from Dr Katina Zammit
Katina Zammit argues that the best preparation for the NAPLAN test writing tasks is in the context of meaningful content and purposes, and not through simply practising the test itself.
In 2011 the NAPLAN writing changes from a narrative to an exposition text that students will need to write in year 3, year 5 and year 7. As in the last two NAPLAN writing tests they will all get the same topic and be graded using the same criteria. Teachers want their students to do well. Schools want their school to do well and have a good reputation. But NAPLAN results, and the reporting of them to the general public, do not measure the success of a student, their teacher nor their school.
So teachers in year 3 and year 5 (and year 7 and year 9) are preparing their students – explicitly teaching to the criteria given for the NAPLAN exposition. They are ensuring their students know the structure of an exposition: Thesis statement + preview of arguments ^ Arguments (one per paragraph) ^ Summary (or Recommendation). But how are they implementing this in the classroom? Some teachers will embed the learning about writing in the topic they are teaching: The local environment should be looked after, or Tourists should not visit Antarctica, as part of the HSIE environment unit. But others will take a more traditional approach and just teach about the text in isolation. Students will have practice writing tests – given a topic, a time limit, and instructed to write an exposition.
Some teachers also develop knowledge about language at the sentence level, ie grammatical knowledge. Language choices for an exposition, such as the use of persuasive language and modality, will be on the agenda for year 3 and year 5. But again, how will these be taught? They may be learnt in a meaningful context or as a set of prescriptive elements that must be included. Again the teaching choices we make impact on our students.
To me the process raises several issues with the writing component of NAPLAN: How can a one-off writing test, with a limited inclusion of field knowledge on an issue, be representative of successful writing? How do teachers prepare their class to take the writing test if it is not part of the HSIE, Science and Technology or other learning areas being studied as part of the school curriculum? Teaching to the test is not the most effective practice if we want our students to become successful writers and creators of texts suited to particular contexts. We do not want to go down the same road as many states in the USA. We do not want to become ‘test teachers’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5wkJxTwXnk
Katina Zammit is a Lecturer in literacy and English education in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Her previous blog post was on the use of wikkis in the classroom.