Timed Writing Experience Prior to NAPLAN

Next week Australian students in the grades 3,5,7 and 9  undertake NAPLAN (National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy). Before that time their is a need to examine the test writing genre and how it differs from writing as we know it. By conducting this close analysis of the differences in approach we allow students to more clearly see the artificiality of the test writing. It would be helpful to chart these differences, particularly for Grade three students who are having their first experience with the demands of writing to the clock on a given topic (prompt).

A Grade three student told me last week that we should not call it a ‘writing test. Instead we should call it a ‘writing challenge’ I liked his attitude and so we began talking about the challenges this type of writing threw our way.

We need to look at providing opportunities for students to experience timed writing’ as part of building further stamina for the task. I see the task in three parts. Our students need to understand clearly the component parts of the writing ‘challenge’

  • Planning
  • Composing (writing)
  • Checking (Revising and editing)
These three tasks need to be successfully completed within the time frame given. It might be useful to ask them how much time they believe they should allocate to each phase of the task and have them document these times. Unsurprisingly some students are too certain how much time they need to spend on each part. They forget to leave the majority for the actual writing of the text.

 Last week I was mindful of not just telling kids of the need to plan. I firmly believed they needed to see how a proficient writer would use the time (maybe five minutes) to develop an action plan for a persuasive text.

I used it as an opportunity to use a think aloud strategy and demonstrate my actions for them. I set a timer and quickly brainstormed in front of them my response to a prompt ( Should there be Zoos?) I quickly identified my position and then set about writing down my arguments. I kept asking myself, ‘why? as in why do I feel that zoos are not all that conducive to animal health. By asking myself why, it led me to identifying my points of argument. Once I had these, I began to flesh out my arguments with supportive details (justification)

Then I began to consider any factual evidence, as well as the graphic structure of my essay. I had time to begin writing down my position statement (introduction, lead statement, thesis statement)

When the planning time had elapsed, I asked them to give me feedback on what they saw me doing and saying (my thinking made visible)
You wrote quickly’
‘You concentrated on getting as much as you could written down’
‘You kept rereading your ideas’
‘You found your arguments’
‘You told us your position –for or against.’
‘You kept asking the question, -why?’
‘You were brainstorming’
‘You didn’t worry about anything else except your planning’

Then, it was their turn to plan against the clock!  
It was important for them to see me work and respond to the pressure of a set time, before undertaking the same challenge. It worked! Their use of the time was better for the modelling they had witnessed. Their topic was, Television- Good or Bad for You?
After their planning experience, we discussed how they felt working to a time limit. They informed that they felt under pressure and anxious, but they kept thinking about the topic, trying to stay focused. It was important to let them know that the feelings they experienced were quite natural. The important thing was to keep giving yourself positive messages that the task was managable. I told them that practice will reduce those nervous feelings.

In the remaining days we will work on the writing phase and the reviewing of the writing. It will be important to show them how I revise and edit. I will show them how I proofread three times (for spelling, for meaning and for grammatical features)

By the end of the week they will be given the task of putting all the elements together in a timed writing task. At this time it will be important to make the prompt a topic that is familiar to all students. –Even if it’s a topic they have previously written about. It will release their cognitive energy to more adequately plan, write and check with confidence.


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