Enhancing capacity to analyse students’ writing

Funding year: 
2 years
Auckland UniServices
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2006
Project end date: 
January 2008
Principal investigator(s): 
Libby Limbrick
Research team members: 
Pauline Buchanan, Marineke Goodwin, and Helen Schwarcz
Research partners: 
Participating schools in the Manurewa Enhancement Initiative

Research Description

In 2006 and 2007 the teaching of writing was investigated using an action research process in partnership with a cluster of Manurewa schools which has one of the highest concentrations of Māori students in the country: 40 percent identified as Māori and a further 26 percent, Pasifika. A previous study in the area had identified low achievement levels in student writing samples (Limbrick, Buchanan, Goodwin, & Schwarcz, 2005) consistent with the National Educational Monitoring Project reports of Māori and Pasifika students’ underachievement in writing. That study had also observed that teachers’ confidence in their ability to teach writing, as well as their knowledge of the writing process, was low.
Recent literature has indicated that deliberately targeted teaching based on rigorous, purposeful assessment can raise student achievement (Lai, McNaughton, MacDonald, & Farry, 2004; Symes & Timperley, 2003). These studies also emphasise the importance of teacher knowledge: knowledge about students, about the purpose and practice of assessment, content knowledge of the subject; and how to use this information explicitly and purposefully in teaching.
At the outset of the project, teachers’ knowledge of writing and the assessment of writing (e.g., use of asTTle Writing and the English Writing Exemplars) was variable.  For many teachers, the use of assessment to inform teaching, and to act as a measure of their own effectiveness, has been neither widespread nor relevant and robust (Timperley, 2007). Recent research (Limbrick, Knight, & McCaulay, 2005) has suggested that a focus on students’ writing that provides opportunities to discuss the writing has led to teachers being more knowledgeable about the writing process and also more confident in interrogating their practice.  
Research has also suggested that when teachers engage in “learning talk” there can be positive outcomes for student achievement (Annan, Lai, & Robinson, 2003; Ball & Cohen, cited in Robinson, 2003, p. 29).  Professional discussion can enhance both teacher knowledge and student achievement. Through such discussions, teachers examine their own pedagogy in relation to student achievement, building on identified sound practice, strengthening weaknesses and overcoming gaps in knowledge (Robinson, 2003). However, Timperley (2007), in her inaugural professorial address, emphatically makes the point that talking is not enough: talk must also transform student achievement.
This is similar to the action research process described by Cardno (2003) which has been influential in encouraging many teachers to adopt an inquiry model as the basis for enhancing their own practice.