An answer to the question, “How long does it have to be sir?”

I have just finished a round of assessment with my Year 9 SEN group. They are not yet at the stage where we can do extended writing, but given that their last assessment was a verbal presentation, I wanted to get them to write something and think about how words can be used.

I have been a fan of ‘mini-sagas’ in the classroom for a while now. They are a great revision tool and can make students really think about what are the essential elements of a story or topic (see http://is.gd/1j46p). I thought that it might help this group if the assessment was reduced down to 50 words and I made them think about what they had to write rather than how much.

The task was to look at the story of a woman called Kitty Eckersley, whose story appears in the excellent book, ‘Forgotten Voices of the Great War’ by Max Arthur (see bit.ly/90PZwC). I wanted students to explore the relationship between big events in History and the impact on people’s lives. The key skills being tested here were diversity and chronology – for as we call it ‘Patterns in History’. I mini-saga seemed to fit in this appraoch and so I created a seessment sheet ATY9 Kitty’s Storyand we began to draft…

The results were very good, with some students going down a poetic route and others focusing on telling a memorable story. A couple of the mini-sagas can be seen below:

“Kitty worked in a mill. She found love, they got married. He went to war and she didn’t see him for six months. She worked in a leather factory when he came back and bought her a hat. He returned to war, but she got pregnant. Then came THE LETTER.”

“Working hard every day, married a young man who decided to go to war – was terrified. After six months and a lonely Christmas he arrives in January. Pregnant. Seven months later I got a letter saying “I am sorry to tell you of the death of your husband.” Tears fall.”

So, we assessed the impact of the Great War in 30 minutes and in 50 words, which stopped all those annoying questions about how long the assessment has to be. The next step is to work out how we can move students on and allow them to access the higher levels of thinking; getting them to explore the difference between the outbreak of war, which passes Kitty by, and the recruitment drive, which impacts her significantly.

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Johannes Ahrenfelt

Johannes Ahrenfelt has previously worked as County Advisor for Learning & Teaching with ICT, Head of Department and University Lecturer. He has taught for 10+ years in schools around Norfolk, UK, and is currently leading an inspirational team in Norwich as Head of Faculty. Johannes shares his passion for pedagogy on his blog, social media and when delivering training in the UK and abroad. He has also published several books worldwide, one of which has been translated into Mandarin and Malayan.

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