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14 Jul 2022 • 3 minute read

Getting primary school students on the ‘write’ track

The first national survey to investigate how writing is taught in primary school has raised concerns about the frequency and nature of writing instruction in Australian classrooms. Edith Cowan University (888电子游戏官网) has led a national team of researchers who recruited 310 teachers to participate in the study.

Young girl practising writing with her mother who is sitting beside her at a table
NAPLAN results show a significant decline in Australian students’ writing performance.

The first national survey to investigate how writing is taught in primary school has raised concerns about the frequency and nature of writing instruction in Australian classrooms.

NAPLAN results have shown a significant decline in students’ writing performance in the nine years since the test was introduced.

Edith Cowan University (888电子游戏官网) has led a national team of researchers who recruited 310 teachers to participate in the study. Participants provided insights on how much time they spent on class preparation and teaching writing, their confidence in teaching these skills and the types of writing practices typically developed in their classrooms.

Key findings:

  • Most students spend the minimum recommended time (3 hours per week), on writing activities in their classrooms, with some teachers reporting students spend only 15 minutes and others 7.5 hours per week on writing practices.
  • Teachers place more time on teaching spelling than on any other writing activity; most teachers don’t teach typing, and little attention is placed on teaching handwriting, planning, and revision strategies for writing.
  • Most teachers feel well prepared and confident in their abilities to teach writing, but less confident in developing teaching practices to support struggling writers in their classrooms.
  • Better prepared and more confident teachers are more likely to use evidence-based practices for teaching writing and spend more time teaching writing skills.
  • Teachers rarely develop strategies for parents to support their children’s writings at school or at home.
  • There is a need to support teachers and parents with effective strategies for writing.

Chief Investigator Dr Anabela Malpique said providing adequate writing instruction and practice in schools was an essential cornerstone of writing development.

“However, teachers in our study reported that they needed more support in learning how to teach writing,” Dr Malpique said.

“We recommend professional development opportunities to be put in place at state and national levels that equip teachers with evidence-informed writing and keyboarding tools for teaching.”

One teacher in the survey commented:

While I have answered some of the questions in this survey negatively, I am trying to get better at teaching writing. I want to love it but I'm not sure exactly where to turn for help.”

How can parents help?

Dr Malpique said developing lines of communication between families and schools to promote writing at home was important.

“Most teachers (65 per cent) in our survey never asked students to write at home with the support of a parent/guardian, while 77 per cent reported never or rarely (once a year) asking parents/guardians to read their children’s written work at home,” Dr Malpique said.

“Previous research has shown parents can help in supporting children’s effective writing.

“Just encouraging children to write at home, from little things like writing the shopping list, to writing a diary may help.

“Giving them a hug, a pat on the back, or a thumbs-up after reading something they wrote at school or at home will raise students’ motivation, and motivation for writing is key”.

This national survey is part of a larger research initiative to understand more about how children write in primary schools and the role that teachers and parents may play in supporting effective writing development. The Writing for All initiative aims to inform teacher training and educational polices about what needs to be done to empower primary students with the writing skills needed for their academic, professional, and personal success.

The paper ‘Teaching writing in primary education (grades 1-6) in Australia: a national survey’ co-authored by Dr Anabela Malpique, Dr Debora Valcan , Associate Professor Deborah Pino-Pasternak, Professor Susan Ledger, and, was published in the journal Reading and Writing.