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The difficult task of writing

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, as those who move easiest have learned to dance" ~ Alexander Pope.

Oh how true this is!

I have now been marking the 2012 NAPLAN Writing task for over a week. I have read and marked nearly 200 "scripts" - attempts by Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students across NSW to answer the question:

"Should everyone learn to cook?"

This was the prompt for this year's persuasive writing task, where the writer is required to convince the reader of their point of view. I actually think this a rather important 'text type' to learn - in my very optimistic plan for homeschooling, I stated confidently "our writing program will emphasize skills in expository and persuasive writing, including the process of draft development, revision and editing". Thankfully I have a few more months before I have to achieve that goal! But the point is, being able to craft a persuasive text, exposition, discussion or academic essay is something I believe is a real skill and worth pursuing.


In the NAPLAN exam, the kids had 5 minutes to plan their response, 30 minutes to write it and 5 minutes to edit it. We mark according to 10 different criteria:
  1. audience
  2. text structure
  3. ideas
  4. persuasive devices
  5. vocabulary
  6. cohesion
  7. paragraphing
  8. sentence structure
  9. punctuation
  10. spelling
If you want more detail (because it's riveting stuff!) you can actually view/download our marking guide here. This is our bible for marking and mine has lots of annotations and comments scribbled in it now. If you happen to have a child who did NAPLAN, you'll be glad to know we try really, really hard to be consistent in our marking. We have a common control script each day, to ensure everyone is on the right track and our Senior Markers and Group Leaders review random scripts we have marked through the day, giving us feedback if we need it.

You'll also be glad to know we try really, really hard to see the good in the attempts. I have to say, this experience is really opening my eyes to just what a difficult task this writing thing is. It is very much a developmental thing - I have probably only read one really well written, well crafted script. I have also read a few clever attempts, but they usually include some clumsy sentences, dodgy ideas, or bad spelling, which kind of puts a dampener on things. But there are some gorgeous ideas and attempts at persuasion, which frequently have us showing the marker next to us.

Particularly it seems for some of our younger writers, there are some common "themes" that seem to appear over and over (and over and over). I put these up in the spirit of learning (and some of them are so cute):
  • I strongly believe that everyone should learn to cook because if your mum and dad die, and you didn't learn how to cook, you would starve. Or even worse, you might have to eat fruit.
  • Firstly, everyone should learn to cook because if mum and dad are working, you could come home and whip yourself up a snack (like a chocolate cake) or even make breakfast, lunch and dinner and give mum a break (because dad never cooks).
  • Secondly, everyone should learn to cook because one day, if you get stranded in the jungle (because there is so much jungle in Australia) if you don't know how to cook you might have meat, but you could die because you can't cook it and you might get a disease.
  • Thirdly, everyone should learn to cook because one day you can go on TV like Masterchef, and get your own restaurant or have your own food products and get really rich, because chefs get paid heaps of money.
  • In conclusion, everyone shouldn't learn to cook because if everyone does their own cooking, then all those chefs would have nowhere to work and the cooking shops would be very crowded and we might run out of ingredients.
The thing that stands out for me is how hard (almost all) of these kids are trying. They may not be always successful (although the head marker does inform me that the homeschooled kids do very well in writing!), but they try their little hearts out. The other thing that strikes me is how important their families are to them. There are lots of "awww" moments in my work. Not everyone will be a great writer, but at least they are learning to put their thoughts on paper and many of them are finding their "voice". Who knows? Maybe one day they may even have a blog!!


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