Steven Smith wasn't always the world's best batsman. Given his current status as possibly the next-best-to-Bradman, it's difficult to believe that he was first selected for Australia as a 21-year-old bowler, batting at number 8. What does this have to do with NAPLAN? Let's look at Smith's improvement streak.
"You know that bit in Back to the Future when Doc Brown asks Marty McFly who the president is in 1985, and Marty tells him it’s Ronald Reagan? “The actor?” Doc Brown retorts, a look of pure incredulity on his face. Well, anybody who saw Steve Smith in 2009 would get a pretty tasty shock if they could peer five years into the future and see where he is now." - The Telegraph, UK, 8 December 2017
After just five test matches Smith was dropped and seemingly out of favour, even admitting now that he "wasn't very good". So what happened during his two years in the wilderness to turn him into the best batsman of his generation?
Steve Smith practices earlier in the year. Source: hindustantimes.com
"I went away and hit thousands of cricket balls"
Practice is part of the equation.
Practice plus feedback is proven to help outcomes. And Smith didn't just practice, he got consistent, personal tips and feedback, in particular from batting coach Michael Di Venuto.
"Armed with his favourite 'wanger' – essentially a tennis ball launcher for dog owners – Di Venuto hurls ball after ball after ball to Australia’s most talented batsman in the nets, offering batting tips and anecdotes he’s collected across his 20-year first-class career." Sam Ferris, cricket.com.au
Lessons for NAPLAN?
Teachers, school leaders, parents - let's ask ourselves - how often does the average Year 7 boy write? Does he get personal feedback (like in the cricket nets, one-to-one) every time he produces a draft, every night? Would it change NAPLAN writing outcomes if he (and every Year 7 student) did?
There is certainly an Australian culture of sports practice and asking for help. This same culture doesn't right now extend to academic pursuits and writing in particular. Without engaging opportunities for practice and seeking feedback at crucial times when children are studying alone after-hours, is it any wonder that NAPLAN writing results are not at the standard they need to be, and that policy-makers want a 'wake up call'?
What could we all see for NAPLAN literacy results, if kids got as much feedback on each of their writing drafts as they do for their batting and bowling? Image source: Port Macquarie News
If Smith's rise to number one batsman is extraordinary, it's because of where he started. We are starting in a place of crisis with NAPLAN and writing results, but the best solution needn't be something more revolutionary than practice and personal feedback. It must, however, be equal-access, at-scale, at a systemic level.
Not 1000 cricket balls, just 5 drafts
University studies this year showed that when students used Studiosity and received personal feedback on their writing at least 5 times, their mark was 25 points higher than students in their own performance band.
In the studies, the performance improvement was even greater amongst students who were lower achievers to start with, indicating huge potential for students who may be able to lift themselves up, if the opportunity for personal, timely feedback was available to them.
Tried and tested, ethical solution to the NAPLAN 'wake-up' call
Using Studiosity in schools and universities across the country right now, students can submit any writing draft for any subject, and receive feedback on core literacy skills in less than 24 hours. When designed into an assignment to normalise and equalise the benefits, teachers require that if the final is due - for example - 5 September - then at least one submission to Studiosity is due 22 August, or about two weeks prior. This gives the student time to think about the feedback they received on English core skills, and apply it independently to their own work.
"Teaching staff also had positive feedback [to Studiosity]. While there was no decrease in teacher workload (they still had to give the same level of feedback to students), marking assignments however was easier as submissions were easier to read." (Macquarie University study, December 2017)
Let's make the leap from sport to literacy
Is it time we took Australia's love of achieving our best on the field, and applied it to the serious current issue of national literacy? Education levels, after all, continue to shape our national economic and social health, employment prospects, and international competitiveness (off the field).
Next: How are schools using Studiosity?