s perspectives, trustees invited teachers to attend the board meeting when the report was fully discussed.

The achievement reports to the board included the following detailed information:

  • writing achievement and progress at each year level
  • analysis and explanations of achievement disparities for boys, girls and different cultural groups of children
  • the identification of successes and concerns about writing achievement and progress
  • descriptions of actions already in place to promote improvement
  • suggested recommendations for actions to respond to achievement and progress challenges.

Recent actions the board had put in place to respond to the writing issues included:

  • professional learning and development (PLD) for teachers to improve younger children’s phonemic awareness, so they were more confident to attempt to spell a wider range of words
  • school-wide PLD with an external literacy expert to increase teachers’ and children’s understanding of the skills needed for success in writing
  • PLD for teachers new to the school to understand the writing approaches teachers used across the school
  • monitoring and support for teachers to make sure agreed strategies were implemented in all classes.

Working with parents

One teacher had trialled an approach that increased the involvement of parents of a group of boys whose progress in writing she wanted to accelerate. The teacher hosted an information evening for the parents and whānau of the group to explain what she intended to do, and what this would mean for her, the adults and the boys concerned.

Before the parent evening, she shared part of her presentation with the boys to help them commit to being involved and understand her intentions. During the meeting, the teacher shared the strategies she was using and showed parents how they could reinforce them at home. Parents were also asked to encourage the boys to write about things they were interested in or doing at home. Examples of some of the information shared with parents are shown below.


How can you help?

  • Positive feedback – respond to writing by ignoring the stuff you want to fix – sit on your hands
  • Talk about their goal

 Planning generating ideas

  • Email home every Friday about the genre I am teaching, i.e. recounts – talk about what they could write about that week, bring in photos, objects, home videos etc
  • Talk, talk, talk, talk

What I am doing in class to support…

Skills/knowledge

  • Phonics programme
  • Handwriting focus group
  • Workshops and mini lessons

An awareness of thinking and strategies

  • Conferencing
  • Setting goals – checklist
  • Thinking out loud – my own
  • Saying their thinking out loud
  • Read Write app – reflecting/revising

The teacher had ongoing meetings with parents to discuss their child’s interests and learning at school and at home, and to set new goals. Feedback from whänau and families confirmed they felt empowered and knew how to support their child at home with their writing.

Leaders and teachers across the school extended the focus on working with parents of target children after seeing how well the children in the trial were accelerating their progress.

Children’s understanding of goals and targets

Children received information about their personal learning goals and school-wide goals. Teachers prioritised time in every class to conference with children to help them set personal writing goals, plan their actions and celebrate when they had achieved them. Children regularly participated in writing workshops matched to their learning needs and goals. In some classes children had opportunities to run student-led writing workshops. These children supported their peers and built their confidence and self-efficacy.

Leaders shared school-wide achievement targets with children during assemblies that parents could also attend. Leaders discussed teachers’ actions to help reach the writing goal and what children could do. The following page shows the six- monthly information and achievement challenge shared with children during an assembly in the middle of 2016.

Progress from 2015 to 2016: percentage of children reaching the expected writing level.


2015 2016
Y1  70% Y2  80%
Y2  56% Y3  62%
Y3  74% Y4  76%
Y4  61% Y5  62%
Y5  59% Y6  72%

Our challenge in Term 3 and 4 is to move from 70 percent to 80 percent reaching the expected level. How do we achieve this together?

  • Take responsibility for your learning
  • Know your personal learning goals
  • Know what you have to do to achieve your goals
  • Work in a focused way to achieve your goals and then extend yourself by setting more difficult goals to achieve
  • Ask your teachers when you need help to achieve your goals

ERO evaluators talked with students in Years 5 and 6 about how they made improvements or used their goals in their writing.

Our goals are shared with our parents and we can work on them at home and at school. We got our goals from doing a writing test that showed what we could do and what we couldn’t do. Once we have a goal we work with our teacher and sometimes our parents to decide how to achieve the goal. We also set a date to say when we will try to achieve the goal by. If you achieve the goal you make another one.

A boy showed the ERO evaluator his goal sheet recorded in his Chromebook.

I write comments about my goal and my parents and teacher write comments too. My parents tell the teacher what I am doing at home to work on the goal and the teacher says what I am doing at school.

My teacher helps me most at the start of a writing workshop, She talks about what the focus of the lesson is. If we get stuck she doesn’t give us the answers. She talks about the strategies we could use.

Students

Setting effective goals and actions together created a commitment for improvement that people across the school bought into and felt they owned personally.