How to Interpret the Writing Moderation Criteria for the End of Key Stage 2

By Jack Watson

 

After a year teaching Year 4 children, I found myself thrust into the minefield of Year 6, where I currently reside.

In that first year, I was thwacked with the holy trinity of primary school moderation: an Ofsted deep dive, SATs and an external writing moderation. Heavy stuff.

Without question, I found the writing moderation the most challenging of the three.

The SATs come at the end of the year and you have the whole year to prepare. Ofsted is horrible but over in a flash. Writing moderation, however, requires weeks of endless writing, marking and refining for a single, high-stakes moderation event, one that we weren’t expecting.

What I found the most challenging was how inaccessible the language around some of the moderation criteria was. In this article, I am going to dissect one element of it and give examples of how students can both meet and exceed the Expected Standard (EXS) placed at Year 6 with a short paragraph.

(Disclaimer – one paragraph won’t be enough for a student to score EXS writing or above. This is just an example of how it can be done.)

EXS – Use a range of devices to build cohesion within and across paragraphs.

To achieve the expected standard, cohesive writing is required. It’s got to flow.

There is a simple list of strategies I look for in my students’ writing to make this happen.

Helpfully, they are listed in the writing criteria; annoyingly, this is done without context or explanation. (There are other things you can look for but I believe that, if you are new to Year 6 moderation, this list is a good place to start.)

Here are those four key skills plus their purposes:

  • Pronouns – these help avoid repetition and keep the reader interested;
  • Conjunctions – these create fluidity;
  • Adverbials of time and place – these connect events happening in a chronological order or a single location;
  • Synonyms – once again, these help avoid repetition.

Here’s a paragraph without these skills in use:

The lion was hungry. The lion headed to his wife’s suggestion: the deli. The lion was so hungry that his tummy was rumbling like the engine in his Ferrari. The lion’s tummy ached. Saliva was running down his chin. His wife followed along the high street. His wife was just as desperate for something to eat as the lion.

This reads like a series of sentences written one at a time with no clear plan. Many skills are in use but the passage lacks cohesion. For this reason, the paragraph wouldn’t meet the EXS criterium, ‘use a range of devices to build cohesion within and across paragraphs’.

Now, here is the same paragraph with those skills there.

The lion was starving so he immediately headed to his wife’s suggestion: the deli. He was so hungry that his tummy was rumbling like the engine in his Ferrari. His stomach ached and saliva was running down his chin. She followed along the high street, swiftly passing their neighbour along the way, because she was just as desperate for something to eat as him.

  • Pronouns – the writer has introduced the lion but referred to him using pronouns (he/his/him) thereafter to avoid repetition.
  • Conjunctions – ‘so’ (the second one), ‘and’ and ‘because’ have all allowed the writer to add further detail to each sentence in a fluid way.
  • Adverbials of time and place – the reader knows where to picture the lion’s saliva. The reader is reminded of where the lion and his wife are (the high street) and informed of when they continue walking (immediately).
  • Synonyms – ‘famished’, ‘hungry’ and ‘desperate for food’ all depict the same idea but with a varied vocabulary (‘tummy’ and ‘stomach’ do the same and allow the writer to use a Year 5/6 spelling word – stomach).

Using the aforementioned skills turns it into a single, cohesive element of the story.

Now, here’s how your students can manipulate them to achieve Greater Depth Standard (GDS) writing…

GDS – Write effectively for a range of purposes and audiences selecting the appropriate form and drawing independently on what they have read as models for their own writing.

I am now going to rewrite this paragraph. This time, I will make and underline modifications that can demonstrate GDS capability:

Despite his disappointing visit to the butcher’s moments earlier, the lion was famished so he immediately headed to his wife’s suggestion: the deli. He was so hungry that his tummy was rumbling like the engine in his Ferrari. His stomach ached and saliva was streaming down his chin while his mind battled with visions of salami. His wife pursued him along the high street, swiftly passing their neighbour along the way, because she was just as desperate for something to eat as her starving husband.

Here’s what makes this GDS writing:

  • Pronouns – used for the lion throughout to avoid repetition. However, when they walk past a neighbour, it is important to use a noun/proper noun so we know the final clause refers to the lion. Furthermore, using ‘her starving husband’ is better than ‘the lion’ here because it still helps avoid repetition, tying this skill in with synonyms.
  • Conjunctions – we have a sentence that contains three but still maintains flow, sense and cohesion. Shorter clauses help to make sure this sentence isn’t overbearing.
  • Adverbials of time and place – another place adverbial (‘the butcher’s’ has been added to the start, creating a closer link to the previous paragraph. ‘Moments earlier’ tells the reader that they are likely to still be close to the shop; they haven’t travelled between the paragraphs.
  • Synonyms – I have improved words such as ‘starving’, ‘running’ and ‘followed’ with more challenging yet realistic language.

And finally:

  • The most complex element of this writing, which I explain below:

Despite his disappointing visit to the butcher’s moments earlier, the lion was famished so he immediately headed to his wife’s suggestion: the deli.

We’ve started with ‘he’ – doesn’t this create ambiguity instead of clarity? How can the reader be sure who ‘he’ is?

‘Despite his disappointing…’ is a subordinating clause, something that is more commonly found after the main clause. For example:

The lion was famished so, despite his disappointing visit to the butcher’s, he immediately headed to his wife’s suggestion: the deli.

Here, we see a more typical use of ‘noun-pronoun’. Because it works this way around, lifting the subordinating clause and placing it at the front of the sentence is still appropriate. We start with ‘he’ but we immediately find out who ‘he’ is. Clarity is restored.

What makes these three elements of the text GDS is that the writer has done something that usually wouldn’t work and made it work:

  • Repeated a noun without it being repetitive;
  • Used multiple conjunctions without the sentence becoming onerous to read;
  • Used a pronoun before the noun without it becoming ambiguous.

Furthermore:

  • The more challenging vocabulary improves the quality of the writing and, such is the complexity of the words, could provide evidence that the writer has drawn on examples from their reading.
  • The writer has also created a direct link between this paragraph and the previous one with a carefully chosen adverbial that they have delivered in the form of a sentence opener. This single clause is packed with skills: conjunction, adverbial of both time and place, sentence opener.

This is the value of reading in primary schools and the impact it can have on writing. Many of these skills children will pick up from what they read.

If you want to explicitly teach them in lessons, they also make increasing sense to the students the more they come across them.

There is a lot going on here, I understand. However, I recommend keeping hold of this article and returning to it when moderating your own students’ writing. I hope it helps you know a little more about what to look for.

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