NAPLAN vs the 6+1 Writing Traits

“Will teaching my students about the traits improve their NAPLAN writing score?”

It’s fast approaching NAPLAN season here in Australia, so the mad rush of ‘test prep’, ‘NAPLAN sprints’ and *insert your school’s version of cramming here* has begun in earnest.

(Of course, the things students need to learn about crafting good writing are much more suited to a marathon than a sprint, but that’s a blog post for another day…)

When it comes to the question of how teaching students about the 6+1 traits can improve their NAPLAN writing data- and improve a school’s growth data in the meantime- it’s worth heading straight to the NAPLAN marking guide to consider the assessment criteria. 

One thing I’m pleased to report about NAPLAN’s writing criteria is that it takes a balanced, big picture view of what it considers to be the key ingredients in strong writing. Unlike many marking guides and/or writing programs in schools, it doesn’t promote the secretarial elements (spelling, punctuation, handwriting) over the authorial elements of writing. Rather, it acknowledges the need for both. This means that elements such as clear and coherent ideas and strong writer’s voice are viewed as equally as important as a writer’s skill in using punctuation and grammar.

Amen to that!

Let’s take a look at exactly what the NAPLAN writing criteria values before we check how the 6+ traits measures up.

What does the NAPLAN writing criteria measure?

Irrespective of whether students are asked to write in a narrative or persuasive format, the assessment criteria is almost the same.

The marking guide for both formats uses the following 9 headings:

ElementNarrative DescriptionPersuasive DescriptionMax points
AudienceThe writer’s capacity to orient, engage and affect the reader.The writer’s capacity to orient, engage and persuade the reader.6
Text structureThe organisation of narrative features including orientation, complication and resolution into an appropriate and effective text structure.The organisation of the structural components of a persuasive text (introduction, body and conclusion) into an appropriate and effective text structure.4
IdeasThe creation, selection and crafting of ideas for a narrative.The selection, relevance and elaboration of ideas for a persuasive argument.5
VocabularyThe range and precision of language choices.The range and precision of contextually appropriate language choices.5
CohesionThe control of multiple threads and relationships over the whole text, achieved through the use of referring words, substitutions, word associations and text connectives.The control of multiple threads and relationships across the text, achieved through the use of referring words, ellipsis, text connectives, substitutions and word associations.4
ParagraphingThe segmenting of text into paragraphs that assists the reader to negotiate the narrative.The segmenting of text into paragraphs that assists the reader to follow the line of argument.(3 for persuasive, 2 for narrative)
Sentence structureThe production of grammatically correct, structurally sound and meaningful sentences.The production of grammatically correct, structurally sound and meaningful sentences.6
PunctuationThe use of correct and appropriate punctuation to aid reading of the text.The use of correct and appropriate punctuation to aid reading of the text.5
SpellingThe accuracy of spelling and the difficulty of the words used.The accuracy of spelling and the difficulty of the words used.6

The largest difference between the two formats is that where the persuasive assessment includes a ‘persuasive devices’ criteria (max 4 points), the narrative assessment has one for ‘character and setting’ (max 4 points) instead.

How do the 6+1 traits align to the NAPLAN marking criteria?

As I’ve explained in a previous post, the 6+1 traits were developed as a response to the question ‘what are the elements of good quality writing?

I describe them as being the ‘labels that go on all the cogs that turn and work together to create an effective piece of writing.’

It’s no surprise then, that they stack up very well against a set of assessment criteria that values the broader elements of good writing, rather than narrowing in only on the secretarial ones.

Here’s my break down on how building knowledge in each of the 6+1 traits sets students up to address the NAPLAN marking criteria:

TraitNAPLAN CriteriaPotential points impact
IdeasAudience, text structure, ideas, vocabulary,20
OrganisationAudience, text structure, cohesion, paragraphing,17
VoiceAudience, ideas, vocabulary16
Word ChoiceAudience, vocabulary, cohesion, spelling20
Sentence FluencyCohesion, paragraphing, sentence structure13
ConventionsAudience, paragraphing, sentence structure, punctuation, spelling26

What’s the final verdict?

The traits of writing are not a writing program- they’re simply a set of criteria for evaluating the quality of a piece of writing.

This means that if you use the traits to identify the strengths and areas for improvement in your students’ writing and then teach into your students’ areas for improvement, you’ll be building their knowledge on crafting good quality writing.

As we’ve seen in the NAPLAN marking guide criteria- this will only mean good things for their (and your) NAPLAN data.

Having said all of that, it’s important to remember that the point of teaching students about writing well isn’t to create NAPLAN writers. It’s to create lifelong writers who have the knowledge and skills to write what, when and how they want, in order to share their voices and do good things in our world.

Let’s never lose sight of that goal.

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If you’re keen to build your keen to build your knowledge on the 6+1 traits of writing, including learning to identify them in mentor texts and students writing, keep your eye out for the next intake of the Writing Traits Masterclass. This online, self-paced course opens twice a year, with the next intake commencing at the start of Semester 2.

Already completed the Traits Masterclass and want to learn more about implementing the traits in your primary classroom? The ADVANCED Traits Masterclass is now open. This course goes deepen on a number of the traits (including giving you practical teaching ideas) and includes interviews with Australian teachers who have been using the traits in their writing classrooms. Click here to learn more about this course.

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