With the moderation season now in full flow, we’ve collated a few bits of advice to help you get through it as unscathed as possible.
Weights and measures
Writing moderation is the school assessment system’s version of Weights and Measures. It’s a system where producers – you, bring your product – the children’s writing, to be weighed, measured and scrutinised by your peers. It’s the way that we maintain ‘the standard’ and use an agreed set of criteria by which we can grade that produce.
Comparing apples and pears
We’ve encountered a few writing moderation meetings where teachers haven’t sorted their produce prior to the meeting. Instead they’ve come with oats mixed with corn, apples mixed with pears and have then used the meeting for their peers to sort out their produce for them. This isn’t moderation. Writing moderation is where you come to the meeting having already decided on the level at which each child is working so that your colleagues can then act like the scales and yardsticks of the assessment system. To make the most of moderation make your judgements before coming to the meeting.
Know your produce
If you asked an apple grower to describe the difference between class 1 and 2 apples she’d be able to tell you. Knowing the standard in writing is the same principle. Whether your school uses APP, the Criterion Scale, National Curriculum level descriptors or a locally agreed set of criteria get to know it and use it when making level judgements. There is always the temptation to pick up a piece of writing and say ‘it feels like a level 4’ but that isn’t robust enough for making a level judgement. Use the standards files that accompany the assessment system that you use. You may also want to make a school standards file, exemplifying the standards across the school with the children that you know. This has a great secondary function of then acting as a progression document for writing in your school.
Take a sip…or two…or three…
Ensure that the sample you present best exemplifies the standard. Would Weights and Measures allow a wine producer to claim the quality of their product based on a sip from just one bottle of wine? You need to have robust evidence to support your claims. We usually ask teachers to share 5-6 pieces of writing from across the curriculum to support their level judgements. This way we can be more sure that the standard is being maintained. In a similar vein. If you are moderating as a school or a cluster don’t allow sub-standard evidence ‘in on the nod’ because you’re too polite to challenge your friend/colleague. If the apple grower down the road were presenting their class 2 apples as class 1 our apple producer would be working at a disadvantage and the standard would slip.
Note the growing conditions
On a day-to-day basis you can make the job of moderation easier by annotating how much support has been given during the writing process. This is really important for keeping the standard pure. To continue with our production metaphor. If I grow my carrots with chemical fertilizer and Stephanie grows hers organically they will look different. Mine may well look bigger and better but they’ve had extra support. Stephanie’s though have grown more independently and actually under different conditions. We’re not comparing like with like. We need to know what conditions children’s writing was ‘grown’ under in order to make fair assessments.
Start sowing for next year’s harvest
Don’t see writing moderation as an end-point. It’s easy to see it as purely summative. Good moderation though tells you what they children need to do next and how to continue ‘growing them’. It can also provide opportunities for you to improve too. If you have a number of children with needs in the same area it may be about learning for them, or it could point to a part of your practice that you could polish and improve.
So as you head into the writing moderation season we hope you find a bushel of level 4s and a furlong of level 5s but remember keep that yardstick with you at all time!
Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education
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