Nudgee College Case Study for Writing Yarn
Nudgee College Case Study for Writing Yarn

Students struggling with basic sentences

QUEENSLAND students are struggling to write basic sentences, with a worrying decline in writing skills sparking calls to change the way it's taught in schools.


Queensland year 7 and 9 NAPLAN writing mean scale scores in 2019 were substantially lower than the base year in 2011, with Year 3 and 5 results stagnant and only a slight improvement in the number of Year 3 students achieving the national minimum standard.

USQ School of Education Associate Professor (Curriculum & Pedagogy) Stewart Riddle said the failure to increase the level of sophistication of writing in school was one issue preventing progress.
"While most students are functionally literate, there is a big distance between functional writing and critical and analytical writing," he said.
"I suggest that rather than worrying about NAPLAN preparation, schools should focus their energies on engaging students in high-quality reading and writing activities, including working with a broad range of literature and text types."

Sam Fletcher, 12, Enrichment Program leader Stephanie Spicer, Henry Henry Dennis, 12, and Andrew La Monaca. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Sam Fletcher, 12, Enrichment Program leader Stephanie Spicer, Henry Henry Dennis, 12, and Andrew La Monaca. Picture: Steve Pohlner

Centre for Independent Studies education program director Dr Fiona Mueller said a lack of teacher confidence; declining focus on the English language; and narrowing expectations were the reasons behind lagging writing capabilities.

"The NAPLAN testing of writing has become the default curriculum and teaching writing through text types has become a very narrow and unhelpful way to encourage students to learn to write, it's formulaic, it's limited in scope," she said.
"We should be assessing students' writing but we need a test that really allows every student to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through writing.

"We need teachers who are experts in the field who are very confident of their own writing and their own command of the English language, grammar, punctuation and sentence construction."
The plummeting NAPLAN results has prompted at least 39 schools to engage in professional development programs for teachers in a bid to bolster writing outcomes.

St Joseph's Nudgee College principal Peter Fullagar said since using the Write That Essay program in 2019, the college has seen an improvement in learning outcomes.

"Written assessment pieces are more concise and we have been impressed with the improvement in cohesion," he said.
"The program has also been integrated into daily college life with 12 Sentence Types posters featured in all classrooms, and resources and an online learning platform available to students and staff."

Write that Essay founder Dr Ian Hunter said there is an endemic problem in the education system "with three generations of teachers who have never been taught the rules of composition" and exponentially increasing writing demands.

He said to improve outcomes, two myths about writing - that "good readers make good writers" and that "writing is the responsibility of English teachers" - need to be forgotten.

"When you look at NAPLAN results since 2008, writing is going down hill almost at the same rate that the reading results are going up."

"There is now as much writing in senior science or senior HPE as there is in senior English.

"These teachers, too, need to be equipped to teach writing, if the students they teach are to have any hope of getting the grades they deserve," he said.