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Literacy outcomes

Students’ writing before intervention

The following two writing samples were written before intervention in the project. Although they are extremely weak, they are characteristic of many Aboriginal and other students from oral family backgrounds, who have not received adequate support in the course of their schooling to develop their literacy skills. Although these samples illustrate extremely weak writing skills for junior secondary students, they do not represent the weakest literacy skills at the start of the project, as teachers reported that many of their Aboriginal students never wrote more than a few lines, and some never wrote at all.

Writing Sample 1: low range

This story was originally written as continuous text, but it has been transcribed here with one clause per line to show the sequence more clearly.

we went hunt for goanna and kangaroo rob Max and scott
we went to the bush and we had a rifle
and we went to this place up to the bush was a little camp place
and up there we seen a speargun and it work so we put a bag at the camp
and we went hunt and we was lookin around the bush
and Max seen a kangaroo
and scott shot the kangaroo in the head
and we took back to the camp
as we was took the kangaroo back rob saw a goanna and another kangaroo
Max miss the goanna and it was run
Max and rob was chasing
and Max shot it in the eyes
and rob was at the camp with the kangaroo
and Max rob and scott was eating bush tucker

The following analysis describes both the strengths and weaknesses of this piece. For explanations of these categories see Tables 2 and 3 above, and the Definitions in the Appendix.

PURPOSE
attempted narrative – Complication is Max miss the goanna
STAGING
long Orientation – Complication signalled by time theme ‘as we was took the kangaroo back’ – but no Evaluation so that Resolution is weak
FIELD
plot is potentially interesting, but little elaboration of events
TENOR
no explicit attitudes expressed – reader is expected to engage with events without any expression of feelings
MODE
a spoken story written down, expected Stage 1 level
PHASES
some development of phases in the Orientation, with setting and events, but no reaction or description phases
LEXIS
people, things and places are followed through coherently, so that the story makes sense, but very simple oral vocabulary
CONJUNCTION
conjunctions are almost all and -– typical in oral stories
REFERENCE
reference is simple but clear
APPRAISAL
no use of appraisal to evaluate events, things or people
GRAMMAR
very weak grammar – result of stress with writing, together with writer’s spoken dialect
SPELLING
generally accurate
PUNCTATION
no control of punctuation or letter cases
PRESENTATION
no use of paragraphs

 

 

This is a spoken story that the student has attempted to write down, with few skills for writing except for letter formation and spelling. The effort required means that other elements of language have suffered, including obviously grammar, but also resources for elaborating the story, such as characters’ reactions, and descriptive and attitudinal wordings. In the spoken mode this may have been a successful story, but in order to produce successful written stories, this student needs continual practice with detailed reading of literate stories, and continual supported practice with writing that is closely patterned on these literate stories.

Writing sample 2: high range

The following sample was in the high range of writing produced by target students before the project commenced.

On my first day of high school it has been fun. I got here by car. I got to the hall and listen to some boring speech. Then we got classes chosen. I got a good class because it has two friends in it. Then I went to the class with the peer leaders and I met the [unreadable] girls wich was a highlight of my first day.

PURPOSE
recount highlights of first day at school
STAGING
simple recount, including comments
FIELD
simple personal experience
TENOR
evaluated with personal feelings
MODE
a spoken story written down, expected stage 1–2 level
PHASES
initial comment signalled by time theme On my first day
LEXIS
simple oral vocabulary
CONJUNCTION
simple sequence in time with then and cause because
REFERENCE
reference is simple but clear
APPRAISAL
some appraisal fun, boring speech, good class, a highlight
GRAMMAR
accurate simple grammar
SPELLING
generally accurate
PUNCTATION
control of sentence punctuation and letter cases
PRESENTATION
no use of paragraphs


Although it is still very weak, writing sample 2 was classified as high range because it displays some features of written language, including sentence punctuation, accurate grammar, and appraisals that evaluate the events, which was a requirement of the writing task.

These types of writing are representative of the plight of many Aboriginal and other students in secondary schools. Standard approaches to teaching have almost completely failed such students throughout their primary schooling. These types of text are produced as responses to the typical primary school activity of personal story writing, sometimes called ‘journal writing’ or ‘process writing’. Such activities allegedly allow students to learn by freely expressing their creativity, but their actual function is evaluative, since it is only those students who are adequately prepared by their experience of reading that can produce successful stories. Students from oral family backgrounds, particularly Aboriginal students, rarely develop adequate literacy skills through such activities.

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Disclaimer:

These materials are provided for research purposes and may contain opinions that are not shared by the Board of Studies NSW.
Students' writing before intervention