This is the third post in a series which goes deeper into the new VCE English and EAL Crafting Texts outcome. Each post includes some discussion of the Area of Study along with practical lesson ideas. Even if you’re not a VCE English teacher, you’ll find this post useful if you use mentor or model texts when teaching fiction and nonfiction writing.
Since the new Study Design was released last year I’ve had a lot of questions about how to structure the unit, how to assess the outcomes, and how to manage the spread of the two assessment tasks plus written reflection.
If you’ve been around here for a while you’ll know that I have some pretty strong opinions about how we should run assessments at a VCE level. Most schools conduct all Year 11 and 12 assessments and School Assessed Coursework under timed examination conditions. The argument goes that this is practice for the VCE Year 12 examination. In this post, I’ll explore alternatives and go into why I think the “mini-exam” is far from the best approach to assessing Crafting Texts.
If you missed the previous post on ideas, you can check that out here:
I’ve taught VCE English and Literature for over a decade, and assessed for over five years. In that time, I’ve heard every single reason for completing assessments under timed examination conditions. Here are the most common:
- It prepares students for the exam
- The exam is worth more than the SACs
- VCAA want us to do it this way
- It’s in the VCAA rules
- It’s for authentication
It’s time to put those excuses to rest so that we can assess Crafting Texts the way the students deserve.
It prepares students for the exam
Chances are you’re reading this around the middle of Term 1 as you plan to start Crafting Texts in year 11. That means the Year 12 examination is… a lot of months away (not a maths teacher). With more than a year’s worth of preparation for the exam, squeezing in an extra bit of timed writing this early isn’t going to make much of a difference. The experience is unlikely to stick.
But timed assessment as “exam practice” is problematic for more reasons than this. Timed examinations disadvantage many of our students, including those likely to suffer in the actual exam. ADHD, dyslexic, autistic students. Students with learning difficulties and disabilities. Students with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. Students with physical disabilities – temporary and permanent – including problems with fine motor skills, chronic pain, and more. Even students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Examinations under timed conditions with unseen materials punish all of these students.
You may be wondering how many of your students actually benefit from examination conditions. The answer is simple: those likely to already do well under the conditions of the formal end of Year 12 exams.
Examination style assessments don’t prepare students for the exam: they provide an unfair disadvantage to students who are already favoured by the system.Me, just now.
They’re not even a reasonable replica of the exam. How many of your timed assessments run for three hours in an exam hall? If you want students to practice exams, I suggest staging practice exams.
The exam is worth more than the SACs
This one comes from a misunderstanding of the statistical moderation process. The examination for English does carry a lot of weight: 50% of the total graded assessment. It isn’t worth “more” than the SACs, however, and the examination doesn’t “change” the SAC results.
If you’re at all unsure of how statistical moderation works I highly recommend either the VCAA VCE Assessment professional developments that run each year, or the statistical moderation videos on the VCAA website. Or, get in touch with me and I’ll happily run through the entire process with you and your faculty.
TL;DR: Statistical moderation means that SACs can be “hard” in one school and “easy” in another, but all students are ultimately graded on a comparable scale across the state. It doesn’t mean that the exam is “worth more” than the SACs.
In fact, the way statistical moderation works is actually an argument in favour of my previous point. Allowing disadvantaged students to shine in non-exam conditions makes the SAC marking process more equitable and does not have a negative impact on anyone’s final results. If your best student is good at assessments and exams, they’ll still get the highest mark.
VCAA wants us to do it this way/it’s in the rules/it’s for authentication
These three points come hand in hand and my general response is “prove it”. Unless I’ve misread the study design or the VCAA Administrative Handbook, there is no mention of exam-style SACs anywhere. In fact, conversations I have had with VCAA staff again suggests the opposite: a frustration at the “tail wagging the dog” approach of Y12 exams driving the assessment narrative.
This isn’t a rule VCAA invented to punish students. That is especially true for Year 11, where all assessment outcomes are at the discretion of the school and carry a Satisfactory or Not Satisfactory grade without a score.
Here are a few choice quotes from VCAA to back me up.
Teachers must develop courses that include appropriate learning activities to enable students to demonstrate achievement of outcomes. To make sure that the work submitted by the students is clearly their own, undue assistance should not be provided to students while undertaking assessment tasks.
Students should be clearly informed of the timelines and the conditions under which assessment tasks are to be conducted, including whether any resources are permitted.VCAA Administrative Handbook 2023
So, clearly inform students of timelines and conditions, and don’t provide undue assistance. No mention of exams there…
Most work for the assessment of unit outcomes and school-assessed coursework (SACs) will be completed in class; however, this does not preclude normal teacher expectations for students to complete research and learning activities that contribute to gaining key knowledge and skills outside of class time…VCAA Administrative Handbook 2023
Nothing saying that SACs must be completed entirely in school either…
For SACs undertaken outside of class time, teachers must monitor and record each student’s progress through to completion. This requires regular sightings of the work by the teacher and the keeping of records in the Authentication Record for school-based assessment form which is available to download on VASS.VCAA Administrative Handbook 2023
In fact, VCAA even provides us the advice and the authentication form for SACs which aren’t carried out at school, so… obviously SACs can be completed outside of exam conditions.
Teachers are not required to formally sight drafts or record students’ completion of drafts unless it is a requirement of the VCE study design or for authentication purposes or both. Drafting can remain a part of a teaching and learning strategy, and students may do preliminary drafting for SACs. However, students and teachers must follow the VCAA authentication rules regarding acceptable levels of assistance in relation to providing feedback on the draft, in order to maintain the integrity of the SACs and ensure the authenticity of each student’s work.VCAA Administrative Handbook 2023 (emphasis added)
This is my personal favourite, and it has actually changed since 2021. Not only can students draft for SACs, teachers can provide “acceptable levels or assistance” and feedback. Pre-2021, teachers were advised to avoid providing feedback. This has now changed, and it has huge implications for Crafting Texts.
Finally from the admin document, here are a few points under Strategies for avoiding authentication problems:
- “A significant amount of class time should be spent on the task so that the teacher is familiar with each student’s work in progress and can regularly monitor and discuss aspects of the work with each student.”
- “Students should document the specific stages of the development of work, starting with an early part of the task, such as the topic choice, list of resources or preliminary research or both.”
- “Copies of each student’s written work should be filed at given stages in their development.”
All three of those points suggest that VCAA endorses SACs which are conducted over time, with a known topic, and which follow drafting and development processes.
Perhaps authentication just got harder for everyone with the advent of ChatGPT. But good authentication comes from open, trusting conversations about academic integrity. It doesn’t come from forcing students to conduct their “important” work under timed examination conditions.
Assessing Crafting Texts
Right. I’ll step down from the soapbox now to discuss what I came here to talk about: Crafting Texts. The reason I spent such a long time contextualising the discussion with my position on exams is that I don’t think you can legitimately assess this outcome under timed conditions.
There will be a Creating Texts outcome on the examination. We don’t know what it will look like yet, but we can safely assume it will draw on the Key Knowledge and Skills of Unit 3 Outcome 2, and likely be anchored by the chosen framework of ideas.
But… and excuse me if I’m sounding like a broken record here… the SAC is not the exam.
Let’s take a look at some of the Key Skills students must draw on in Crafting Texts for to achieve the outcome which can’t be judged in conditions:
- develop and employ writing processes
- generate ideas, and discuss, develop and elaborate on these ideas
- plan, create, draft, refine and complete individual writing
- collaborate on the processes of writing with peers and teachers through discussion and feedback
The Administrative Handbook supports drafting, and the Study Design requires it. Crafting texts is absolutely dependent on a writing process which includes genuine opportunities to plan, edit, draft, discuss, and peer review work.
I suggest that you split the tasks into separate due dates: the first original piece due about two-thirds of the way through the term, the second a week or two after that, and the reflective commentary at the end of the unit (or even later – there’s no reason students can’t work on the reflective task after you’ve moved on and they’ve received feedback on the first parts).
Follow a writing cycle like this one, which is from our upcoming book Practical Writing Strategies. If you’re keen to read about these stages before the book comes out, I already posted an excerpt from the introduction here.
The two student-created texts
The first part of the outcome requires both English and EAL students to write,
two student-created texts such as: short stories, speeches (with transcripts), essays (comment, opinion, reflective, personal), podcasts (with transcripts), poetry/songs, feature articles (including a series of blog postings) and memoirsVCAA VCE English and EAL Study Design
If you follow my suggestion and have the first of these due about two-thirds of the way through the unit, that provides plenty of time beforehand to discuss the purpose of writing, explore the mentor texts, generate ideas and to draft and peer assess. The second piece can be submitted shortly after and could reflect on feedback from teachers on the first response, or not: there’s no hard and fast rule there.
If you’re going to do a timed exam-style assessment (you’re not though, right?) then I’d recommend only one of the two pieces is written under timed conditions. Preferably, this would be the second piece after the first has received some feedback.
Bear in mind that these don’t have to be thousands of words long. There is no expectation that the total word count of this outcome is three times that of a normal assessment. There is also no requirement that students write two different forms, though that has been suggested in talks from VCAA as a way of diversifying students’ responses before Year 12.
The reflective commentary
English students are required to produce “a description of writing processes” and EAL students may do either that or “a set of annotations on the student-created texts, identifying the qualities of effective writing.”
I’m thinking of this very much like the written explanation/statement of intent from current outcomes (the creative SAC and the oral). I’d expect it to be short – probably a few hundred words max. In it, students should “reflect on and share the implications of authorial choices made in their own writing and in the writings of others”.
Adapting the Unit 3 Performance Descriptors
I already broke down the Unit 3 OC2 Performance Descriptors for the Year 12 Creating Texts SAC in a previous post, so I’ll reuse that information here. I think that the two outcomes are close enough in Key Knowledge and Skills that the descriptors could apply to both. However, you should adapt the language of the performance descriptors to suit your students, breaking the criteria down where necessary.
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.
The reflective commentary
The reflective commentary is the third piece of assessment material students will produce, and is where they will comment on their own authorial choices, exploration of the idea, and use of the mentor texts.
We’ve been 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”
In Unit 3 OC 1, the commentary is worth 20 marks, making it comparable with each of the two written pieces. The criteria for the outcome 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.
Developing the assessment tasks
Practical Strategies for Assessing Crafting Texts
Here are three activities which can be used before, during, and after the Crafting Texts unit to support these assessment practices. Breaking it up this way follows the writing cycle we’ve suggested in Practical Writing Strategies, which is coming soon from Amba Press.
Before the Unit: Talking about academic integrity
- Begin by asking the students if they know what academic integrity is, and if they have ever heard of plagiarism. Record their responses on the whiteboard.
- Hand out materials on academic integrity, plagiarism, and ChatGPT and give the students some time to read through them. Feel free to adapt the resources here or check out a University academic integrity page: Monash and Deakin’s are both very clear.
- Ask the students to share their thoughts on academic integrity and plagiarism. What did they learn from the materials? Did anything surprise them? Record their responses on the whiteboard.
- Engage the students in a discussion on the importance of academic integrity in the context of Crafting Texts. Discuss how students can ensure they are using academic integrity in their writing.
- Divide the class into small groups and give each group a case study related to plagiarism. Ask the students to discuss the case study and come up with a resolution that is fair and just. Allow each group to present their resolution to the class.
- Conclude the activity by emphasising the importance of academic integrity in academic writing and in Crafting Texts. Remind the students that plagiarism is a serious offence that can result in serious consequences, and encourage them to always practice academic integrity in their writing.
During the Unit: Peer review
- Have students bring in their drafts for peer review.
- Divide students into small groups, with each group member taking turns sharing their work.
- Have group members provide feedback on each other’s writing, focusing on the criteria outlined in the unit outcome.
- Encourage constructive criticism and provide students with sentence starters to guide their feedback.
- After the workshop, ask students to revise their drafts based on the feedback received.
- Repeat the workshop process with revised drafts.
After the Unit: Reflection and self-assessment
- Have students complete reflections on their writing process throughout the unit: they could annotate draft work, use sticky notes, or write brief descriptions of their choices.
- Ask students to identify which strategies and techniques were successful for them and which were not. They could put this into a two-column table or just take notes.
- Have students complete a self-assessment of their final piece, focusing on the criteria outlined in the unit outcome. For example, they could annotate a copy of the criteria sheet.
- Ask students to make a list of the mentor texts used and identify if and how they used them in their final piece(s).
- Take points 1-4 and write them up i two paragraphs as the written reflection outcome.
Here are a few other resources to help with assessing this outcome:
- Here is the ‘Futures’ mentor text collection I put together last year
- The VCAA Advice for Teachers page (scroll to the bottom and look for the 2024 implementation dropdown) is a great resource for assessment and lesson ideas
- The VCAA On Demand videos cover all aspects of the Study Design
- Insight Publications Year 11 English has lots of examples and activities for this area of study
I hope you find this post helpful, whether you’re using the ideas for VCE English or any other writing unit with mentor texts.
If you have any questions, feedback, or there’s something you’d like to see in this series of posts, then please let me know via the form below: