NAPLAN writing assessment

How To Prepare Students For the NAPLAN Writing Assessment

Feb 05, 2023

With NAPLAN just around the corner, I've been thinking about how teachers could best use these next 5 weeks to strengthen their students’ writing skills.

What specific aspects of writing should they focus on?

What would make the biggest difference in the smallest amount of time?


I was planning on writing a blog post about the 2 key traits I thought had the most potential to make the biggest difference in this short time.

I’d started brainstorming teaching ideas and lesson suggestions before being unexpectedly stopped in my tracks when listening to my sister Shirl talk about her workplace.

What she said made me completely rethink the best advice I could give to teachers at this time (and at any time of the year, for that matter).


What teachers can learn from deli workers

When my twin sister Shirl isn’t doing all the admin work for Oz Lit Teacher, she’s a cheesemonger in a delicatessen. What she doesn’t know about stock management, supply and demand, food safety and customer service isn’t worth knowing. She’s a stickler for following processes and she’s most definitely the small-detail yin to my big-picture thinking yang.

In our conversation, Shirl was lamenting a colleague’s lack of capacity (or desire) to follow a simple food ordering process that’s common sense in her industry.

‘He didn’t even check how much stock we already had in the cabinet before he ordered more!’ She said. ‘Any wonder we end up throwing so much stock out!’

And then came the sentence that caused my track-stopping epiphany:

“Everyone knows that if you blind order (by not doing a stocktake), you’re going to end up with shrinkage.” (FYI: Shrinkage / wastage is the term given to the unsold stock that has to be discarded at the end of its use by date.)



There it was: The most powerful advice I could give teachers that would lead to the greatest impact on students’ writing in the shortest amount of time:

Do a stocktake!

Find out what writing skills and strategies your students already have in their cabinets before you go blind ordering (planning) more.

Learn which stocks (skills, strategies and knowledge) already exist in spades and which ones require a top up. Rather than guessing what your students need, use the information from your stocktake to inform what, when and how you teach writing over the next few weeks.


Why teachers should conduct more stocktakes

Just as blind ordering in the deli leads to shrinkage of profit, blind planning in the classroom leads to shrinkage of potential growth.

When you plan your writing instruction based on a guess about what your students need to learn, you risk wasting precious instructional time teaching concepts that your students already know. Scarily, researcher Graham Nuthall found in one observational study that ‘typically, students already knew at least 40% of what the teachers intended them to learn.’ Wow! That’s a huge amount of wastage.

When you slow down to take stock of what your students already know about writing, you’ll speed up their learning and growth as a result.

You’ll waste less of your students’ time teaching concepts they already know. Which means you’ll have more time to teach the things they do need you to teach them. As a result, you’ll end up with a lot less mouldy cheese. (And much happier co-workers).

Interestingly, this seems to be a common approach many schools and teachers take when planning maths lessons but not as common when it comes to planning writing. Is this true for you?


How to stocktake your students' student writing

The most effective way to do a stocktake on your students’ writing is to have them engage in a cold write.

This simply means asking your students to create a piece of writing in the target genre without receiving any explicit instruction beforehand. (I’ve spoken about this in more length on my blog: 3 Reasons you Should Use Cold Writes In The Classroom)

The purpose of a cold write is for your students to show you what they already know about writing in that genre. After you read these cold writes you can plan your instruction with much more precision. E.g.:

  • Do your students really need to spend 3 weeks learning about structure or is that part of the 40% of content they already know?
  • Do your students need you to build their knowledge on effective use of pronouns or strong verbs?
  • Have they demonstrated a capacity to narrow down to tight and manageable ideas in their writing?


The Achilles heel of stocktakes

Of course, in order to do a stocktake of your students’ skills in this way, you need a strong understanding of how to quickly analyse student writing to find strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come naturally and is rarely taught in teaching courses at university. It requires a deep content knowledge of the craft of good writing.

The use of assessment rubrics such as the 6+1 traits rubrics can be useful here (especially as the traits align so neatly to the NAPLAN marking criteria), but you still need to understand what the rubric is asking you to look for. This is a skill that needs to be built slowly over time.

Tip: If you’re interested in building your capacity to quickly analyse the strengths and weaknesses in student writing, I suggest taking a look at my Writing Traits Masterclass. It's open twice a year. 


So what should you focus your teaching on in the next 5 weeks?

Rather than me telling you (without having ever met your students or having any clue what their needs are) to focus on 2 random traits with your students, my advice to you is to stop blind ordering and do a stocktake.

Check the damn cabinet before you place your next order.

Slow slow to speed up. 

Once you do this, I'd love to hear what you learn and how it changes your teaching. Let me know on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group.


P.S I asked Shirl for a cheese pairing for this blog and she recommend Milawa Blue Cheese. She said it’s ‘a very mouldy Australian cheese that looks like sh*t’, but it’s the best cheese she’s ever eaten! She thinks it makes a great pairing for this blog because people judge blue cheese by its smell when, if they actually took the time to learn about it and taste it, they’d realise how great it is!


Take the time, do the stocktake!


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