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Impact of coaching/mentoring staff on the standards of writing via the Every Child a Writer programme

Case Study
  • Authored by: Michelle Armson
  • Status: Approved

Introduction

What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?

As a Leading Literacy I was asked to work with six year 3 and 4 teachers in three schools, including my own. My remit was to coach and mentor staff in order to increase their knowledge and understanding of the teaching of writing, so that the standard of writing would meet national expectations (level 3b) by the end of Year 4.

Who might find this case study useful?

  • Headteacher
  • National Strategies consultant
  • Senior leadership team (SLT)
  • SIP (School Improvement Partner)
  • Teacher

Key points

Point 1

Positive impact of individual mentoring/coaching on the whole school

Point 2

Increased staff confidence in teaching writing

Contacts

  • Author: Michelle Armson Michelle Armson

What

What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?

  • English - writing

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

As staff became more knowledgeable and therefore confident in the writing process, their teaching would become more focused and, therefore, the standards would improve.

What were your success criteria?

That the majority of pupils made 2 sub-level progress in writing over the school year and more pupils met Age Related Expectations (ARE).

PLEASE NOTE this page has three tabs - click 'Next tab' below or use tabs above to see Teaching approaches and CPD approaches

What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?

  • Periodic teacher assessment

What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?

  • Assessment for Learning (AfL)
  • Peer coaching
  • Teaching sequences
  • Use of pupil talk for whole-class teaching

Describe the teaching approaches you used

As I worked with teachers, my teaching approaches are covered in the CPD section of this study.

As the title of this study suggests, my role was mainly one of coach and mentor. However, I also taught demonstration lessons - showing the process of planning through to lesson delivery using the Primary Framework for Literacy.

I also responded to the needs of staff, by planning and delivering Guided Writing sessions in each teacher's class. This showed how Assessment for Learning could be incorporated into the Literacy lesson.

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What teaching resources did you use?

National Strategies - Talk for Writing publications
http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/163592

Using Talk fro Writing
http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/197313

National Strategies website http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/

What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?

  • Coaching
  • Mentoring
  • Partnership teaching

Describe the CPD approaches you used

I worked with six members of staff, all of whom were at different stages of their career and had widely differing levels of subject knowledge, confidence and ideas of how to teach writing.  Therefore, my approach had to be adapted to match the needs of the individual. I was careful that my role was supportive and sustainable.  I acted as coach and mentor and was able to use my own experience, as a practising classteacher under the similar day-to-day pressures as they were.

I took on the role of mentor and coach. I listened actively and gladly shared my knowledge with them when appropriate, with the ultimate aim of improving the standard of writing in their class.

Primarily, I ensured staff understood the guidance in the Primary Framework for Literacy. Talk for Writing was a major innovation for staff, especially for those who had not received any LEA training. We watched Pie Corbett on the Talk for Writing DVD and tried to match some of the suggested activities to their lesson objectives. The Talk for Writing booklet, which summarised the pedagogy, was well received.

However, the majority had limited experience of Assessing Pupils' Progress (APP) or Assessment for Learning (AfL), Pupil Writing Targets or the Support for Writing materials - all of which could impact on standards.

To enable staff to develop a greater understanding of the above, we engaged in the practical application of these tasks. For example, we took examples of 2 or 3 children's work and used these to fill out the APP grids. This was enormously beneficial as all staff began to see the value of the grids in pin-pointing the children's gaps in knowledge and understanding, as well as giving a "snap-shot" National Curriculum level. Therefore, it highlighted the benefit of APP for diagnostic as well as summative assessment. All the staff were well motivated during these sessions. After all, this was a task that needed to be done for the latter reasons and we had been given the time to work collaboratively.

Once the significance of APP had been established, I was then able to help staff with how they might go about filling the gaps in children's learning. For example, I demonstrated a Guided Writing session in each class. We chose the children and the objective based on prior assessment. Afterwards, we looked at how Guided Writing could be incorporated into the weekly planning and how it should and could become an integral part of the Literacy lesson.

One member of staff (to be known as Mr Y) was particularly interested in how the APP focuses and objectives were linked to the Pupil Writing Targets. Using the National Strategies website, I was able to show how to move from gaps in pupil knowledge, to identifying the relevant Pupil Writing targets, to then securing learning via the appropriate pedagogy in the Support for Writing section of the website. Using the work undertaken with Mr Y, I undertook similar activities with the whole staff of my school. Together we devised a Target sheet, which has been adopted by my school and two others. The targets link directly with the Assessment Focuses (AFs) and the Strand Objectives (see sample Writing targets on Teaching Approaches tab). Therefore,
children have the targets in their own language in an attractive and motivating
format. The impact has been very positive, in that children can see what they
have achieved and what they need to do to move to the next level of attainment.
Staff liked the format as it was simple to implement and did not require time
consuming administration. This has been one of the positive aspects of the ECaW
project.

What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?

Materials provided by ECaW:
Implementing Every Child a Writer support booklet. (Ref: 00719-2009BKT-EN)
http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/193534

Assessing Pupils' Progress

Assessment Focuses    (Writing assessment focuses; see Attachments)

Talk for Writing

Primary Framework for Literacy

Who provided you with support?

  • External agency
  • Local authority staff

How were you supported?

  • Attendance at 3 national conferences
  • Cluster meetings
  • Literacy Consultant support
  • Nottinghamshire Literacy team

Impact

What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

Here is a simple breakdown of the writing results for two classes that took part in ECaW. 

In Autumn 2009 59% met age-related expectations (ARE).  In Summer 2010 50% met ARE

1% made 4 sub-level progress

51% of children made 2 sub-level progress.
39% of children made 1 sub-level progress

7% made 0 progress

Evaluation

9% fewer children were at ARE at the end of the year, than at the beginning.
This is because 5 children who were a 2a in the Autumn term (and therefore at ARE) only made 1 sub-level progress.  1 child, who was 2a in the Autumn Term, made no progress.

The 7% of children who according to the data had made no progress had failed to move from 2a to 3c. An analysis of these children suggested that they had arrived in Year 4 having only just attained a 2a and over the year had largely consolidated their skills. However, we felt unable to award a 3c as, although the children had begun to achieve some of the targets here, these skills were insufficiently embedded. These children have been identified and offered extra support in terms of small group teaching, based on the gaps in their learning preventing them achieving a secure Level 3. Two of the children were also offered 1:1 Tuition in the following Autumn Term.  Therefore, the necessary close examination of the the results of the two ECaW classes has resulted in targeting children whose progress has slowed. Furthermore, the school will now examine the data termly, so that interventions can be put into place quickly.

In this school (as in all three schools), APP had only just been introduced and only 2 or 3 children per class had had their results moderated. Very often, we were comparing two systems of assessment - Year 2 assessments or Y3 optional tests compared to APP.  So a comparison of data
is difficult.  However, the
teachers were confident that the children had developed a much wider cross-section of skills across the Assessment Focuses. In the past, targets had tended to focus on handwriting and punctuation.  However, due to the Pupil Writing Targets and evidenced by the APP documents, areas that may have been overlooked in the past have been developed. For example, pupils showed that they could separate their work into sections or paragraphs. Story structure and wider vocabulary have also been emphasised and improved.  The ability to write in a wider range of genres, which is essential for children to achieve a Level 4 and above, is evident in the more able year 3 and 4 writers.  

Staff also admitted that they needed to make more use of Guided Writing to target children who did not appear to be making the necessary progress. 1:1 tuition could also be valuable in boosting the progress of these children. Therefore, although the results were disappointing, the ECaW project at least showed how they might be improved in the future.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

All staff were better informed of the gaps in pupil knowledge and understanding after completing the APP process. Although they had held assumptions about what the children needed to learn, the APP process clarified whole class, group or individual writing targets.  For example, one Year 4 teacher realised that unless he taught children how to separate their work into paragraphs, they would not achieve a secure level 3. We were then able to look at ways of teaching paragraphing effectively, using support materials from the Primary Framework and Grammar for Writing.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

Drama helps me understand the book better. (Year 4 child.)

My writing targets are to use paragraphs and put speech into my stories. (Year 3 child)

The video was brilliant. Seeing how the waves were like horses helped me to understand similes and now I can put them into my writing. (Year 4 child)

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Periodic teacher assessment

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Logs or interviews

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • As staff were able to identify clear gaps in learning, children were taught what they needed to know as a whole class, group or individually.
  • The teachers made fewer assumptions and differentiated their planning on the children's needs.
  • Children responded well to lessons that were well planned and differentiated according to their needs identified in the APP process.
  • Talk for Writing brought the text alive and had also had an impact on the children's reading comprehension.

The pupil writing samples below show improvement due to careful Target Setting using the Pupil Writing Targets.

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What has been the impact on teaching?

The 6 teachers came from very different teaching backgrounds. Each teacher had very different needs and therefore, the impact varied. However, there were some common denominators. All staff demonstrated and expressed increased understanding of and the links between:

  • APP writing;
  • Support for Writing;
  • Pupil Writing Targets;
  • Talk for Writing;
  • Effective planning for differentiation via Guided Writing and 1:1 tuition;
  • The need for a creative approach to the teaching sequence.

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

When staff became aware of the link between APP, Pupil Writing targets and Talk for Writing, they made more effective use of the materials provided by the Primary Framework. Similarly, when they became more familiar with the teaching sequence as a guide through the different phases of the writing process, they felt empowered to use this structure in their planning. In this way, we were able to move the discussion towards the choice of quality texts and appropriate pedagogy. I was able to use my experience in these areas, but it was often the process of discussing texts and pedagogy that resulted in the most successful planning.

Staff felt liberated by the fact they could teach children what they needed to know (in order to improve) using methods they were confident would work, rather than slavishly following the suggested teaching sequences. My support enabled the teachers to work creatively with their class, adapting planning to match children’s learning needs rather than following a formula or a pre-determined structure. Planning improved, particularly with regards to differentiation via the introduction of Guided Writing.

All staff agreed that having time to reflect on their practice was beneficial. As they were able to focus on writing and the effectiveness of their teaching, then they were confident that standards would rise in this area.
When the Leadership team and/or subject coordinator supported and understood the ECaW programme, this gave added confidence to the teacher, and removed anomalies in their approach to teaching and assessing writing.

Assessing children's writing is a mine-field. Moderation is essential if the qualitative data is to be considered valid.

Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching

  • It's great to have the time to focus on my teaching methods and discuss them with someone who understands the challenges of working in a classroom.
  • I really understand APP now and why it's useful.
  • I want to use some of these Talk for Writing ideas. It's what I believe teaching should be like.
  • I feel motivated again. I don't just want to print off a plan from the internet. I want to incorporate my own ideas.
  • I can see why we need Guided Writing. I can sit with a group and teach them how to use a Thesaurus to improve their vocabulary because other children can already do it and some of the class aren't ready yet. I think I need to do more work with them on Alphabetical order first.

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from planning
  • Teacher perceptions

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

  • Teacher's confidence in teaching writing and their knowledge of the writing process was improved. Therefore, learning objectives were clearer and SMART-er.
  • Planning became more specifically tailored towards filling the gaps in pupil knowledge and understanding.
  • Improved planning pro-formas identified the teaching sequence (Phases) and differentiation, namely Guided Writing.

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

Head teachers and Literacy subject leaders were generally supportive of the principles of the ECaW project. Where the Leadership team understood the underlying principles of the Literacy Framework and were willing to offer additional staff-meeting time to filter this down to all staff, impact was more positive.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

Time spent with the Head teachers enabled me to clarify the various components of the Primary Literacy Framework and therefore, support their staff accordingly.  Taking information I had received directly from the national training and the county's Literacy consultancy team, I was able to reassure the schools' Senior Leadership teams how to effectively meet statutory requirements and the demands of OFSTED, with the ultimate aim of raising the standard of writing across the school.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

  • You've helped us to understand how and why we need to use APP. We're much further along now and the staff meeting on this was well received. (Head Teacher).
  • I think we need to adopt a new whole school approach to Pupil Writing Targets, which is more in line with the Primary Framework for Literacy. (Literacy Coordinator)

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

New planning pro-forma adopted (see What -teaching approaches).

A new system of Pupil Writing Targets adopted. (see What -teaching approaches).

Summary

What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

The support of the Head teacher in allowing the new systems of working to be introduced and providing staff with the time and impetus to carry out effective planning and assessments.

What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?

  • Primary Framework for Literacy
  • Talk for Writing
  • Support for Writing

What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

  • Effective use of APP

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?

  • Time for the Leading Teacher to work with staff.
  • A space to work and access to the internet.
  • Time for the Head and/or Literacy co-ordinator to discuss the work of the Leading teacher with the both the staff involved and also with the Leading Teacher.

What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?

I will be working with 2 out of the 3 schools next year. I hope to work with the Leadership teams of both schools to facilitate the introduction of effective whole-school planning, assessment and moderation systems.

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