06 Understanding writing progressions across the school

ERO’s report Reading and writing in Years 1 and 2 (2009) highlighted the need for teachers and leaders to be clear about their important roles in setting achievement expectations, and monitoring how their teaching practices and processes help children to be successful young readers and writers.

Leaders and teachers at FAIRFIELD PRIMARY SCHOOL were focused  on making sure teachers understood and implemented successful writing practices. Before starting their writing development almost three years earlier, variability in the quality of teaching in writing was evident, and may have resulted in some children missing or repeating key learnings about writing. Leaders wanted teachers to fully understand and respond to the different stages children move through as they become confident writers. Leaders had also recognised progress often plateaued around Years 4 and 5 if children weren’t confident enough with basic writing skills and structures. This prevented them from succeeding with more complex writing in the senior school.

Professional development

Leaders decided to focus on whole-school development of writing to improve the quality and consistency of writing programmes. Initally the professional learning and development (PLD) wasn’t successful. The whole-school provision meant the approaches were too complex for some teachers, yet not challenging enough for others. Leaders then sought, and partially funded, a new PLD provider to facilitate improvements by focusing on both school-wide and individual teachers’ strengths and needs.

The approach concentrated on developing senior leaders first. This approach was favoured as it was more likely to sustain progress once the external facilitator had left the school. The senior leaders worked with the facilitator to:

  • update their understanding of the teaching of writing
  • learn more about mentoring other teachers
  • introduce ways to monitor how well teachers were introducing new strategies.

Writing developments were then extended by leaders modelling and observing the teaching of writing in every classroom. Eventually, the in-class observations were replaced with teachers videoing some of their writing lessons before undertaking formal self reflection:

  • identifying their successes, challenges and progress by viewing the video
  • engaging in a post-video relfection conference with a senior leader
  • setting next step goals for themselves.

Writing progressions

A key activity to help teachers understand the writing stages children move through involved leaders and teachers working together to develop writing progressions across the curriculum levels, so teachers understood what each child had been taught previously and how they could extend more able writers. Leaders also wanted the progressions written in plain language so students and parents could use them. The progressions were written as 'I can' statements for children, explained both what the child was able to do, and the sources of evidence of achievement. They outlined what a child should be able to do after each year at school in relation to audience, purpose and voice; structure; and proof-reading and editing. Teachers used the progressions to set specific success criteria for children’s self assessment. They also regularly referred to the success criteria during writing conferences with children.

Below is an example of the Audience, Purpose and Voice part of their writing progression for After One Year at School

I can…..

  • think about and share feelings and ideas that mean something to me
  • communicate a message in my writing
  • retell an event or story in the correct sequence
  • independently record my ideas and opinions
  • try to write the words I say in my story

The child is able to…

  • explain what they are writing and why they are writing it
  • use personal voice – write as they speak conveying how they are feeling and their opinion
  • write with a clear sequence of events
  • write several sentences or record several ideas on paper
  • begin to articulate their learning intentions, show an awareness of success criteria and how well they have met this

Sources of evidence

  • teacher modelling book
  • anecdotal notes
  • published work
  • writing books
  • self assessment
  • writing samples
  • six year observational survey

Leaders believed doing this work together gave teachers more clarity about both deliberate teaching steps and assessments to help monitor progress.

Leaders also introduced exemplars and teacher reflection records, used to moderate judgements about children’s writing. The exemplars showed a piece of writing at each curriculum sub level (i.e. each level basic, proficient and advanced). Teachers used the reflection records when formally assessing a sample of each child’s writing. They made a judgement about the child’s level of achievement using the progressions and recorded their answers to the following questions:

  • What evidence (in the writing) do you have that justifies your judgement about the level?
  • What are the strengths of this piece of writing?
  • What are the next learning steps for this child?
  • What is the learning conversation you should have with this child?

Other instructional writing strategies

As part of their PLD teachers used Think Alouds when modelling writing to the children to show what the teacher thought and did when starting and completing some writing. ‘Oh I wonder what I could write about…I saw a big balloon the other day. I’ll write, I saw an enormous balloon.

Teachers in the junior school introduced to all children some of the writing strategies used in Reading Recovery. They regularly tested children to see how many words they could write correctly. Children enjoyed seeing their progress and the teacher saw that many could correctly write well over 50 words by the time they were six years old.

Oral language testing had shown many of the children were well below their chronological age in oral language. Teachers in the junior school therefore placed considerable emphasis on building children’s oral language. They read and discussed many stories and had children explain what some words in the story were describing. They were attuned to occasions when some children did not understand some words, and encouraged children to explain new vocabulary.

During shared reading, teachers introduced a range of books about the same topic to help children develop and use prior knowledge. Children discussed and then extended the ideas from one book when reading the next. They could also use the information they gained when writing about that or a similar topic.

Teachers used newspaper clippings, video clips, artefacts and pictures extensively as part of pre-writing discussions.

High quality pieces of writing were published, laminated and sent home to the child’s whānau. On other occasions the child took the writing to their previous teacher or another teacher for positive and specific feedback.


Leaders saw many improvements. The biggest gains were evident in Years 4 and 5 where children were able to consolidate previous learning and develop their confidence in more complex writing. Seeing the recent progress they had made also motivated the children.

ERO spoke with a parent of a six-year-old boy who had progressed two writing levels in one year. The parent told us that one of his goals was ‘to stretch out the words to hear all the sounds’. Her son knew how much he had progressed and had a strong desire to improve even more.

When we get home we do reading and try and follow through at home. He loves to write stories. He has really thrived with his writing this year.

Once he knew his sounds he was away. He loves being able to spell big words.

He is listening to what he is saying. He writes and writes. We need to reinforce things at home. You can’t just leave it up to the teachers.

He knows when he has gone up a level. He just wants to go up and up. He says, “I want to be at a senior level before I am a senior.”

Next steps

Although leaders had seen improvements for some individual children, and at particular year levels, they still sought further improvements. They had identified the following professional development areas to focus on to increase their gains:

  • oral language across the school to help children more confidently share their ideas and opinions before writing
  • cultural competencies to make sure teachers fully understand the home cultures and interests that would help engage children in writing
  • collaborative inquiries for teachers to research and trial further successful writing approaches and strategies.

Linking the narratives to the School Evaluation Indicators

The table below cross-references the eight narratives to the relevant indicators from ERO’s School Evaluation Indicators. Leaders can use the table to facilitate discussion about the variety of effective practices found in the different narratives. Where leaders, teaching teams or teachers are currently focusing their attention on a particular domain, they can use the table to select narratives that feature effective practices in that domain.



School Evaluation Indicators

The board scrutinises the effectiveness of the school in achieving valued student outcomes.

Narrative - 1,6


Leadership for excellence and equity

School Evaluation Indicators

Leaders collaboratively develop and pursue the school's vision, goals and targets for equity and excellence

Narrative -1,2,3,4,5,6,7

School Evaluation Indicators

Leaders ensure effective planning, coordination and evaluation of the school’s curriculum and teaching.

Narrative -1

School Evaluation Indicators

Leaders promote and participate in professional learning and practice

Narrative -1,2,3,4,5,6,7

School Evaluation Indicators

Leaders build collective capacity in evaluation and inquiry for sustained improvement.

Narrative -4,6

School Evaluation Indicators

Leaders build relational trust and effective collaboration at every level of the school.

Narrative -1,2,4,6


Educationally powerful connections and relationships

School Evaluation Indicators

School and community are engaged in reciprocal learning-centred relationships.

Narrative -6

School Evaluation Indicators

Communication supports and strengthens reciprocal, learning-centred relationships.

Narrative -4,6

School Evaluation Indicators

Student learning at home is actively promoted through the provision of relevant learning opportunities, resources and support

Narrative -4,7

School Evaluation Indicators

Community collaboration enriches opportunities for students to become confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.

Narrative -1


Responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunity to learn

School Evaluation Indicators

Students have effective, sufficient and equitable opportunities to learn

Narrative -1,2,3,4,5,6,7

School Evaluation Indicators

Assessment for learning develops students’ assessment and learning-to-learn capabilities.

Narrative -1,2,3,5,6,7


Professional capability and collective capacity

School Evaluation Indicators

Systematic, collaborative inquiry processes and challenging professional learning opportunities align with the school vision, values, goals and targets.

Narrative -1,4,6

School Evaluation Indicators

Access to relevant expertise builds capability for ongoing improvement and innovation.

Narrative -1,2,3,4


Evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building for improvement and innovation

School Evaluation Indicators

Coherent organisational conditions promote evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building.

Narrative -1,2,4,6,7

School Evaluation Indicators

Collective capacity to do and use evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building sustains improvement and innovation.

Narrative -1,2,4