Task: There are two writing samples presented here. The same student (Child B) wrote an evaluative report on shoes in Year 6 (Tip Top Trainers) and then in Year 7, this student wrote a viewpoints piece based on The Merchant of Venice and an imaginative description of Venice.
Tip Top Trainers
Tip Top Trainers are designed for long-distance running. In this discussion text, I am going to look at whether or not they are suitable shoes.
The leather upper half of the shoe is very comfortable and also allows the air inside to circulate, preventing runner’s feet getting too hot. The sole of the trainers are made of lightweight durable plastic. This means that athletes running in slippy weather won’t slip as easily. There are also solar powered lights so pedestrians will be able to identify a runner.
Although there are lots of [negative] positive things about these trainers, there are also a few negative things too. They come in one width size only, wich is unsuitable for athletes with broad feet or high insteps. If you do get the right size, you may find blood blisters on the bottom of your feet after some time. The white straps on the shoe may become discoloured especially on muddy grass. Adult’s and children’s sizes of the shoe, despite being smaller or larger, are exactly the same price.
Overall, the trainers [are] have lots of good points. Athletes have the chance to run long-distances in unique trainers, without their feet getting too hot.
Lorenzo thinks that Jessica is a gentle Jew, who is whiter than the page she writes on. He also says that Jessica has beautiful handwriting and that he wouldn’t mind seeing her dressed as a boy.
Jessica is prepared to lie to her father (Shylock), change her religion and run away with Lorenzo. She will change her religion from being a Jew to a Christian so she can marry Lorenzo.
Description of Venice
The streets of Venice bustle with people making their way to the market, or down to the harbour. Lots of people live there, because of the sea nearby. The population of Venice is half and half -: half Christian and half Judaism. Flecks of the red Jewish gaberdines are blended in with crowds, like a artist’s canvas.
If you go down to the harbour, you will smell the salty sea and hear the birds that are circling the water. Boats are moored up along the pier, bobbing along like ducks on water. People are scattered up and down the harbour, some waiting for their boats to arrive: anxious, worried, nervous people. Others are waiting for their boats to set off: hopeful and happy.
When you move further into the town centre you will see people going in and out of houses. You will separate by sight, Jews and Christians immediately by the way they dress and by the way they treat each other. You may also find Christians barging into Jewish houses, demanding anything that they want (and taking) from them.
As you finish your tour through Venice, you will see people in the market place selling their goods. They might be selling fish, commonly caught near the harbour, or anything else they can find. Some Christians may also be selling things they have demanded from Jews to make money. Other people might be advertising their business, for example, Jewish people may advertise their usuary business, trying to persuade people to borrow money for intrest, but on the other hand, Christians may also be advertising money-lending, but usually Christians leant it for free so people would go to them more. Wouldn’t you?
CA Feedback for Child B (Tip Top Trainers)
Purpose: like the other student the task specification is misleading. Yet the student is quite clear about the purpose. An issue is specified for the discussion: how well does the shoe meet its design brief? This discussion is adequately developed.
Staging: the issue is stated in the opening paragraph but there is no pre-view of arguments. There are for and against stages and the writer makes a recommendation in the Resolution stage which ties back nicely to the issue in the opening paragraph.
Phases: there are three different points for and against but no discussion phases such as evidence, but this is probably adequate for Y6.
Field: some key issues in the field are discussed such as: comfort, air circulation, durability, safety, sizing, colour and price, along with justifications for and against each issue raised.
Tenor: the text evaluates and displays some authority (as per report specification), approximating the objectivity required in a discussion.
Mode: overall, the writer discusses the issue using features of written language with only one lapse into the spoken form, you and your.
Lexis: there is relevant technical lexis (in expanded nominal groups) to build the field (long-distance running; leather upper half of the shoes; lightweight durable plastic; solar powered lights; one width size; blood blisters; broad feet; high insteps; unique trainers.
Appraisal: some use of objective appraisals: (un) suitable; comfortable, lightweight; etc; more spoken-like appraisals: slippy weather; lots of.
Conjunction: explicit internal reasoning using some logical relations: although; overall.
Reference: the writer keeps track of everything in the text: e.g. parts of shoes.
Grammar: handles sentences with long noun groups well.
Spelling: accurate; a certain level of sophistication for Y6.
Presentation: paragraphing is accurate.
JW Do you want the teacher feedback? (Yes)
Child A: couple of spellings, slippy; each paragraph is ticked; and then a
comment: a really good piece of work, well done.
LF No paragraph structure.
JW Child B: ticks for first and last paragraph; with the comment: a very balanced report, well done.
UC Yes, I think that’s fair.
MG Neither of those sets of feedback is very helpful. I’m assuming that this teacher liked the fact that they had kept to this structure. So would you see this as something that might appear in the real world is missed out, isn’t it.
LF Somebody made the point earlier that by the set of criteria that the students were given, so if you were told write five paragraphs, use connectives of some kind, say what’s good about the shoe, talk about the technology and then by that sense the first one, student A, has made that explicit in their writing.
UC But, what is the teacher trying to teach the pupils to do that is going to be of any use to them beyond this individual task?
LF I’ve no idea.
MG I assume it’s this, isn’t it? It’s furthermore, however, in addition, in conclusion.
UC So the purpose is for the pupils to show they can have control over writing this classroom genre.
LF But you see the problem is, if student A is going to be scored in an exam marking scenario, say by someone who is not their teacher in a national context, the teacher in a way has an obligation to make sure that the students get those things in their texts; otherwise they could score much lower than somebody else. That’s a real worry, it’s not actually the quality of the writing, and I think that gets mixed up a lot. It’s the attention to the specifications rather than the quality of the writing. So, there’s a lack of explicit awareness of what’s going on, they don’t know what their target is.
MG Why are they doing this? Is this part of a test they had to sit? What are they preparing for?
JW This was during the final year of their Y6 course. This was the linguistic features part of the teacher assessment for that final term. The teacher has assessed Child A as 5a and Child B as 5b. The reverse of what you said.
LF But the connectives are there.
MG The skeleton is there but the flesh is actually all over the place.
UC But that’s what happens when you disassociate linguistic features from the actual process of writing.
JM Well, it’s like the frame, the scaffold is too comprehensive, isn’t it? Write about the soles, then write about the materials, then write about this, you’re just filling in the gaps. It’s basically like a cloze procedure.
That’s almost what it is. As long as there are some words associated with the comfort and there are some connectives, it’s just like from your own review. It doesn’t really mean anything.
JW Did you want to say anything about the Secondary example? That’s the follow-on of the child who wrote the Tip Top trainers one. I’ve got an example from the English lesson.
MG I like the description of Venice.
MB Strange omissions though from the description of Venice. Given that it’s Venice. No canals.
LF Well, they don’t know anything about Venice. I read The Merchant of Venice when I was in school. But I don’t remember much about it except for a pound of flesh. They wouldn’t know anything that wasn’t expressed in the play.
SJ I find it interesting that these two pieces were created in different contexts, because one of them was a homework piece. You’ve got a classroom piece, and a homework piece. Because actually for me the viewpoint one is quite weak, there’s not much there at all. In comparison to the description of Venice, I think that’s far more sophisticated and there’s a lot more in it.
MG I thought that the paragraph beginning If you go down to the harbour was fantastic with a panoramic sweep, you know, locations and people and what they’re doing.
SJ Whether that’s related to the fact that they’ve got more time at home.
LF Or I wonder whether maybe they would have talked about these things. Some of these expressions seem quite, you know bustling with people, smell the salty sea. The verbs are all very descriptive: people are scattered, the streets bustle
MG It’s almost like a travel brochure
JM It’s almost like they’ve mapped it onto their schema for a travel brochure, oh it’s a description writing about a place.
MG It’s interesting because the task set is just an imaginative description
JW Although there is the emphasis on Christians and Jews. Which seem to come from the text of the play. The comment: I liked the image of the past you created. Maybe use some more connectives, but keep up the amazing work.
MG So we’re back to those sorts of comments, aren’t we? There’s a wonderful part of one of Debbie Myhill’s papers, where she talks about, I think she calls them empty comments or vacuous comments, where teachers say something like Add more adjectives. And they don’t really understand what that means or why they’re even saying it, it’s a sort of filler, isn’t it. You’ve got to put something in so, whatever the flavour of the day is, whether it be connective or adjective or write in more detail or something like that. Just throw it in. (http://education.waikato.ac.nz/research/files/etpc/2005v4n3art5.pdf )
JM Well, it’s that very well-intentioned feedback structure, isn’t it? What you’re trying to do is make sure that students get something that’s useful. I mean, the feedback we fill out at university, say something positive and you’ve just given it like a 35. But then equally you know if you put something that’s really, really fantastic and there’s a box you know that says, things to improve this time, and you do find yourself finding something to criticise for the purpose of being able to put something in that box. You’ve been told that you have to.
MG I wonder if teachers in schools are told if they don’t have, so they’re constrained by their own framework aren’t they?
JM I’m told you have to give students a target, something to work on for next time. It feels like you’re pulling a piece of metalanguge out of the air.
LF I suppose the teachers must know if the assessments are going to be based on the number of connectives, they’ve got to somehow get them in there.
UC Surely the point of using connectives is to form multi-clause sentences, isn’t it?
JW Well there are connectives there.
UC But then it’s also implying that multi-clause sentences are somehow better?
LF And also to make explicit logical connections within the text. The problem is that I don’t know whether on a exam or a national test, whether the writing activity they would be asked to do would be one that would lend itself to those kinds of connectives or not. And I suspect there’s no consideration in the test questions.
JM There’s lots of outsourcing of KS2 and those sorts of range of Sats test to non-professional markers who have a list of things and they’re asked to do it online and they get penalised if they spend more than 45 seconds on a page. So, they’re not even actually reading it, they’re looking for although, however, furthermore. So, you tick it if it’s there and actually don’t read the rest of it.
MG So, with this one here, you would literally be looking at this and pretty much ignoring what’s here.
LF We’re not far off automated marking then. That’s what’s happening with the CPD training. (See Continuing Professional Development: cpduk.co.uk) For example, with the new literacy and numeracy framework in Wales a company could be hired to come in and train the teachers in the new framework but they wouldn’t be specialists. It’s bizarre that something that has so much potential could end up falling apart because the delivery of it isn’t being handled with care.
JM That’s what was being said about the fronted adverbial things. Anybody can see if you’ve moved an adverbial to the front of a sentence, but it takes someone with a bit more knowledge about whether it’s more effective to have it there.
UC Exactly. What’s your purpose in doing it.