Writing is one of the most important skills students need to develop to achieve success not just in the classroom but also beyond it. But teaching students how to become good writers requires ample knowledge and preparation, areas some teachers admitted they are struggling with.
The latest NAPLAN results showed that a number of students at varying year levels were unable to meet the already low minimum writing standards, an indication that schools still need to improve how writing is handled and taught. And one of the top areas for improvement is teacher training.
A recent study obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald revealed almost half of NSW teachers felt they were underprepared to teach writing.
Two-thirds admitted they were poorly trained to teach grammar, punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, and sentence structure, or lacked the confidence to mark or give students feedback on writing.
NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and the Australian Catholic University (ACU) have teamed up to do the research, which surveyed more than 4,000 primary and secondary teachers to find out how writing is taught in the state’s schools.
They also conducted a review of education degrees and found that there were significant differences on how universities equip future teachers of the skills necessary to teach writing.
Professor Claire Wyatt-Smith, lead author and director of the Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education (ILSTE) at ACU, said the results highlighted the need for more teacher training and support.
“The craft of writing is complex,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “One of the key things we all recognise is sadly many teachers have gone through their own education without explicit knowledge of grammar. So, when a student says, ‘How do I improve this sentence, what's wrong with it?' teachers are not always well equipped to have that knowledge.”
Secondary teachers felt more underprepared than primary teachers, according to the survey.
With regards to subject areas, science and human society teachers felt least confident. But what surprised the authors was that two out five English teachers indicated that they were not prepared or minimally prepared to teach writing.
To address this, Professor Wyatt-Smith recommended an increased focus on writing in education degrees and for teachers to seek more professional training to improve the quality of teaching. She also said students should be given more time to practise writing, with teachers serving as models.