More professional learning needed to boost literacy outcomes – study

More professional learning needed to boost literacy outcomes – study

NAPLAN results have shown a significant decline in students’ writing performance in the nine years since the test was introduced, raising concerns not only about the trajectory of students’ literacy outcomes, but literacy education itself.

To better understand how writing is taught in primary schools, Edith Cowan University (ECU) recently led a national team of researchers who recruited 310 teachers to participate in a first-of-its-kind survey.

The study found most students spend the minimum recommended time (3 hours per week), on writing activities in their classrooms, with some teachers reporting students spend only 15 minutes and others 7.5 hours per week on writing practices

When it came to the kinds of writing activities that teachers spend the most time on, spelling is the most prominent. Most teachers said they don’t teach typing, and little attention is placed on teaching handwriting, planning, and revision strategies for writing.

While most teachers feel well prepared and confident in their abilities to teach writing, less are confident in developing teaching practices to support struggling writers in their classrooms. 

“Historically, writing has been studied from different theoretical approaches and fields making it difficult to understand what we meant when talking about good writing and teaching writing,” the report’s chief investigator, Dr Anabela Malpique, told The Educator.

“In the last 10 years, research has been expanding as we try to learn more about what effective writing instruction looks like across the globe. We do know that writing is a very complex skill, that can take potentially 20 years to master, and that it needs explicit instruction.”

Dr Malpique Teaching said writing is a complex job since it involves the teaching of many different sub-skills – namely foundational (such as handwriting, typing and spelling) and process skills (planning and revising texts).

“Having that in mind, school leaders should start by promoting a community in which writing (and the teaching of writing) is valued.”

“This includes offering opportunities for teachers to develop their knowledge about evidence-based practices for writing instruction, and having teachers engaged in sharing their best practices with each other.”

Dr Malpique said principals can also promote ways in which universities and schools can work together and share best-practices for writing instruction, as well as promote ways in which teachers and parents work collaboratively to support children’s writing development.

To address the issue more broadly, Dr Malpique recommends that professional development opportunities be put in place at state and national levels that equip teachers with evidence-informed writing and keyboarding tools for teaching.

“While there are number of evidence-based practices and recommendations for teaching writing, there’s no perfect model for teaching writing, no one-size fits all program,” she noted.

“That makes writing instruction quite challenging.”

Below, Dr Malpique lays out six evidence-based recommendations for teaching writing:

1. Dedicate time to writing (at least one hour per week of writing practice and teaching writing).

2. Increase students’ knowledge about writing. This includes modelling how to write different texts, for different purposes and different audiences.

3. Foster students’ interest, enjoyment, and motivation to write. This is a key component, and creating a community in which writing is valued is fundamental.

4. Help students become strategic writers, including by teaching children planning and revising strategies, but setting task-based goals to progress on their writing skills.

5. Teach basic writing skills to mastery, including teaching handwriting, spelling, and typing.

6.Use assessment to gauge students’ progress and needs, offering opportunities for students to engage in reading their written work and sharing feedback; also, having teaching providing constructive feedback and setting goals WITH students to improve their writing skills.