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Raising writing skills for Australian students

Stephanie Saunders

Stephanie Saunders

Sep 7, 2018

Student writing skills have declined by nearly 24 points since 2011 according to the latest NAPLAN results data released last week. Only 79.5% of Year 9 students met the minimum writing standards in the 2018 literacy test, compared to 84% in 2011. (As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald and ACARA 2018). 

The question now is, how do we ensure students are supported in developing core writing skills both in and out of school? Consistent feedback is imperative to the learning process, and improving literacy skills is a core value of what we do at Studiosity.
Studiosity can help students to improve their writing skills

Key results of writing skills decline over the last 7 years

  • Mean writing scores have decreased nationally falling nearly 24 points for Years 7 and 9, 18 points for Year 5, and 8.7 points for Year 3 since 2011.
  • In 2011, 84% of Year 9 students across Australia met the minimum standards in writing. In 2018, only 79.5% did.
  • In 2018, only 81.3% of Year 9, 88% of Year 7, and 91.4% of Year 5 students in NSW, reached the writing benchmark. 

Regardless of your take on the politics of NAPLAN,  the alarming statistics show a decline in students' core writing abilities across Australia, which needs to be addressed. With the world developing new communication devices and channels at such a rapid rate, students are now losing the art of long-form writing. In this era of online, bite-size, short-form communication, students need core literacy skills more than ever. If they're equipped with a foundation understanding of writing, these skills can be easily applied to current and future communication platforms, without the loss of core writing concepts. 

How can we lift students' writing skills?

It's all too easy to tell your kids that "practice makes perfect." This was made even easier when writer Malcolm Gladwell famously put forward the idea that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (doing it in a way that pushes your skill set as much as possible) can make you an 'expert in any field'.

Not to say that practice isn't helpful, but practice needs to be done effectively. For children about to take their NAPLAN tests, this means formative feedback to help them think critically about their work, by showing them how to get to an answer, not simply providing one.

The importance of feedback in NAPLAN

Timely study support impacts a student’s academic self-efficacy and future learning progression - a sometimes overlooked key ingredient to a student's success in NAPLAN. A literature review by Dr Gerard Calnin (2017) pinpoints driving forces on a student’s performance - including timely, regular feedback from “a more knowledgeable other” (see the graphic below). It identifies that immediate, positive support experiences assist progression towards goals, and negative experiences, such as the inability to complete tasks, can throw a student backwards in their learning progress. This can be avoided with timely intervention and formative feedback that helps them to succeed and progress towards their academic goals, and standardised testing such as NAPLAN.

Driving learning progress with feedback at the right time

When students have developed core skills, these can be applied in a variety of methods to an array of different questions. NAPLAN doesn't require a good memory to rewrite standard 'perfect answers', but the aptitude to think on one's feet and apply core concepts to an unknown question.

Formative feedback is an essential tool in developing core writing skills for life.

Understanding and practicing the concept of how to answer a question is therefore just as important as actual content. When two students in the same performance level are asked to answer a question, the one who has practiced these types of questions before will always get to the answer quicker, because they already know what is asked of them by how the question is phrased. The other student might struggle, or take more time to respond, because they aren't familiar with the style of the question.

This is why feedback is essential to improving student literacy skills, and in turn, NAPLAN scores. It shouldn't just involve a grade, but instead take students through a particular problem that's similar to the types of questions asked in NAPLAN, which they can then apply later on.

The Studiosity Writing Feedback service

Studiosity's Writing Feedback Service highlights examples of errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Writing feedback is essential for punctuation, spelling and grammar 

Formative feedback is particularly important when it comes to the writing element of NAPLAN. Students are normally asked to write either a persuasive or narrative piece, and are marked both for the quality of their argument, as well as the core elements such as grammar, punctuation and spelling. 

A formative feedback service like Studiosity, that highlights a few examples of a particular mistake - like punctuation, spelling or grammar - with the idea that the student will then recognise that error throughout their draft and in future essays - goes a long way in helping students succeed in this type of writing assessment. 

NAPLAN may be taken 100% online (as tested this year), and it might even be marked by robots in future, but what it won't be is taken away any time soon. For educators thinking about how to improve NAPLAN results in 2019, finding a way to help students understand what a question is asking them to do, structure their response cohesively, as well as learning how to get to the right answer, is crucial. 


What do students think of Studiosity study support?

See what students say about how Studiosity is helping them in 2018.







About Studiosity

Studiosity is personalised study help, anytime, anywhere. We partner with institutions to extend their core academic skills support online with timely, after-hours help for all their students, at scale - regardless of their background, study mode or location. 

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