The crisis that NAPLAN writes in our classrooms

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A study by senior academics at the University of the Sunshine Coast, sponsored by Steiner Education Australia and published in The Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, showed that a uniquely designed creative writing rubric was a suitable tool for assessing creative writing in the classroom and a more suitable guide to creative writing than NAPLAN. It also studied how NAPLAN has directed and therefore restricted the way writing has been taught in schools since its introduction in 2008. The study concludes that not only does NAPLAN penalize creativity, but that it is not an adapted narrative writing assessment instrument.

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In our study, 54 9th grade Steiner students were given progressive craft-based exercises that culminated in a narrative piece. They would practice and then “perform” the skills they learned.

Of course, understanding grammar is a prerequisite to being able to do this, so we taught grammar, but always with the end goal in mind. In their final stories, they showed improvement according to our creative writing rubric on a range of criteria, including in structural elements (spelling, grammar, punctuation, and a measure of control over these).

When the same piece was scored using a NAPLAN rater and criteria, there was almost no improvement. Obviously, the NAPLAN rubric does not assess the skills and abilities needed to be a good creative writer.

If we want students to feel invested in their writing, they must learn to carve phrases, fragments, or whole pieces for particular effect. They must know how to use words to persuade, inspire, make people think, laugh, cry.

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Fortunately, as of now, the proposal to use machines to score students’ creative and narrative writing exams has not been floated. Hopefully that remains the case because a machine cannot score a sample of creative writing without reducing its value to “correct sentences” and “multisyllabic words”. A machine cannot be moved, or inspired, or persuaded.

Dr. Shelley Davidow is an author and lecturer in education at the University of the Sunshine Coast, where Dr. Michael Carey is an education researcher and lecturer in education.

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