NAPLAN Persuasive Writing Preparation: Built-in or Bolt-on?

November 9, 2012

When it comes to the NAPLAN writing task, what is best: to build preparation into the normal curriculum or bolt it on as an added extra? My answer is that a bit of both is required.

Learning how to write persuasively is part of the Australian Curriculum: English. For example, listed below is just one relevant content descriptor from each of Years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

  • Year 3: Examine how evaluative language can be varied to be more or less forceful (ACELA1477)
  • Year 5: Plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive print and multimodal texts, choosing text structures, language features, images and sound appropriate to purpose and audience (ACELY1704)
  • Year 7: Understand that the coherence of more complex texts relies on devices that signal text structure and guide readers, for example overviews, initial and concluding paragraphs and topic sentences, indexes or site maps or breadcrumb trails for online texts (ACELA1763)
  • Year 9: Understand that authors innovate with text structures and language for specific purposes and effects (ACELA1553)

Although the last two are not specifically about persuasion, they point to the need for students to be able to write well-structured and linked paragraphs and being able to move beyond a generic formula such as the ‘five-paragraph essay’. All of these descriptors indicate that students need to be learning the skills required for the NAPLAN writing task as a normal part of their day to day classroom learning. In other words, the majority of preparation needs to be built-in.

On the other hand, there are aspects of the NAPLAN test which would not necessarily be a normal part of lessons, especially for younger students. A sample list might include:

  • producing extended writing under time pressures and to a previously unseen topic
  • generating ideas for arguments using images as stimulus
  • needing to substantiate arguments without access to resources such as books and the internet
  • knowing that when they are invited to write for ‘a reader’, they will receive better marks if that reader is more distant and less familiar (i.e. not family and friends).

No doubt there are further items that could be added to this list. The point is, students do require particular instruction to make them test-wise and this instruction needs to be bolt-on preparation that students recognise is specifically aimed at helping them with NAPLAN. As a part of this bolt-on preparation, students also need to review learnings from the normal curriculum that are relevant to persuasive writing.

So, should preparation for persuasive writing be built-in or bolt-on? Students need explicit, built-in preparation that includes plenty of joint and collaborative writing. However, in addition, they require an intensive burst of bolt-on preparation that makes them test-wise and keeps relevant learnings from the normal curriculum fresh in their minds.

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