Home News NAPLAN writing top performers share a common approach – explicit instruction

NAPLAN writing top performers share a common approach – explicit instruction


NAPLAN writing top performers share a common approach – explicit instruction

With report after report of Australian students falling behind in writing, how is it that some schools are bucking the trend? What are they doing differently to help students outperform their peers in NAPLAN writing results?

One common theme is clear: the implementation of explicit, practical writing instruction that’s based on best practice.

Across Australia, 40% of the top-performing NAPLAN schools use Seven Steps to Writing Success as part of their literacy teaching, flagging it as a significant factor in their results.

The Seven Steps approach explicitly teaches the craft of writing using evidence-based pedagogy. It empowers teachers to unlock student writing ability by focusing on the authorial skills that make a significant improvement to writing.

At Hope Christian College, their 2023 NAPLAN results were a cause for celebration. “We were one of the top 20 schools in South Australia! Our results showed a wonderful improvement,” says Wendy Taylor, a classroom ESO at the school.

“Implementing the Seven Steps has really opened up some exciting ways for students to express themselves,” says Wendy. “The kids enjoy writing and some have even volunteered to stay in at recess to complete their writing. They are that excited!”

Focus on authorial skills

Eight of the 10 NAPLAN marking criteria focus on the authorial skills of writing, such as how to generate great ideas, engage the audience and create coherent texts that persuade or entertain. So it’s vital to give students explicit instruction and continual practice in them.

But teaching these skills can be a challenge. It’s much easier to focus on grammar, punctuation and spelling because there’s a right or wrong answer. This is the trap many schools fall into.

Schools using the Seven Steps follow a proven plan so teachers can easily teach authorial writing skills, and their students can approach NAPLAN with confidence.

Make teaching explicit

Great writing isn’t a mystery, but it can feel that way until you understand the underlying structures of different text types. Modelling and explicitly teaching text structures is crucial.

Dee McLaren, a secondary English teacher at Cannington Community College in WA has seen a big difference in her students’ writing since introducing the Seven Steps: “The structure the Seven Steps teaches is concise and specific, so students find it easier to produce. The writing is realistic, less formulaic and allows for techniques, including figurative language, to be developed.”

Gray Primary School, which has a high percentage of indigenous and EAL/D students, was one of the Northern Territory’s top NAPLAN performers. Principal Donna Westaway claims that Seven Steps has been a “game changer” for her school: “It has really opened the students’ (and teachers’) eyes to richer vocabulary, setting the scene with a Show, Don’t Tell and allowing the story to start with impact. Both students and teachers have very much benefited from the Seven Steps approach.”

Seven Steps espouses the ‘I do, We do, You do’ model and this spelt success for St Patrick’s Primary School in NSW, according to teacher Fiona Bolton: “The explicit teaching and gradual release of responsibility gave students the confidence to write. Also, the focus on planning time was crucial in giving their text direction.”

Break writing down

Students often struggle to come up with ideas for writing stories and don’t know where to begin with different genres.

The first step towards addressing this is to stop asking students to write a whole text – it’s setting them up to fail and turning writing into a chore. The Seven Steps approach breaks writing down into manageable chunks, which builds students’ confidence, makes writing enjoyable and quickly unlocks their creativity.

Rumana Mazhar from Iqra College in South Australia loved what she saw in her classroom. “Students could not wait to unleash their creativity and use the skills learnt in class. Their writing improved massively and the big smiles and eagerness to write was always a positive energy in class.” The icing on the cake was great NAPLAN results. “My goal for them was about quality and not quantity and thinking outside the box with ideas.”

Australian Islamic College in Western Australia was among the top performers in the state last year. Teacher Nurafidah Binti Mohd Amin attributes this to Seven Steps’ explicit approach. “The techniques and structure make sense, and it’s easy for students to relate to all the movies and stories around them.” And her students love it too! “Students have become more confident as they’re well-prepared and know the techniques to generate great ideas and produce amazing writing. Only the sky is the limit!”

Nurture student engagement  

Results improve organically when students are engaged in their learning. That’s not something that NAPLAN officially measures, but it’s a priority for teachers. Because engaged students are excited to come to class, listen with intent and participate enthusiastically. 

At Henderson College in Victoria, veteran teacher Sonja Couroupis watched her Year 3/4 students’ engagement skyrocket after implementing the Seven Steps. “I haven’t seen anything like it in my 30-odd years of teaching!” says Sonia. 

The Seven Steps approach gets buy-in from all students, even the most reluctant cohorts. Rebecca Drozdoff from Southern Vales Christian College in SA was amazed at the breadth of its appeal. “Never in my teaching career did I imagine I would have boys asking me to stay in at recess to complete their writing because they’re so engrossed in their work! My students love writing so much now!”

So, what are those top-performing schools doing differently? It’s clear that a major contributor to their success is the implementation of a structured approach to student learning. Empowered with an evidence-based plan for teaching writing, teachers Australia-wide report enhanced student engagement and confidence. And it would be fair to say that the results of this approach speak for themselves.

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