Slice of Life Story Challenge Day 29 -A Test for Teaching

I have just finished presenting a series of workshops dealing with persuasive writing for all schools in Melbourne’s Western Region.  National testing in writing in May will expect Australian students in Grades 3,5,7 and 9 to respond to a prompt using persuasive strategies and structures in their responses. It is important not to descend into the dark recesses of ‘test prep’ behaviours.

I’m not an advocate for standardised testing. The validity of such assessments remains highly questionable and culturally biased. Such assessments tend to produce teaching that looks a lot like testing itself.   Standardised tests are however like global warming; they present as an inconvenient truth with strong political imperatives.

For this reason I want students to feel comfortable about writing when placed in a testing situation. We must explain to students that this type of writing (test writing) is totally artificial and totally different from writing as we know. In other words, as educators we should call it for what it is, showing them how it differs from ‘real writing.’  They do need practice writing under test conditions so long as we highlight its artificiality.

To prepare students to write with confidence and competence I have been trying to persuade teachers to remain true to effective pedagogy, presenting the following messages:

Students need multiple opportunities to expand their world knowledge and the language that accompanies this. To achieve this critical knowledge they need frequent opportunities to listen to, view and read multiple kinds of texts involving a wide range of topics.

Preparation for writing persuasively clearly involves a lot more than writing to a recipe in the form of a graphic organizer. Students must acquire the technical language of persuasion, knowledge of transitional words and phrases, and connective terms that promote cohesiveness in the written responses students produce.

Students need immersion in activities involving talking and listening, arguing and persuading before being called upon to write opinion pieces, or defend a position. This foundation work is vital grounding; enabling students to engage in thinking. Hopefully, classroom programs preparing students will be foster a sea of talk as a matter of priority! 

It is essential to avoid immediately descending into a pale imitation of a persuasive essay. Focusing on the reasons for writing, rather than being mesmerized by the writing form will help to keep the writing authentic.

When I first began teaching, teachers used tests as tools. We must be careful NOT to become tools of the test! This is my enduring hope…


  1. What a timely post for those of us with Standardized testing looming. I worry that our stronger students can become overly confident - even cocky - while other students become complacent or even overwhelmed by all the focus on "tests." I know I go through a host of emotions as we prepare.

  2. It sounds a bit like our shifts into the Common Core .....

  3. I like the timely reminder that it is important students are aware of purpose and audience for the Naplan writing test - the context can help the writing.


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