According to the latest NAPLAN results, about 10% of Year 7 students, 7% of Year 5 students and 3% of Year 3 students are not meeting the writing minimum standard – a standard that is already so low that some argue it should be scrapped altogether.
The results highlight the importance of early intervention when it comes to encouraging children to take a greater interest in writing and improve their outcomes.
A growing body of research shows that handwriting is key to achieving improved writing outcomes. A recent study conducted by Murdoch University found substantial evidence that students who write with pen and paper often produce better learning outcomes later on.
In an article published in The Conversation, Southern Cross University primary education lecturer Jenny Johnston wrote that six-year-olds – especially those who speak English – should be able to at least write more complex sentences which show cause and effect as well as sequencing of events.
She says that children’s handwriting at this stage can show how well they form upper and lower case letters and writing within the lines.
Dr Anabela Malpique, a researcher and lecturer in Literacy at Murdoch University, said their study backs the theory that traditional handwriting is essential for writing development. Students who took the time to write traditionally also managed to memorise and copy letters faster.
This frees up more of their cognitive space to think more deeply instead of focussing on the act of writing, Malpique said.
Across Australia, a range of initiatives are being rolled out to help improve students’ literacy outcomes.
Seven Steps to Writing Success, Australia’s largest educator of writing literacy, bases its practise on five underlying principles: Chunk large tasks, Repetition builds muscle memory, Brainstorm first – Write second, Verbal is vital and Consistency creates change.
Ange Sassone from Seven Steps said the program focuses on “a common metalanguage” that principals can integrate into their school from early years to secondary.
“The Australian Curriculum requires teachers to foster Critical and Creative Thinking, in which students think ‘broadly and deeply’,” Sassone told The Educator.
“Following the Seven Steps approach gives students the tools to not only do this in their writing, but in all areas of school and beyond”.
Another initiative that aims to turn the tables in students’ writing outcomes is The Littlescribe Mini-Writing Festival, which is seeing primary school children from around Australia team up online with their favourite Australian authors during Term 3.
The five-day festival is supported by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the educational video platform, ClickView and the online education community, Butterfly Wings. Students who take part in the festival will be able to publish their work on the Littlescribe “story starter wall” for peers, authors, parents and all Australians to read.
“Australian kids have the potential to become the best writers in the world,” Littlescribe CEO Jenny Atkinson said.
“We want to help them by building a trusted community of supporters, to elevate children’s writing.”
Research has also shown reading to be an effective way to inspire and encourage young writers.
On Friday, Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel said the school holidays are an opportune time for Australians to take the Storytime Pledge and read to a child in their lives.
“This has been a year unlike any other, with massive disruptions to the way we work, play and learn,” Dr Finkel said.
“Educational foundations are more important than ever. That’s why these school holidays, I’m calling on all Australians adults to take the Storytime Pledge: a promise to pick up a book and read it to a special child in your life.”
Dr Finkel said this can be done in person or by video, using any place, any book, any time and by people of any age.
“Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, carer or friend, I appeal to you to take the pledge, grab a book, and foster a culture of learning and love of science in your home”.