Writing in the subject specialist classroom

Over the past few years, analysis of external national, state and international assessments have indicated high school student writing performance has been undergoing a discernable decline.

Peter Freebody asserts that there is a common sense myth that literacy is a fixed, bounded set of skills related to code-breaking and that once the student can break the codes of English, the rest of the school years simply become a matter of reading and automatically understanding all the rest. Freebody claims that many mistakenly believe that specialised textual formations in Physics or Mathematics, History, English, Biology, literary criticism, and all the rest, are basically just talk written down, conceptually and linguistically transparent, commonsensical and the equivalent of a Year 3 storybook.

On the contrary, it is within subject-specialist high school classrooms where excellent opportunities exist to improve literacy skills and in turn, improve overall student learning outcomes.

Writing is subject-specific and has the capacity to facilitate the abstraction of concepts and promote higher-order critical thinking. Academic development is dependent on the specific ways in which content knowledge is developed through language both written and visual. Accessing those kinds of texts is the ongoing literacy challenge for schools.

Today’s students need to do more than accept information at face value; they need to be able to understand, use and critically analyse texts’ validity and underpinning points of view.

Teachers can begin the process of improving student writing by pointing out to students the variety of ways in which different texts build knowledge; how language and visual information work together in different ways in various curriculum areas and more specifically within their subject discipline.

Regular writing tasks modelled on the NAPLAN persuasive task but located in the NSW syllabuses provides parallel opportunities to assess/improve student writing as well as assess student understanding of syllabus content.

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