Response Writing – letters and reports (Year 6)
Task: Both samples presented here are responses to the study of Macbeth and both were written by students in Year 6. For the first sample below, students were asked to produce an imaginative investigative report on Duncan’s murder in Macbeth, using non-chronological writing. For the second sample, students were ask to create a letter in role as Macbeth to Lady Macbeth.
Note: deletions by the student are indicated in [ ]
Child C (Y6 Primary) – non-chronological writing
The Murder of King Duncan
During the night, King Duncan was stabbed in his bedroom. The assailant who has caused this, is unknown at this time [of day].
Macbeth: Macbeth is a very good friend to King Duncan. He has just been given the Thane of Cawdor from his loyal friend King Duncan. However, Macbeth did go to the battle so he might be killing people now.
Lady Macbeth: Lady Macbeth is a very loyal person and a very calming person. She is also a very [loyal] loving person. However Macbeth just got thane of Cawdor and she must want to be queen.
Malcom and Donalblain (Duncan’s sons) They would be very broken hearted. They would be very scared. Whereas there [has] have been several serious rumours that Malcom and Donalblain hired the guards to kill there father.
Guards: The Guards are very protective. They are also very caring. On the over hand they had all the blood over there faces and they had the dagger.
In my formal recommendation I sujest we need to look at the guards further.
Child D (Y6 Primary) – letter writing
Dear My Dear Wife
I have misted you so, so much and I can’t wait to come home. I have got a lot of good news to tell you all about my journey.
Firstly, a lot of herendos things have gone on since the last time I spoke to you. However I have just [came] come back from a battle that lasted for quiet a long time. Next, during the battle against the Norwegans, some of our fighters have died or been injured and it was dreadful to see. Although my friends die some survived but It would of been good if all of my camped survived so if we need to go to another battle we would have a nuff men. Also the king was so pleased me because he thought I had the agility to do his job, And gayne what the victory was ours!
Secondly, when me and Banquo was riding on their big, black, brave horse they came across their apeard 3 ugly monsters infront as are arms were swing however we was still going and going. Next As they was not far away from camp 3 ugly monsters apeard in front of their faces. Atchaly these ‘monsters’ were[atchaly witches] ugly hags. Meanwhile, The three horrible witches pointed [there] their slimy fingers at me and said “All hail, Macbeth, Thane of glamis. All hail, Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor. All hail, Macbeth, who shall be King.
[My eye] I went instant shocked because I thought this would never happen to me. However they also said [it] to Banquo as well that his children will be King as well. Finally, the 1st witch was blind, the 2nd witch had a hooked finger that was as long as an elephants trunk and the 3rd witch has silver hair sprouting from her chin.
Finaly, [ I got back] Me and Banquo got back to camp and just as they arrived the royal herald was there to spread the good news to me.
SJ So this is that non-chronological writing again. You can see where they’ve got that structure, can’t you. Introduction. They’ve split it into four parts.
JW Child C, the Murder of King Duncan and Child D.
MB Sorry, were you saying that Child C’s got a good generic structure?
SJ Yes. You can tell that she’s been given something.
MB So the teacher might not have given the generic structure but the child has certainly got a good generic structure. But the other child is supposed to be writing in a different genre. Child C is supposed to be writing an investigative report; Child D is supposed to be writing a letter. So, you wouldn’t expect the same generic structure.
SJ I assume the student’s been given a writing frame because you can see how they’ve split it up. Into those four suspects. I thought this was quite a good piece of writing. This person concludes that they think they need to look at the guards. And when they sum up the guards they change that definite article when they talk about the blood and the dagger. And when they talk about the other three they use quite a lot of modality, so I actually thought it was quite clever but I obviously don’t know about the guidance they were given in terms of creating that possibility with those three. And the more certainty with whom they then conclude committed the crime. Does that make sense? But I actually thought that this was quite a well-structured piece.
MG I mean the modality here, it’s a way into trying to understand minds, isn’t it? But I thought they didn’t really do that with the guards but they were very caring and they just sort of left it. It’s quite interesting.
SJ Yeah, there’s a real difference in the way they talk about the guards. And then obviously they conclude that it might be the guards. It’s almost like convincing the reader there, there just seems a bit more awareness for who’s reading it. But it’s so different to all the other pieces. That’s why I suspect they’ve been given a very specific kind of writing frame. With the other non-chronological writing I know that you specified that they had been given a writing frame or something.
JW The other child is writing a letter. It seems to be a separate task.
MB You were mentioning earlier connectives. Child D here seems to be a very good example of a child who’s been taught all these connectives, and is getting them in somehow, but doesn’t really understand how to use them.
LF One per sentence
MB Confusing the temporal use of them with the textual use of them
UC We have secondly
JW The teacher feedback, it’s a tick box.
JM But you see, if that’s what you’re testing, then it’s a good piece of writing, isn’t it? Because, if what is being tested is fronted connectives in a chronological report, it is all of those things. I find myself very conflicted with that, particularly the new Key Stage Two, can you front an adverbial? And actually the teachers are not being, from a testing point of view, their students don’t gain anything from knowing whether or not it’s effective to move the adverbial to the front. And actually if they understand that sometimes it might be less effective they might be less likely to do it and then if they get into a very linear tickbox system that says, have you got a fronted adverbial? Then they need to have a fronted adverbial to do well on the test.
LF You would open Pandora’s Box if you asked them to make the distinction between which conjunctive belongs appropriately in what point in the text, and I think that would terrify most teachers.
MG But we had a parents’ evening the other evening. Our daughter’s in Year One. The teacher was feeding back to us about her writing and she said that one of the things she needs to do is use 2a sentences, it means two adjective sentences. So, my wife, who’s a deputy head in a school, said, well, why would you want to use a 2a sentence necessarily? Surely, it’s about effectiveness. And the teacher said, No, part of our scheme of work is 2a sentences and they need to learn how to use 2a sentences. But Anna’s writing wouldn’t be effective until she’d learnt how to use these 2a sentences. So, I think that discourse is around everywhere in schools and I think it all comes back to testing the staff and the accountability regime.
JW So it’s terminology and not why you’re using it surely.
LF The more I hear about English schools the more I’m glad my son’s in a Welsh language school.
MG I don’t know if anyone’s heard of Alan Peat? (www.alanpeat.com) He invented this term, 2a sentences. He has a whole literacy programme that these schools are following. I looked at Alan Peat’s website straight away, and there’s a whole list of 2a sentences, a 4a sentence. There’s a whole list of them.
JW The tick box for the Murder of King Duncan is a tick box for the child. Does the introduction give the reader a clear idea of what the piece is about? Have I used paragraphs to organise the text? This is Child C.
LF Outside of fiction, noun phrases with two adjectives are very rare.
UC This is exactly it. And even within fiction.
MG My wife was being deliberately provocative. And she said, can you give me an example, and she said, it was a bright sunny day. Yeah that’s fair enough, but why would you say a child has to write that every time? It’s this idea that more is better. So, you can show off what you know.
UC And Lise’s point that outside of fiction you very rarely get that kind of use of adjective. So, this poor kid that goes from English where they’re taught to use two adjective sentences, or just the same teacher when they’re writing science, are they writing 2a sentences?
LF No, the other place where you might find them is tourist brochures. If that’s your goal you shouldn’t be arguing for texts that are known to overuse. Sell somebody on the idea of coming to this wonderful luxurious hotel. That’s where you’ll find them, or possibly reviews of restaurants. There are certain places where you will find them.
MG Or personal writing where someone is double or triple modifying for effect.
LF But it’s all a matter of proportion and probabilities really to come back to the functional approach. The idea is that you’ll give them a skewed perspective if that’s what they have to do, they’ll be penalised in later years. They will pick these things up, but if that’s your objective, then matching the particular writing activity to the objective is going to be much more effective. And let them play around with the language and let them see what works and doesn’t work. And then the time factor comes in and you will have a problem convincing teachers that it’s a gain to spend the time exploring whatever it is.
JM The short term viewpoint I think is that the most challenging thing in schools is to try and convince within this lesson we need to do some writing and reading activities get over in schools is to try and convince taking a long term view why not over four lessons we’ll do two lessons on reading and two lessons on writing. The curriculum’s not structured that way.
MG Well the landscape’s changed now. You’ve actually got in schools a 5 year GCSE and some schools (and I’m sure there are some that aren’t doing this) are giving Year 7 students (and I’ve seen this) GCSE papers in the first term of Year 7, giving them numbers 1-9 on this new grading system. And using that to track. So, everything begins with these extract- based skills-based stuff. So, periods of extended reading and writing are out the window. I’m sure it’s not like that everywhere.
JW That isn’t the same in primary, is it?
LF In Welsh schools there is a real pressure point in Year 6 now in preparation for GCSE. We don’t have a SPAG test but we’ve got something similar. In Wales at secondary level the amount for equivalent grammar, spelling and punctuation across all subject areas has increased. So, the proportion of your marks given to grammar and punctuation has increased in all subject areas. And an increase in testing and assessment.
JW For me, talking to kids about the Spag test. They love it, because there’s a right and a wrong answer.
LF That for me is a really big problem, the language doesn’t work in yes/no. But what is right and wrong? Their language use can’t be really termed right or wrong.
MG But it’s not testing that, is it? It’s testing naming the parts.
LF But then the problem with that is that it’s decontextualized. There’s no context for them. Find the pronouns is supposed to be a simple answer, it’s not actually. There are multiple definitions and, depending on which one you choose, you might answer a grammar question differently.
Yet teachers want the right/wrong thing but the problem is that they’re going to live in fear that one student asks them the question that they can’t answer.
UC But that’s fine isn’t it? I don’t know about you but every time I teach functional grammar a student will say, that they will come up with an exception, they will come up with something that I cannot answer. And that’s one of the things I’ve tried really hard in the work I’m doing. Okay, you can superimpose a system on language but language is always going to escape around the edges. And it’s okay if you don’t know the answer.
LF That is exactly what I would say. Because when teachers are teaching sciences they don’t need to have all of the answers. You can have your Physics teacher and you’ve got a curious student who asks this question about black holes that you don’t know. And I bet the Physics teacher says, do you know what? I don’t know the answer to this but let’s figure it out. If the language teachers would do the same thing, and why shouldn’t they feel, ‘do you know what, I’m not sure, but that’s a really great question, let’s find out’. When you take your primary class to look up leaves and find out about leaves at a certain time of year, the same approach as language. So, it’s arguing more for a scientific approach, how we look at language rather than a literature-based one, which has its place, I wouldn’t not value it but I wouldn’t make it the model for how we interact with language and how we develop our language knowledge.
MG The other issue from the now led Key Stage Two test is that there are now legitimised definitions in the glossary of course and that’s hugely problematic because that does then potentially give you a situation where a teacher’s thinking, well, I might be wrong in terms of a particular definition.
JW So you might say, what do you think the tester is looking for?
LF But at that day in June (Embedded Literacy, Cardiff University) we had a response in this area to a head teacher’s question about how are we meant to cope with these kinds of issues, saying something like, you just have to learn the rule and apply it. It was devastating, because that was so against the whole message of the day. If you get a prescriptivist in place that’s going to say, there are rules to learn, here’s my sheet, now you can do it. That doesn’t empower the teacher, to either accept or reject the rule. You can reject a rule and still be able to teach it so that the kids can pass the test, but also show where it doesn’t work. And use it as something that gives the kids power of choice. Rather than, there’s a right answer here and I’ve just got to get the right answer.
JM It’s that mixed message as well when you think about it. Teachers who have come from a straight literature background who don’t know much about language, who are simultaneously being told from one side, there are right answers, and you just learn the rule and it’s fine, and then you’re told no that’s an exception, no it’s not like that, well actually it depends, it creates an impression that you’re wrong and you don’t know the rules properly, and you’re just trying to kind of talk your way out of it. I think that there’s that fundamental kind of contrast, and as it’s coming from primary school, you’re pushing back against that when it starts to be important as to what a fronted adverbial or having a 2a sentence is. And I think that’s why there’s such a strong resistance to the metalanguage. Because the way it’s being taught I can’t disagree with teachers that it’s painful and pointless and feature spotting because why do you need to know it’s an adverbial if you’re not thinking about what the effect is.
JW And on that note about the decontextualized approach to grammar I would like to thank you all very much indeed.
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