Action Research: improving student writing through reflection

Action Research

During Semseter 2, I had the privilege of participating in the ETA’s Head Teacher Webinar series of professional development. Sharyn Stafford, Head Teacher English at Edmund Rice College, Wollongong and executive member of the NSW ETA, shared her considerable knowledge and passion in Personalising the Learning. I was inspired to undertake my own action research project, and found the presentation and associated resources both informative and supportive during my project.

The following report follows the framework provided by the ETA  which is flexible and easily used by any classroom teacher. The evidence collected would be suitable for accreditation purposes. Here are my experiences working with two graded classes in years 8 and 9.

Project title: Student Reflection on Improving Writing

School Context

Lake Illawarra High School is situated in a low-socio-economic demographic with consistently low literacy results on standard national testing. Two junior graded English classes, 8.2 and 9.4, are the focus of this study.

Why does this project matter?

To increase student confidence and expectations of their own writing and establish a culture of collaborative writing to foster successful drafting and editing.

What have you identified that needs improving or changing?

There is an ongoing lack of improvement in student writing, particularly at sentence and paragraph level. Students seem to rely on teacher centred learning and lack confidence in their own skills.

How have you used the research and resources provided to develop your strategies and action? (refer to actual links or resources on wiki)

  • Dylan Williams video on formative assessment: create more student focused learning opportunities to activate students as learning resources for each other
  • the Williams Model – both download and extract from Curriculum Differentiation support package, DET: how to engineer effective discussion opportunities through engaging questions
  • Carol Tomlinson video: understanding need to regularly check student understanding
  • NELMS Brain Research and Differentiation ppt: importance of creating and maintaining a safe yet flexible learning environment to encourage students to take risks and effectively engage in their own learning

What hypothesis are you proposing?

Will personal reflection on student’s own writing improve their future composing?

What action will you take to ensure that this improvement happens?

Structured group work, with ‘pair and share’ activities focused on using specific criteria to critique student compositions.

How will you know that you have achieved what you planned?

  • student feedback: group discussions, negotiated marking criteria and editing checklists, exit cards
  • student work samples
  • teacher reflection

Action plan

Timeline Action Research


What we achieved

Students consistently demonstrated a clear structure in their writing, specifically in the use of paragraphs for specific information and ideas. Many students have expressed confidence in using criteria to check their writing. Some students have shown an increasing ability to structure their sentences with a range of sentence starters, while others have requested more practice with spelling and sentence construction, particularly in reducing length through overuse of contractions.

first sampleStudent sample 1: reflection written in response to results and feedback from creative writing assessment task.

second sampleStudent sample 2: reflection on novel chosen for wide reading activity, written later in term by same student, showing structural improvements.

entry level criteria

Introductory marking criteria used by students to assess their first reflection written for this project (see student sample 1). Elements of this rubric were negotiated and adapted throughout the project.

What didn’t work?

Many students lack a regular pattern of attendance: only thirteen students in year 8 and nine students in year 9 completed all writing activities. Some time each lesson was spent in reorienting absent students to the task and requirements. Some student reluctance was encountered when using similar criteria tables and checklists leading to a reconfiguration of criteria to maintain engagement; typical comments were “I’ve done this.”

Where to from here?

  • shared these findings and ideas with English staff at a faculty meeting in October and discussed how to incorporate these strategies into future learning plans and programs.
  • apply these ideas and strategies to other styles and forms of writing across all years.
  • re-visit the action research framework to assess student writing after implementation in 2014.

Relieving Head Teacher comment on presentation of findings

This was an informative and seamless presentation. This research strategy guideline for teachers encourages students to write and reflect on their learning. It gives them the opportunity to work co-operatively, providing a useful and valuable framework for their writing as we implement important changes to the curriculum. This also enables the students and provides them with the relevant vocabulary / metalanguage to enhance their writing and learning experience.

Ms H Wainwright

This project was funded by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership Limited (AITSL) with funding provided by the Australian Government.

To read more on the 3D Format for Reflective Writing, and download a paper based on my recent Transformation presentation for the Innovation conference for the NSW ETA, go to my Reflective Writing page 

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