crystal's capers

one girl's international adventures

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Unexpected House Party

A couple weeks ago Riccardo and I hosted a little dinner party. It started out fairly tame; see right (me with Kam)...

...but then we brought out the Guitar Hero - such a party pleaser!

Then Donna showed us how to rock it big style. Unfortunately not everyone bought in.

Things really got going with Riki & Stephane's metal version of 'Chiquetita'; the members of ABBA must have been rolling over in their graves (um, are they deceased?) Tobe honest, I didn't stop laughing like a maniac the whole song! HILARIOUS!

Honestly though, Donna was a good singer. We weren't laughing AT her, we were laughing WITH her.

Who doesn't love crooning hotties? This is our generations' windowside serenade.

Well, in the end, 'dinner party' didn't really do it justice: there was food, but this was an all-out house party, lasting until the wee hours. Even the neighbours had (friendly) comments about our late-night sing-a-thon the next day!


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There Are More...

...updates coming. I'm just waiting for Riki to upload the pics from his camera.

Busy, busy. :)


Meant to Post This Ages Ago

  1. What is your occupation right now? Holidaymaker
  2. What color are your socks right now? blue chennille with white stripes (it is a cold day in July)
  3. What are you listening to right now? 'Lust for Life' Iggy Pop, I think. It's on Kerrang
  4. What was the last thing that you ate? strawberries
  5. Last person you spoke to on the phone? Miss Kimberly Grace
  6. Do you like the person who sent this to you? Mrs. Porter sent it; I love her and I can't wait to see her in a week or so!!!
  7. How old are you today? 28. ugh.
  8. What is your favourite sport to watch? gymnastics - for some reason I always cry.
  9. What is your favourite drink? water, Strongbow, wine
  10. Have you ever dyed your hair? perpetually
  11. What is your favourite food? still cheese
  12. What is the last movie you watched? 'Of Mice and Men' - I bought it for school and it's fabulous.
  13. Favorite day of the year? Hmmm... August 16th?
  14. How do you vent anger? yell, cry and give 'the evils'
  15. What was your favourite toy as a child? Barbie, mos def Ash!
  16. What is your favourite season? Summer, only because I'm missing it so desperately
  17. Cherries or Blueberries? Cherries, I guess
  18. White Milk or Chocolate Milk? definitely chocolate, but I rarely allow myself the pleasure
  19. Like to drive a car, van or truck? car. Ideally, the new UK model Civic, but I'm happy with my little Suzuki
  20. Living arrangements? enjoying homeownership and cohabitation
  21. When was the last time you cried? watching the aforementioned 'Of Mice and Men'
  22. What is on the floor of your closet? my closet doesn't have a floor because it's not a built-in; but, on the bottom shelf is jewellery, of the diamond type, waiting to join me in Canada
  23. What did you do last night? grocery shopped, banking, made a fabulous dinner, cuddled and read with my man
  24. What inspires you? time off, sunny days
  25. What are you most afraid of? spiders
  26. Plain, cheese or spicy hamburgers? eeew! I haven't had a hamburger in 20 years!
  27. Favourite dog breed? Yorkie or Scottie
  28. Favourite day of the week? Saturday
  29. How many provinces have you lived in? Well, they weren't all called 'provinces', but: BC, Ibaraki, Hessen, Rheinland Pfalz, Warwickshire, West Midlands - 6
  30. Why did you decide to do this particular survey? meh, don't know. Was sitting in my inbox forever, and I thought, 'what the hell'


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Assignment Brief

M Level Assignment for GTP 2008-2009: guidance and marking criteria

This assignment is assessed at M level

You will write one 5000 word Assignment.

Some additional detail for Primary/Secondary is contained in a separate document.

In conjunction with your tutor choose a focus for a classroom-based investigation of a teaching/learning event.

Describe the event in detail and analyse the pedagogical decisions made in planning and implementing this event. Discuss also the learning outcomes the event led to. The analysis must take a critical approach and take account of what is known about pedagogy and learning in the subject in question. It must also illustrate your high level engagement with the appropriate literature.

More detail of this assignment will be provided.

You will be made aware of the range of support and support materials available for students working at this level.

The submission date for this assignment will be the end of the school summer term half term break.

Marking Criteria
The criteria by which your assignment will be marked include:
 Your familiarity with a range of reading relevant to the focus of your assignment.
 The clarity of your account of the investigation you undertook and the nature of the data you obtained.
 The relevance and insightfulness of your discussion of the implications of your topic for teaching and learning in the subject and context that you have chosen.
 Your use of English, style and presentation.

Whichever topic you choose, your assignment should include material from the literature, where you demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of relevant reading, and material from your investigation and/or your critical thinking about the topic. The second of these is really important, as you would not expect to obtain a good mark for the assignment if all you had done was describe the teaching event and regurgitated material that you had read.

You have some leeway in deciding on the proportions of the assignment that you devote to each of these two elements, depending on what interests you and what kind of investigation you have carried out. However, all assignments must include both dimensions, and will be marked in accordance with the criteria given above.

Assignment Structure
To help you in planning your assignment, here is a possible structure, with some indicative word lengths, for an assignment which is based on an investigation. You do not have to follow this slavishly if you have good reasons for structuring your work differently.

Introduction (500 words approx.) An introduction to the topic you have chosen and an outline that explains what the reader will find in your essay.
Section 1 (1000 words approx.) A summary of some of the key issues relevant to your topic, drawing on several sources in the literature about it. Refer to any key debates or areas of controversy related to the topic.
Section 2 (1000 words approx.) An account of the teaching, including the learning outcomes, that you carried out, including the rationale for the methods you used, any problems you encountered and the main stages that you went through.
Section 3 (1000 words approx.) An analysis of your findings, and how these relate to existing literature. Possible explanations for any differences between your results and those found by others. Things which confirmed your expectations and anything which surprised you. Things you would do differently another time, or an account of how you would develop this investigation if you had the opportunity.
Section 4 (1000 words approx.) A discussion of any implications of both the existing literature and your own investigation for processes of teaching and learning in the subject and context of your work.
Conclusion (500 words approx.) A synthesis of the most important aspects of the topic you have researched, relating these to the aims and objectives of the course.

The assignment is marked and moderated by university tutors. You will be awarded a grade rather than just pass. Where an assignment does not reach the pass standard at M level (grades A-C) it will be second marked by a member of the appropriate team and you will receive detailed feedback on what you would have to do in order to improve it. Remember: Masters Level Assignments are looking at assessment of your ability to understand, apply and critically evaluate aspects of educational theory and practice.

Time management and preparation are crucial for this assignment. Masters Level Assignments demand different skills from other tasks. You should make the most effective use as possible of the support and help built into the course. In the assignment you need to show evidence of clear and critical argument and analysis, demonstrating understanding of the issues and a coherent structure. The assignment must be properly referenced, and an appropriate range of resources should be used. Make sure you read the instructions and criteria carefully and adhere to them when you complete your work. If you are in any doubt about any aspects of this work seek advice. All ‘M’-level assignments must be submitted through Reception.

Masters level assignments will be marked and graded according to Masters criteria below. The Masters level criteria include a concern with such issues as: comprehension and analysis of educational issues, including research and knowledge as well as practice in schools; content and coverage of the issues discussed; presentation and organisation of material.
Masters level assignments will be marked and moderated. If agreement on whether an assignment should pass cannot be reached between the two markers the assignment will be referred to the GTP Co-ordinator, who will review the grades and may request a third marker. All failed assignments and a sample of passed assignments at each grade will be seen by External Examiners.
Marks will be given according to the following scale:
 80+ An outstanding piece of work, showing total mastery of the subject-matter, with a highly developed ability to analyse, synthesise and apply knowledge and concepts. All objectives of the set work are covered, and there is evidence of critical reflection, originality of thought and creativity. The work is free of errors with a very high level of technical competence. Ideas are expressed with fluency.
 70-79 An excellent piece of work, showing a high degree of mastery of the subject-matter, with a very well-developed ability to analyse, synthesise and apply knowledge and concepts. All major objectives of the set work are covered, and there is evidence of critical reflection. The work is free of all but very minor errors, with a high level of technical competence. Ideas are expressed with fluency.
 60-69 A good piece of work, showing a sound and thorough grasp of the subject-matter, though lacking in the breadth and depth required for a first-class mark. A good attempt at analysis, synthesis and application of knowledge and concepts, but more limited in scope than that required for a mark of 70+. Most objectives of the work set are covered and there is some evidence of critical reflection. Work is generally technically competent. Ideas are expressed with clarity, with minor exceptions.
 50-59 A fair piece of work, showing a grasp of major elements of the subject-matter but possibly with some gaps or areas of confusion. Only the basic requirements of the work set are covered. The attempt at analysis, synthesis and application of knowledge and concepts is superficial, with a heavy reliance on course materials. Work may contain some errors, and technical competence is at a routine level only. Little critical reflection. Some confusion in expression of ideas.
 40-49 Not of a passable level for a postgraduate programme. A poor piece of work, showing some familiarity with the subject-matter, but with major gaps and serious misconceptions. Only some of the basic requirements of the work set are achieved. There is little or no attempt at analysis, synthesis or application of knowledge, and a low level of technical competence, with many errors. Inability to reflect critically on an argument or viewpoint. Ideas are poorly expressed and structured.
Below 40 Work not of passable standard, with serious gaps in knowledge of the subject-matter, and many areas of confusion. Few or none of the basic requirements of the work set are achieved, and there is an inability to apply knowledge. Technical competence is poor, with many serious errors. The level of expression and structure is very inadequate. The student has failed to engage seriously with any of the subject-matter involved.

Subject Knowledge Analysis and Critique Presentation

(Mark of 80 or above = A*;
70 -79 = A)
Demonstrates a highly developed understanding of relevant concepts, theories and/or research methodologies. A wide range of relevant sources, which are well understood, are deployed to support arguments. Recognises the demands of the question providing a well-focused, relevant answer. Sets sources and viewpoints in a wide context and makes a comprehensive assessment of issues involved. Displays awareness of methodological and theoretical considerations. High levels of ability to analyse, synthesise and apply knowledge and concepts. Detailed examination of issues with reasons for conclusions clearly indicated. Persuasively argued with main issues convincingly evaluated. Some originality of thought and creativity. Material is very well-organised and the structure complements the content. A high level of written communication with very few errors of spelling, grammar and syntax. Mastery of referencing conventions with very few errors or omissions. Appropriate length.

(Mark of 60 - 69) Sound and thorough grasp of relevant concepts, theories and/or research methodologies although lacking in depth at some points. The work is supported by references to a good range of relevant sources which are used in a relevant way. Recognises the demands of the question providing a focused, relevant answer which brings out useful points and substantiates them. A good attempt at analysis, synthesis and application of knowledge and concepts. Appreciates main issues and able to make appropriate critical points. Perceptive commentary on evidence and materials used. Well-structured work displaying attention to the logic and development of the piece. A clear written style. Spelling, grammar and syntax are generally good. Most features of the referencing system are used correctly. Appropriate length.

(Mark of 50 - 59)

Pass Mark
50 Understanding of main concepts, theories and/or research methodologies is fair but lacks depth and/or breadth. There may be some gaps or areas of confusion. An adequate range of relevant source materials is used. Although the demands of the question have been recognised, only the basic requirements are covered and there may be some irrelevant material.
The attempt at analysis, synthesis and application of knowledge and concepts is competent but lacks depth and breadth. Sensible commentary on evidence and materials used though some points may be unsubstantiated. A generally satisfactory overall structure although it may lack balance in parts or fail to integrate some material. An adequate written style which is not impaired by the occasional errors of spelling, grammar and/or syntax. The recommended referencing system is used but with some errors and omissions. Control of length may be less secure.

(Mark of 40 – 49) Some evidence of reading but understanding of the subject matter is limited. The work displays major gaps in knowledge, serious misconceptions and/or factual inaccuracies. Introduction of basic concepts and effort made to relate them to the demands of the question which have been only partially understood. Mainly descriptive with much irrelevance and unsubstantiated conclusions. No sustained analysis and an inability to apply knowledge and synthesise material. Uncritical exegesis. Weak structure. Expression of ideas is sometimes confused or unclear. Communication may also be impaired by errors of spelling, grammar and/or syntax. Referencing marred by frequent errors and omissions. May exceed or fail to meet length requirements.

(Mark below 40) Few relevant sources used. Serious gaps and/or errors in knowledge and understanding indicate that the student has failed to engage seriously with the subject matter. The question may have been ignored or badly misunderstood. Few or none of the basic requirements of the study have been achieved. Superficial treatment of the topic much of which is descriptive, irrelevant and unsubstantiated. Lacks appropriate critical or theoretical framework. Unstructured presentation, lacking coherence. Expression of ideas is poor. Communication may also be impaired by frequent errors of spelling, grammar and/or syntax. The recommended referencing system has not been mastered. Length requirements not met.


My M-level Paper

Year 8 APP Reading Assessments in Theory and in Practice[e1]

Masters of Teaching & Learning: Module One


Student No.: 0900051

GTP for English

Warwick University


Education is an ever-changing field. The gap left by the cancellation of Key Stage 3 SATs is likely to be filled by the QCA’s newest scheme, Assessing Pupil Progress (APP). In its pilot stage, APP aspires to reform the assessment methods and criteria in reading, writing and mathematics from Key Stage 1 through to Key Stage 3, with cross-curricular branches to be instated in the near future. Narrowing the focus to reading alone, this paper aims to outline the need for a standardised assessment strategy[e2] ; to uncover the dual purposes offered by APP[e3] ; and most importantly, to analyse the implementation of APP in the classroom[e4] . [e5] This paper explores the application of standardised APP tests and illustrates an attempt at using APP assessment in a top-set year 8 classroom to guide teaching. Lessons targeting specific AFs are described and analysed, leading to the conclusion that successful implementation of APP will require a total transformation of current practice.

Outgoing SATs

Standardised Assessment Tests (SATs) were introduced in 1995 to be used in conjunction with teacher assessments. These tests were designed ‘to track the progress of individual pupils across their time in education, to measure change in school performance and as a basis for computing value-added factors,’ (Reeves, Boyle and Christie, 2001: 142). SATs were also thought to offer ‘a more equitable form of assessment for students who differ in gender, culture or native language,’ (Reeves, Boyle and Christie, 2001: 142). Controversially, debate ensued from the outset as to what benefit these assessments had to enhancing learning: former Chairman of the Task Group of Assessment and Testing (TGAT) speculated that, ‘assessments usually encourage rote and superficial learning,’ (Black, 1998: 63) which translates to no real learning at all.

What started out as a joint enterprise between testing and teacher assessment, was soon relegated to a hands-off approach to assessment. Reporting on pupil attainment began to centre around SATs results alone. Government league tables of school performance, for example, now reflect only standardised test results. Teachers saw their influence and creativity in educating their pupils begin to dwindle when the government, the local education authorities and the schools themselves narrowed their focus to SATs achievement, rather than on the actual curriculum and pedagogy. More recently, the push to achieve in SATs has undermined the QCA’s endeavour for pupils to develop their functional skills (QCA, ‘Functional Skills’, 2009): ‘Pupils are relegated to the role of question-answerers. The instantiated pedagogy is teacher-directed to the point that attempts by some pupils to link the text to some aspect of their own lives are ignored or rejected,’ (Hall et al, 2004: 806). Is the ability to navigate convoluted exam questions really going to prove a necessary life skill?[e6]

Decision time came when news of the 2008 SATs Marking Fiasco made headlines: it was decision time[e7] . Education Minister, Ed Balls, announced early in the 2008/09 school year that he was putting an end to the long-standing controversy by cancelling the tests; he summed up his decision by admitting it was the result of ‘mounting evidence that the tests are not useful in schools,’ (Curtis, 2009). Not useful in schools, or not useful in life?[e8]

There is still a need, however, for assessment in order to track pupil progress. The governmental initiative to record progress made through key stages stems from findings that,

… a significant number of pupils are not making satisfactory progress during a key stage; indeed some pupils are becoming ‘stuck’ or, even worse, regressing during some stages in their education. (‘Making Good Progress Pilot Information Leaflet’, n.d.: 1)

Without tracking progress from year to year, revelations regarding the lack of said progress are inevitable. In an effort to resolve the situation, Mr. Balls proposes to reform the system by placing assessment duties back in the hands of teachers, with an aim at mirroring the ‘report-card’ progression marker used in American schools (Curtis, 2009) and ensuring hands-on, equitable assessment.

Failing Literacy

When Ofsted conducted an audit of pupil achievement in 1993, it was found that there was a wide discord in reading ability[e9] . While some urban [e10] schools successfully produced capable readers, others failed miserably. Ofsted held ineffectual teaching responsible for this disparity and subsequently the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) was created (Ofsted, 2004: 9). Initially, the aim of the NLS was that, ‘by the year 2002 80% of 11 year olds would reach the expected standard for their age in English.’ To do this a curriculum reform was undertaken whereby one hour was allocated to the teaching of literacy each day: the primary Literacy Hour was established. Of more relevance, however, was that the NLS outlined strategies for improving the teaching of reading. They began with tighter regulation of trainee teachers’ pass requirements regarding literacy skills. [e11] Literacy rates improved and by 2002 75% of 11 year olds had reached the level 4 target, and by 2004, 77%.

(TES, 2006)

Facilitating reading success goes hand-in-hand with promoting the enjoyment of reading; in fact, children’s enjoyment of reading has markedly decreased over the years. From 1998 to 2003 the number of year 6 pupils who reported that they enjoyed reading declined from 77% to 65% (TES, 2006). The reason for this regression, it is proposed, could be the National Literacy Strategy itself; as mentioned above, when teachers have to allocate lesson time to test preparation there is often little time left over for enjoyment. Additionally, ‘advances in technology and cultural changes may have caused changes in reading attitudes,’ (TES, 2006). In this technological age, children are more likely to chat on MSN with their friends or play with their Wii than read a book. A final suggestion for the decline in reading enjoyment is that the extended reading of whole texts might be undervalued in schools. With the emphasis of success in reading being on reading strategies and close analysis using only extracts of texts, ‘children no longer have the freedom to read for pleasure’ (BBC News, 2009).

In-coming Assessing Pupil Progress

The void left by the outgoing KS3 SATs is diminished by the trial of Assessing Pupil Progress (APP), a cross-curricular portfolio of assessment foci (AF) and periodical standardised assessments. In English, APP is intended to overhaul and replace existing assessment frameworks for Key Stages 1 through 3[e12] . The new assessment grid should push out old levelling criteria and will come complete with training on how to use the materials effectively. A welcome highlight of APP is the clear progression of marking criteria through the Key Stages; this was the veritable ‘missing-link’ within the old framework. The overall ambition of the pilot, according to Mick Walters, Head of Curriculum for QCA, is that,

APP provides a detailed individual picture of learners’ strengths and area for improvement, gives a reliable and consistent link to national standards, and contributes to productive discussions between teachers, learners and parents. (QCA, 2008: 2)

The government aims for a complete roll-out of the scheme for reading, writing and mathematics by 2011 (QCA, 2008: 8). Future publications will widen the focus to include foundation subjects and speaking and listening.

Formal, standardised assessments have been created by the QCA that act as benchmarks of pupil progress and allow teachers to hone in on specific areas of pupil need. These new tactics are supposed to produce clear indications of where progress has been made and where it is still required, thus activating the formative nature of APP.

Assessing Pupil Progress and Assessment for Learning

APP is intended to act as a formative, as well as a summative assessment tool. Formative assessment, or Assessment for Learning (AfL), is regarded as being paramount in pupil progress. According to The National Strategy (DCSF, 2008: 2), AfL is done ‘within teaching sequences and at the point of learning’, meaning that unlike summative assessment, it is not a stand-alone tool. Plenaries and mini-plenaries throughout lessons are aimed at ascertaining pupil understanding of new material. Arguably, this is not the only use of formative assessment. The APP assessments offer clearly demarcated assessment criteria from which teachers can identify weak points in individual pupils and in the class group as a whole. By simply analysing data by individual AF and tallying the results, a teacher can reasonably isolate her/his class’s area of need. Practices like these could prove themselves to be the most valuable outcome of the APP system.

In addition to termly formal assessments, English teachers are encouraged to collect pupils’ main pieces of work into ‘portfolios’ which are assessed as a whole, rather than piece-by-piece as was done previously. Guidelines for marking reading, a skill often overlooked in teacher assessment and graded through SATs alone, are now minutely defined. The use of portfolios to collect samples of reading tasks for evaluation is essential because it is unlikely that a single reading task will meet all eight assessment foci. Teachers can use gaps in the grid to tailor up-coming reading tasks to ensure pupils the chance to fulfil all of the AFs[e13] .

Implementation of Assessing Pupil Progress in a Classroom

Formative APP Assessment

In order to assess the merit of the new APP scheme, it needed to be put into practice. The participant group, in this case, was a top-set year 8 class including 14 boys and 14 girls. It should be noted that there are actually four ‘top-set’ groups at this high-achieving school, out of a total of eight, leaving this one to be of mixed-ability with pupils achieving an average of 5a in their second term reports. Pupils’ past reading assessments have placed them at mid level fours through to mid level sixesvariously between mid-level 4 to mid-level 6. The group itself is boisterous and talkative; they are excellent at group work and very keen to succeed and improve.

Research began with the execution of a two-part APP reading assessment: ‘Girl Surfer’ (QCA, 2006). This assessment is designed to take two hours, in this case two whole lessons. As with all APP assessment, the first lesson plan entailed a primarily teacher-led revision of skills and strategies that would be used in the actual assessment; it was also an opportunity for pupils to begin to engage with the text on which they would be assessed. The lesson plan itself was extremely detailed, with instructions to highlight and draw out very specific elements of the text and pupils’ past learning.

After a brief collation of the material covered in the previous lesson, the second lesson in the APP assessment lent itself to the completion of the actual test, which pupils were required to complete independently and in silence. Usually APP year 8 reading assessments call for 40 minutes to complete five or six extended response questions; this particular assessment allowed 10 minutes extra for the completion of question two, which focuses on AF4[e14] , for a total of 50 minutes response time.

The results of the formative assessment were collated to ascertain the average performance for each AF; this indicated that pupils’ achieved the lowest for AF4 and AF5. Four subsequent lessons were designed to target these two AFs.

The following table, taken from the QCA Assessment criteria for reading (2008), illustrates the skills pupils must evidence during their assessment in order to achieve at level five for AF4 and AF5:

AF 4 – identify and comment on the structure and organisation of texts, including grammatical and presentational features at text level.

AF 5 – explain and comment on writers’ use of language, including grammatical and literary features at word and sentence level.



Comments on structural choices show some general awareness of writer’s craft.

Various features of writer’s use of language identified, with some explanation.

Various features relating to organisation at text level, including form, are clearly identified.

Comments show some awareness of the effect of writer’s language choices.

Target Lessons 1 & 2

All lessons were one hour in length. Lessons 1 and 2 occurred approximately one week after the formative assessment, with thorough marking and analysis of the test taking place in the meantime.

The first two target lessons had pupils look back at the marked ‘Girl Surfer’ assessments (QCA, 2006). The learning objectives for these lessons were to:

  • understand the criteria for achieving at level five for language-based reading questions; and,
  • be able to comment on structural and organisational aspects of texts and infer some intended functions of these choices.

These two lessons drew heavily upon the scaffolding of learning by both higher ability pupils and the teacher (Vygotsky, 1978 in Brooks, Abbot and Bills, (eds.), 2004: 48). Pupils were carefully appointed to small groups based on their achievement on a particular AF; for example, a group assigned AF3 would include at least one pupil who achieved a secure-to-high level five, another who had scored within the level three range as well as several mid-attainers. They were asked to identify how to achieve a high level five for their assigned AF by considering three criteria: [e15]

  1. comparing a top level answer to a lower level one;
  2. analysing key words in the mark scheme; and,
  3. decoding the question itself.

In their groups, pupils were able to detect the qualities of a level five response. Strong reliance was placed on the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978 in Brooks, Abbot and Bills, (eds.), 2004: 49) to enhance the understanding of those pupils who scored lower on the particular AF they researched. [e16] Pupils were then asked to present their findings to the class, being certain to list the criteria (in ‘kid-speak’) for achieving a high level five for that particular AF, as well as provide an example from their own responses. The learning outcome for this task was a compilation of easily understood success criteria for each AF.

Using a role-playing approach to modelling, the second lesson explored strategies for commenting on the effect of language and structural choices (skills necessary to achieve both AF4 and AF5). The first assessment concluded that the majority of pupils were capable of identifying specific structural features within text, but had not developed an ability to personally engage with their effects. Pupils watched the teacher role-playing the asking and answering questions like:

  • Does this feature connect with a significant event within the storyline?
  • Does this feature make me read the text more slowly or more quickly?
  • Is there a particular character or location associated with this feature?
  • What does this feature make me think of, feel and imagine?
  • Why might the author have chosen to use this feature at this point in the text?

These questions were then displayed on the board for pupils to refer to in their own exploration of texts.

A guided reading task was employed to allow pupils a chance to benefit from each others’ input and to enhance their ability to comment effectively on linguistic and structural features of texts. Pupils were split into groups of four and five; group assignment was based on ability level, this time matching levels within each group respectively. Texts of varying difficulty were assigned to each group based on their ability level. Pupils were asked to take turns reading the text aloud, and to stop at pre-marked places to discuss what they were reading. Appointed ‘group leaders’ then led the group in open discussion about the structure and language of the text, using the above prompts, as necessary, to elaborate on effect. Groups gained an in-depth knowledge of their text from a number of perspectives.

Target Lessons 3 & 4

The following week, lessons 3 and 4 endeavoured to extend pupils’ confidence with commenting on AF4 and AF5 with an outcome of two extended writing tasks. The learning objectives for these lessons were to:

  • be able to identify and comment on subtle features of language and structure within texts; and,
  • understand that the writer carefully crafts his/her work to create a specific effect on the reader.

To collate the information learned and practised in the previous lessons, pupils were asked to begin target lesson three by working in pairs to complete a ‘Features of Language and Structure’ chart. They read an extract from the modern novel, ‘River Boy’ by Tim Bowler (1997) (a unit of study recently completed), and were asked to annotate these extracts for features of language and structure. Pupils were able to identify evidence of short sentences, long sentences, dialogue, imagery, varied punctuation, and reference to the senses and used the charts to briefly comment on the effects of these features. Feedback of this activity showed that most pairs were able to make thoughtful responses, such as ‘using short sentences in narrative writing will create a faster pace, and more suspense for the reader’. Pupils were also able to draw upon these lists of features and the annotated extracts from the novel for the subsequent task.

The third and fourth lessons served doubly as a final assessment for their modern novel unit. Pupils were asked to write a short ‘deleted scene’ in the same style as the novel, carrying on from implied events within the storyline. Pupils traded their complete deleted scenes with a partner and peer-evaluated them for technical errors and the correct implementation of the above features.

Next, pupils were asked to write a short commentary explaining how they had successfully mimicked Bowler’s narrative style and, more importantly, the effects of their own structural and linguistic choices. The use of quotation was encouraged to support responses. Pupils were aided by a model paragraph provided on the board; this was read through as a class, and aspects, such as comparison to the original text, were highlighted.

Summative APP Assessment

Finally, more than a week after lesson 4, the participating class was given a new APP reading assessment in order to gauge their progress overall, and especially, on the two targeted AFs. The reading assessment chosen was ‘A New Play’ (QCA, 2006) and involved exploration of William Shakespeare as a playwrite.

Again, the first lesson in the scheme involved fragmented, teacher-led tasks, though in this case it required a dramatic activity. Some alteration to the prescribed lesson plan was essential in light of this particular group: as they are very active and social and respond well to dramatic activities, it was clear that the allotted time was insufficient for the tableauxing task. Postponing the task in order to complete all the other parts of the lesson plan and coming back to it at the end allowed pupils to benefit from all aspects of the lesson, but minimized the time that would have been wasted getting all the children seated again and ready to learn quietly.

The second lesson plan required some brief teacher-led revision of material from the first lesson, with pupils then completing the assessment independently and in silence; they had 40 minutes to do this. Again, the inclusive mark scheme was used to evaluate pupils’ performance.

Analysis of the Lessons and Results

The first APP test was had a triple purpose: the results contributed to the formation of pupils’ termly reported level, thus utilising the summative nature of APP; the attainment by AF was used to narrow the subsequent research to AF4 and AF5; and, the results were compared to the summative APP test in order to track any improvement overall and on the two target AFs. [e17]

On the formative test, pupils were found to achieve between levels 4a and 5a, with an average level of 5b. Similarly, on the summative test, pupils achieved between 4b and 5a, with an average of 5c. Remarkably, the overall grade decreased. In fact, the tests showed that pupils scored, on average, roughly the same over the two tests for AF5 and less than one sub-level better on the second test for AF4. Therefore it is evident that pupils performed poorer on a non-target AFs, which contributed to the overall reduction in level. In this case it was AF6 that proved most problematic for pupils in the summative assessment.

With more time, the AF target lessons could have been improved. Though pupils spent a good amount of time investigating the requirements of a level-5 answer to AF4 and AF5 on the first test, many of these responses would have centred quite specifically on that particular test. As the wording of the questions differs from assessment to assessment, it was difficult for pupils to gauge what was being asked of them, even if they had a solid understanding of what was required within any individual AF. Further investigation of a range of questions under each AF might have provided pupils with a framework for understanding exactly what new questions are asking of them. Conversely, testing pupils with questions directed only at the target AFs in the summative assessment, might have directed their focus and produced more desirable results.

According to Ofsted, there seems to be a disconnection between the understanding of written language and the appreciation of it (Ofsted, 2005). In one target lesson, pupils were asked to highlight and annotate an extract for features of language, and later to utilise these same features in their own writing. Perhaps integration of more teacher-led shared reading activities (thus, modelling the necessary skills in a variety of contexts) would have allowed pupils a better understanding of reflective reading and linguistic appreciation. Conversely, as engaging with a text on a personal level is a creative reading process, it might have been effective to have pupils create visual representations for how the language and structure of the text makes them think and feel. This may have resulted in posters or illustrations with annotations, which would have the dual purpose of appealing to a wider range of learning styles (Gardner, 1993 in Brooks, Abbot and Bills, (eds.), 2004: 52-53).

Not surprisingly, outcomes of the target lessons predicted poor performance in the summative assessment. Pupils achieved an average of 4a on their commentaries, compared to an average of 5b for the writing assessment of these tasks. A staple of AfL could have been employed to boost pupils’ aptitude for these two reading AFs: feedback. Brooks argues that ‘constructive feedback is vital in helping pupils to progress,’ (V. Brooks, 2004 in Brooks, Abbot and Bills, (eds.), 2004: 118) and indeed this could have been the case for our group. Preliminary marking of the commentaries would have served as an additional formative assessment, emphasizing where pupils still lacked confidence as well as provided pupils with targets for improvement. Should pupils have been given an opportunity to reflect on the feedback and targets offered and improve their commentaries, the necessary skills to attain level five for AF4 and AF5 would have been more firmly ingrained.

Still, over both APP assessments, pupils scored an average of a low level four on AF5 and regressed from a secure four to a low four on AF4. The written reading assessment showed them to be at a 4a average. If the assessment had accurately measured pupils’ ability for these two AFs, they should have attained at high level 4 on the summative test.

A standard deviation of levels achieved over the two APP tests was compiled, indicating how many levels each pupil progressed or regressed from the first assessment to the second. The overall deviation for the class was -1, meaning that performance regressed by one sub-level.

Interestingly, when the achievement of high attainers and low attainers was analysed separately, low attainers improved their overall performance by one sub-level while the marks of high attainers were two sub-levels worse, on average. Low attaining pupils could have benefited from the target lesson activities aimed at high attaining pupils providing scaffolding for low attainers. Simply having the opportunity to look over higher ability pupils’ test papers could have allowed the lower ability pupils a frame of reference for what degree of analysis or length of response is required. Again, this would have been an exercise in modelling. Conversely, as performance on questions linked to non-target AFs showed a plunge in attainment across the board, it could be theorised that high performing pupils may have narrowed their focus’ on AF4 and AF5 to the detriment of their overall achievement.

Girls reduced their achievement from the first APP assessment to the second by an overall standard deviation of -2; boys’ results plummeted, however, incurring an overall standard deviation of -8. Ofsted admits that ‘the gap between girls’ and boys’ achievement is significant and increases as they move through school’ (Ofsted, 2005: 10). Myhill and Fisher suggest that boys’ underperformance in reading could result from boys’ tendency to ‘negotiate their masculine identity and adopt macho values which reject the values of the school’ which, in turn, predisposes them to undervalue the ethereal subject of English (Myhill & Fisher in Ofsted, 2005: 21). Ofsted furthers this by adding that boys’ poor achievement might be because,

Boys tend to give up independent reading more easily than girls and, as they get older, seem to have greater difficulty in finding books to enjoy. They are also less likely to share or swap books with friends. They often enjoy oral activities and drama. However, the recent emphasis on teaching writing has provided them with fewer opportunities to do well in these areas. (Ofsted, 2005: 34)

As per Ofsted’s recommendations for improving boys’ performance, integrating more active, visual approaches into the target lessons could have produced more favourable outcomes for this group. This could have equated to group poster-making, or a fast-paced game of word-tag. As boys have difficulty engaging with texts, closer attention could have been paid to finding texts geared at boys so that a greater level of enjoyment was facilitated; perhaps this would have resulted in enhanced personal interactions with the texts.

Assessing Pupil Progress: an Evaluation

In shifting the responsibility for marking standardised tests back to the teacher, the QCA needs to make the APP scheme as user-friendly as possible. The reading assessments are, for the most part, straightforward to mark using the inclusive mark schemes; plenty of example answers are provided. On the other hand, often the initial lessons in the APP assessment plans are fragmented, requiring that the teacher refer back to the lesson plan for the obligatory prompts and protocol. In ‘The New Play,’ for example, there are 20 separate intricate instructions for the teacher to carry out. To minimise teachers’ need to constantly refer to detailed lesson plans, slideshows could be provided by the QCA with the other APP resources.

APP offers a method of assessment which is streamlined and uniform. The marking grid clearly delineates criteria from level to level across the seven reading AFs. These levels mirror the previous reading assessment criteria, but since they are now split into seven AFs, having any one independent reading task meet all seven is nearly impossible. The QCA suggests compiling portfolios of pupils’ work over terms or years so that pupils can be documented as meeting and improving on all seven AFs, but the convenience of this remains to be seen. How can teachers assign an overall reading mark in term one, when pupils may have hit only three or four AFs? How can teachers keep a log of where AFs have been met and improved on in order to justify their mark allocations for reporting and moderation?

In streamlining the system, QCA have abolished sub-levels. Pupils now have to jump whole levels to show improvement. On the APP reading assessments, grade determiners fall into the categories ‘secure’ and ‘low’ for each level. Assuming that a ‘secure’ level 4 is a 4b, how does a pupil achieve a 4a? In fact, on the integrated mark scheme for each test, no criteria for differentiation on a sub-level basis is present. Though teachers could make personal judgements in order to allocate sub-levels, doing so would impede the requisite standardisation of this standardised testing method. Furthermore, pupils are used to improving their performance by a series of manageable steps; should those be removed, pupils’ steps are going to seem like leaps.

As a method of formative assessment, however, APP does provide a much more regular progress-checking option. Pilot schools are administering APP evaluations a minimum of once per term, per class. Effective analysis of the results of these tests can be used to design subsequent units of work that tailor to the needs of the class, and statistics can be narrowed down further to produce very personalised targets for improvement for individual pupils.

An important criticism that English teachers had about SATs was the capriciousness of the questions; a problem that does not seem to be remedied by APP. In question seven of ‘The New Play,’ (QCA, 2006) pupils can only achieve level five for AF6 if they are able to ascertain the ‘most important thing the writer wants the reader to learn about writing and performing plays in Shakespeare’s time’ (QCA, 2006). Pupils had to choose the correct response from a multiple-choice list, which seemed to be a best-fit statement, rather than a conclusive answer. What’s more, pupils then had to develop this response into an extended explanation. The mark scheme posits that the answer should make reference to Shakespeare’s desire to please King James; in fact, this situation is mentioned in only three of 16 paragraphs of the reading booklet. Many more apt responses explored the wider difficulties of acting during Shakespearean times, but achieved only level 3 because either the correct box wasn’t ticked, or the text wasn’t boiled down to the players’ sole need to please their audiences. This top-set group averaged a low level 3 for over-answering this question, which significantly decreased their overall performance.

Offering year 8 APP reading assessments that restrict pupils to level 5 could limit achievement. This particular year 8 class had a teacher-assessed average reading level for the year of 5a, at the very top of the range provided for year 8 assessment. For both reading assessments conducted, 54% of pupils achieved a secure level 5 or better. Pupils that achieved top marks for individual questions could, potentially, have performed well enough to achieve well into level 6, should the mark scheme have allowed it. Consequently, overall marks could have more accurately reflected the ability of these individuals and enhanced the class average.


As one in a string of new strategies implemented by QCA, APP does fit nicely into the gap left by the abolition of SATs. Standardised assessment will continue to offer equitable progress tracking and impartial league tables. As SATs were externally moderated, the government clearly stands to save money by having teachers moderate for their own classes.

Because APP assessments are currently homogenous across reading, writing and mathematics (with promised inclusion for all subject shortly), schools will finally have the chance to make solid cross-curricular links. APP continues to offer schools a rigorous grading system which can be used to set pupils from year to year. Furthermore, since the assessments are so detailed and self-explanatory, the two-lesson units can be delivered by almost anyone. Overall results could even see improvement as pupils will be used to this form of assessment and test-taking will no longer be associated with daunting exam conditions.

Where teachers have often relied on the SATs for reading assessment in the past, APP has the advantage of offering regular reading assessment opportunities within lessons. The assessment grids additionally provide detailed criteria for achievement that easily translate to learning objectives that target class weaknesses and personalised progression. Because these assessment criteria merge across the key stages, teachers can more accurately track the progress of individual pupils.

The results of our APP reading assessments used formatively to target the development of specific reading skills were inconclusive. The fact that the class average did not vary significantly from test to test likely supports the tests validity, considering the very short time frame involved. The development of reading skills will unquestionably take longer than a handful of lessons, and significant improvement in results would require a much larger pool of participants.

The QCA admit, however, that the scheme is a work in progress. At the pilot stage, a number of factors hinder the efficacy of APP, including:

  • the questionable need of detail within the standardised assessment lesson plans;
  • the limited achievement afforded by assessments that restrict pupils to an inadequate range of attainment;
  • the elimination of sub-levels without which pupils are unable to gauge slight variations in attainment; and,
  • the capricious nature of the assessment marking criteria.

One hopes that these issues are flagged up by pilot schools and the necessary amendments are made by QCA before APP is fully rolled out. Nevertheless, it is evident that successful implementation of APP will require a total transformation of current practice.


Black, P. (1998) ‘Learning, League Tables and National Assessment: opportunity lost or hope deferred?’ Oxford Review of Education, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 57-63. ü

Bowler, T. (1997) River Boy Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress

Brooks, V. (2004) ‘Using assessment for formative purposes’, in Brooks, V., Abbott, I., & Bills, L. (eds.) Preparing to Teaching in Secondary Schools, Maidenhead: Open University Press. ü

Curtis, P. (2008) ‘SATs for 14 year olds are scrapped’, Guardian, [Online], Available: [17 May 2009].

Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), (2008) Assessment for Learning, [Online], Available: [17 May 2009].

‘English ‘losing out’ to literacy’, BBC News, [Online], Available:, [9 April 2009].

Gardner, H. (1993) in Muijs. D. (2004) ‘Understanding how pupils learn: Theories of learning and intelligence’, in Brooks, V., Abbott, I., & Bills, L. (eds.) Preparing to Teaching in Secondary Schools, Maidenhead: Open University Press. ü

Hall et al, (2004) ‘SATurated models of pupildom: assessment and inclusion/exclusion’, British Educational Research Journal, vol. 30, no. 6, December, pp. 801-817. ü

Myhill, D. & Fisher, D. in Ofsted, (2005) ‘English 2000 – 2005’, [Online], Available: [17 May 2009].

Ofsted, (2004) Reading for purpose and pleasure: an evaluation of the teaching of reading in primary schools, [Online], Available: [17 May 2009].

Ofsted, (2005) ‘English 2000 – 2005’, [Online], Available: [17 May 2009].

QCA, (2006) ‘Girl surfer: Year 8 reading task’, DfES 1789-2005 CDO-EN.

QCA, (2006) ‘The new play: Year 8 reading task’, DfES 1789-2005 CDO-EN.

QCA, (2008) ‘Assessing pupils’ progress: Assessment at the heart of learning’, [Online], Available: [17 May 2009].

QCA, (2009) ‘Functional Skills’, [Online], Available: [27 Mar 2009].

Reeves, D.J., Boyle, W.F. & Christie, T. (2001) ‘The Relationship between Teacher Assessments and Pupils Attainments in Standard Test Tasks at Key Stage 2, 1996-98’, British Educational Research Journal, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 141-160. ü

Teachernet, (n.d.) ‘Making Good Progress Pilot: Information Leaflet for Parents and Carers’, [Online] [17 May 2009].

TES, (2006) The National Literacy Strategy: Background [Online] Available: [17 may 2009].

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) in Muijs. D. (2004) ‘Understanding how pupils learn: Theories of learning and intelligence’, in Brooks, V., Abbott, I., & Bills, L. (eds.) Preparing to Teaching in Secondary Schools, Maidenhead: Open University Press. ü

Word count: 5424, without referencing.

Student number: 0900051

Course: Graduate Teacher Programme

Module: IE9B8

Dissertation/Assignment title: GTP Masters Assignment

Agreed Grade


Overall comment

This assignment demonstrates a good professional understanding of APP in practice in relation to a particular group, but it fails to meet the requirements of the academic assignment it is meant to present. This is probably because no question was set at the outset, nor is a specific question asked at any point during the investigation itself. AS a result the work presented is an overview of APP and what happened when applied to a specific group.

Subject Knowledge

Subject knowledge in relation to APP and professional documents is fair. However, subject knowledge of appropriate research literature is very poor, and this is because few sources have been consulted, and most of those cited come from the same generic text about teaching in secondary schools. The lack of wide reading also stops this work from going anywhere beyond description.

Analysis and Critique

As a result of there being no research reading of substance, there are no opportunities for analysis and critique. Again, this is partly because of the lack of a clear question in the first place .


The work is well presented in terms of written expression, but the structure is weak because of the lack of question and appropriate reading.

Advice for future work

· In conjunction with your mentor set a question or problem to be investigated.

· You must read much more widely, not just professional documentation but journal articles, all accessible via the internet from the library

· Set a clear structure for the work so that it enables you to answer the question you set at the beginning.

Signed (first marker) Melanie Pope Date 11.06.09

Second marker’s comments where applicable

Signed (second marker/ moderator – delete as appropriate)


[e1]This is not an investigation question, it is a statement. SO what about Year 8 reading assessments? What is problematic about them?

[e2]Why? You need to set a case for this in a question

[e3]Again, why?

[e4]Why? What is the problem that all of these things attempt to address?

[e5]From the outset you need to state a question for this investigation, within which the paper will do the things stated here.

[e6]Be wary of rhetorical questions like this in an academic essay – the desired impact is not appropriate in this genre

[e7]Repetitive; and decision time for whom, about what?

[e8]See above point.

[e9]Do you mean ‘disparity’?

[e10]Why the focus on ‘urban’ here? Explain

[e11]I do not understand what this refers to. Unclear

[e12]This is an Americanism; rephrase ‘for Key Stages 1 to 3’.

[e13]Please note to this point that what you have done is to describe the current professional scenario, supported by evidence from professional and media texts only. You have still not set a clear question for investigation, and there is very limited evidence of academic reading of research to support any of the points made

[e14]Are the AFs in an appendix? If so, let the reader know here.

[e15]Surely these are strategies, not criteria?


[e17]Use bullet points to present more effectively


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