In all of the Professional Learnings I’ve been running recently related to the new Study Design, the assessment question has cropped up more than any other. We don’t have a sample examination yet; and we won’t get one until well into next year. But the VCAA have provided us with Unit 3 and 4 Performance Descriptors in the new Advice for Teachers pages, and we can use the descriptors from Unit 3 Outcome 2 to lan for both Crafting and Creating Texts in Year 11 and 12.
Anatomy of an Assessment
I’m going to begin by pointing out some of the most obvious features of the criteria for Unit 3 Outcome 2 Task 1, which is the written outcome. The outcome and key knowledge and skills are very similar to Unit 1 OC2, so I’ll be treating them as the same assessment requirements throughout.
First of all, there are some stand-out points from the descriptors:
- Purpose, audience, and context are important throughout. Even at the “very low” level students must be able to at least acknowledge an audience.
- Language develops from an “attempt” to experiment with vocabulary and structure through to a creative control of those features, in relation to the ideas.
- The word “generic” is applied to low pieces in both the quality of the writing, and the overall “voice” of the pieces.
- High and very high pieces connect and develop multiple ideas.
- “Voice” is sustained and individual in the higher range pieces.
- There is a balance in the high range between creativity and precision. more on this later.
Exploring the criteria
The criteria for U3OC2 Task 1 are as follows:
- Generation and development of ideas
- Audience, purpose, and context
- Vocabulary, text structures, and language features related to ideas
- Vocabulary, register, and language conventions
Right away you can see the focus on writing technique (vocab, vocab, and more vocab!). You should also start to see how the form of the text the student writes matters less than the appropriateness of their structure, language, and ideas: the criteria can be applied in the same manner to blogs, short stories, creative nonfiction… whatever your students choose to write.
Development of ideas
To progress through these performance descriptors, students need to be able to identify, then present, and then build an idea. Once they have established their idea, high range students will then incorporate multiple ideas into their final piece.
Audience, purpose, and context
Students develop from simply identifying that there is an audience, to clarifying the purpose of their writing, and then contextualising it. At the highest levels, the students use appropriate voice, tone, register and metalanguage to tie together the audience, purpose, place, and time of their writing.
Vocabulary, text structures, and language features related to ideas
Even at the lowest level students recognise the importance of choosing an appropriate structure as the vehicle for their ideas. As they progress, they begin to connect vocabulary, language techniques and structure, and become creative in their choices.
“Voice” is possibly the most intangible of the criteria, speaking to the unique style of the writing. In the lower levels, the writing is generic, versus the individual and sustained voice of the higher ranges.
Vocabulary, register, and language conventions
Vocabulary again, this time in the more familiar application of “standard and non standard” language. At the higher levels, the language and register is tailored to support the other criteria.
Pulling it all together
So what does that mean for a written assessment, either in Unit 3 or Unit 1 (and maybe even the exam, though we won’t see a sample paper until later next year)? I think that the key here is that we’re being asked to assess the craft of writing. Very high quality writing can and should be both creative and precise. There should be an original, unique, and individual voice that is sustained throughout the piece, and it should be an appropriate voice – in a suitable register and language – to convey the ideas.
The balance of creativity – typically associated with free thinking, spontaneity, energy – and precision is, I believe, at the core of this assessment. When writers write, there is a balance of the creative and the precise which emerges throughout the writing process, from the initial bursts of frenetic writing through to the sometimes laborious editing process.
The vocabulary, language, structure and techniques serve as a vehicle to support the ideas. The ideas should reflect the purpose, audience, and context of the writing. And the whole should be both creative, and precise.
But where are the mentor texts?
If you’ve followed along this far you may have started to ask yourself the same question that popped into my mind when I first read the descriptors: where are the mentor texts?
We’ll be provided with a list of mentor texts for the Frameworks of Ideas in Unit 3 and 4, and schools will select their own for Unit 1. Mentor texts are front and centre in the Study Design, in the Key Knowledge and Key Skills in both Units 1 and 3. Students are required to “read and explore mentor texts to understand the mechanics of effective and cohesive writing”
Enter Task 2
Task 2 is the written explanation. In Unit 3 OC, it is worth 20 marks, making it comparable with each of the two written pieces. The criteria for the written explanations are as follows:
- Reflect on and share the implications of authorial choices in their own writing and the writings of others.
- Explain and comment on the vocabulary, text structures and language features, conventions and ideas used in their own writing.
- Experiment with and extend vocabulary for effective and cohesive writing.
The term “mentor texts” is still not explicit in these criteria. I think there is a deliberate move from the VCAA to make sure that these tasks are not viewed as an updated “Context” unit – the old tasks from the pre-2016 study design which required students to explicitly use set texts.
In the written explanation task, however, students are required to reflect on “the writings of others” and “other writing processes”: these are the mentor texts. It’s worth noting that the performance descriptors have only the top-range responses referencing these writings.
I wrote a post earlier in the week about comparative judgement, and I think that this will be the best method for assessing these pieces. At the end of the day, teachers need to take a step back from the ideas, the mentor texts studied in class, and the form the student chooses to write in. Assessing written pieces from different forms – comparing a blog to a short story, or an essay to an article – is tricky, but not impossible.
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