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Feedback essential for better writing

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Student writing skills have declined by nearly 24 points since 2011 according to the latest NAPLAN results data. Only 79.5% of Year 9 students met the minimum writing standards in the 2018 literacy test, compared to 84% in 2011. (As reported in and ACARA 2018).

With that in mind, formative feedback is an essential tool in developing core writing skills for life.

When two students in the same performance level are asked to answer a question, the one who has practiced these types of questions before will always get to the answer quicker, because they already know what is asked of them by how the question is phrased. The other student might struggle, or take more time to respond, because they aren't familiar with the style of the question.

This is why feedback is essential to improving student literacy skills, and in turn, NAPLAN scores. It shouldn't just involve a grade, but instead take students through a particular problem that's similar to the types of questions asked in NAPLAN, which they can then apply later on.

Formative feedback is particularly important when it comes to the writing element of NAPLAN. Students are normally asked to write either a persuasive or narrative piece, and are marked both for the quality of their argument, as well as the core elements such as grammar, punctuation and spelling.

A formative feedback service like Studiosity, that highlights a few examples of a particular mistake – like punctuation, spelling or grammar – with the idea that the student will then recognise that error throughout their draft and in future essays – goes a long way in helping students succeed in this type of writing assessment.

It's all too easy to tell your kids that "practice makes perfect." This was made even easier when writer Malcolm Gladwell famously put forward the idea that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (doing it in a way that pushes your skill set as much as possible) can make you an 'expert in any field'.

Not to say that practice isn't helpful, but practice needs to be done effectively, this means formative feedback to help them think critically about their work, by showing them how to get to an answer, not simply providing one.

Timely study support impacts a student’s academic self-efficacy and future learning progression – a sometimes overlooked key ingredient to a student's success in NAPLAN. A literature review by Dr Gerard Calnin (2017) pinpoints driving forces on a student’s performance – including timely, regular feedback from “a more knowledgeable other”.

It identifies that immediate, positive support experiences assist progression towards goals, and negative experiences, such as the inability to complete tasks, can throw a student backwards in their learning progress. This can be avoided with timely intervention and formative feedback that helps them to succeed and progress towards their academic goals, and standardised testing such as NAPLAN.

Key results of writing skills decline over the last seven years

  • Mean writing scores have decreased nationally falling nearly 24 points for Years 7 and 9, 18 points for Year 5, and 8.7 points for Year 3 since 2011.
  • In 2011, 84% of Year 9 students across Australia met the minimum standards in writing. In 2018, only 79.5% did.
  • In 2018, only 81.3% of Year 9, 88% of Year 7, and 91.4% of Year 5 students in NSW, reached the writing benchmark.

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