NAPLAN is constraining creativity and missing literacy learning opportunities.
Since 2008 classrooms have been geared towards the annual NAPLAN alarm bell. I am sure parents across Australia have seen and felt the building stress in the children and education professionals as the calendar ticked over to ‘NAPLAN season’.
Research funded by Steiner Education Australia and conducted by the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) provides more context for the anxiety many feel around NAPLAN.
This research also constructively points to the change needed.
Dr Shelley Davidow, Dr Michael Carey, and Dr Paul Williams, researchers from the USC School of Education, and Business and Creative Industries found in a recent study that NAPLAN’s writing assessment is not fit for purpose and is inadequate in preparing students to be versatile, creative and engaged writers.
An article by the researchers is under review by a journal and will hopefully be published soon; it will add depth and further context to the findings I am skimming off the surface here.
Despite the presence of NAPLAN in our classrooms for the last 13 years there has been no significant improvement nationally in Year 9 writing results, in fact standards are falling.
These short comings and the need for change have been understood for some time.
As researchers have found (Gannon, 2019; McGaw et al, 2020) a NAPLAN-influenced structural approach to the teaching of writing has thwarted the development of imaginative capacity through a formulaic teaching approach.
As the USC study and others have concluded, NAPLAN’s teaching, purpose, and testing around writing and literacy is not fit for purpose and missing the drivers that would achieve the results we crave.
The USC researchers looked to present a way forward and trialled a 10-week program in three schools that was informed by a synthesis of Steiner pedagogical methods and Indigenous pedagogies comprised of 8-Ways Learning, in which narrative approaches to understanding are paramount.
This craft-based creative writing program allowed Year 9 students the freedom to go beyond the framework of the “test stories” formula that students are too often directed towards.
The USC study demonstrated an overall improvement in attitudes to writing and writing capabilities in Year 9 students with this approach. Not to mention an improvement in spelling, grammar, and paragraphing – the fundamentals.
Students also found “the freedom to write their own ideas valuable” with “an enhanced awareness of how to use words for effect and purpose.”
Isn’t this what we are after?
A century ago, Steiner proposed deep learning in this way is the result of an emotional engagement with the subject matter. He knew that our complex life of feelings and experiences is the key vehicle for the enduring qualities, learning, and ideas that we draw on and recall in later stages of life.
The USC research reaffirms that approach in a 2021 context, demonstrating that a rich ‘craft-based’ teaching practise allows students to connect with and be transported by their own ideas and narratives – an approach that underpins deep learning.
Combine this knowledge with the neurological evidence that tells us that student engagement and learning is sub-optimal in stressful environments, and the case against our current NAPLAN fuelled educational structures gathers steam.
These are significant results, and I am proud of the leadership the Steiner community in Australia is taking.
With declining writing levels in Australian students, we must urgently review the ability of NAPLAN testing to improve student outcomes and turn our attention to ways that engage students in authentic learning.
I look forward to the work of Davidow, Carey, Williams being more fully published and discussed.
As someone who has had a preview it proves to me that when creative writing as a craft is scaffolded within a meaningful, integrated and inclusive approach to learning that students respond, and improved writing skills are the outcome.
It’s my hope that this research feeds and inspires not just other Steiner educators, but Australia’s diverse educational sector as a whole.
Our goal is the same – growing the next generation of leaders, thinkers, builders, educators, creatives, and carers.
Gannon, S. (2019). Teaching writing in the NAPLAN era: The experiences of secondary English teachers. English in Australia, 54(2), 43-56.
McGaw, B., Louden, W., & Wyatt-Smith, C. (2020). NAPLAN review final report. State of New South Wales (Department of Education), State of Queensland (Department of Education), State of Victoria (Department of Education and Training), and Australian Capital Territory.Aug 2021