Earlier this week, primary school teacher and Schools Improvement Net reader Ben Waldram shared some thoughts on Twitter ahead of the new spelling, grammar and punctuation test for year 6 pupils and promised to report back after his class had been through the experience of sitting it for real. Good to his word, here is Ben’s report…
I had my thoughts before the test came out today, I thought: this is going to be easy, we’ll nail this. I thought: What a horrendous amount of time, money and energy to be spent on what is ultimately a guessing game – it could have been written in Spanish and the children would have still scored decent points just from ticking boxes. I thought: Is this really helping our children to improve their writing?
Admittedly, they all sound fairly negative thoughts. Grammar is important! Nothing frustrates me more than seeing signs for ladie’s clothes and garages offering MOT,s – on Sunday’s too! So, yes, grammar is important. But what exactly is it that’s important? Knowing an abstract noun from a common one? Knowing the difference between a phrase and a clause or where to use inverted commas (which, I was always led to believe were ‘single’ marks not “doubles”…)
More important than knowing these things is understanding these things. Having the ability to use them in writing, to use punctuation and sentence order to make writing more playful, more exciting is key. When we first sat the practice paper a few months ago, my group all scored very highly. Much higher than I at first anticipated. Then came a question asking the children to punctuate two simple sentences with capital letters and full stops. They failed! They could not do it. All our work on subordination and dashes and the use of commas to embed a clause/phrase had not worked. They weren’t able to punctuate a sentence with the most basic of marks. Why? Because this was application and not knowledge. Not box-ticking.
Our year sixes sat their grammar test today and, although I never really looked (I never look at a paper once they’ve finished it – no point), I could tell they were buoyant about it, they felt positive. A small selection of children sat the level six paper in the afternoon and, dare I say it, enjoyed the grammar test. It is a very mechanical process, almost mathematical one of them said. The additional task to prove if they could apply it however, was one of the most boring and 2-dimensional pieces I’ve seen for some years. It gave no scope or range for them to be able to show flair and creativity. A real shame.
The upshot of all this… my views are that many children up and down the country will score highly, they’ll prove that learning grammar as knowledge is not a bad thing – tick for Gove. ‘Ooh, you see, it’s not so bad; let’s have it every year.’ The spag test this year doesn’t count to the overall English level, just RAISEonline. I think next year, it will.
How has the inaugural Spag test been for you and your class? Let us know on Twitter, in the comments below or by using this form.