teacher tips

Are you confused by the NAPLAN test and its purpose, how to assist students in getting through without undue anxiety, or are you hunting for information on student preparation and resources? This time of year we get a lot of questions from teachers, parents and even students so we thought we would put together a quick guide to prepare you in the lead up to the 2016 NAPLAN.

You may have already entered the labyrinthine NAPLAN website, only to become completely disoriented and emerge much later feeling frustrated, dazed, and none the wiser. There really is so much helpful information there, but sifting through it can be very time-consuming and ultimately, somewhat overwhelming. NAPLAN, though, is here to stay for the foreseeable future, so we might as well become familiar with it, like it or not, for the sake of our students. Hopefully, this will help to clarify a few significant details for you, including whether or not NAPLAN tests can, or should, be studied for.

shutterstock_287984198.jpg

What is NAPLAN?

The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

Every May since 2008, around a million school students in years three, five, seven and nine, have gathered their collective nerve and poured into exam rooms across Australia to sit our biggest standardised test of literacy and numeracy – NAPLAN. The tests are divided into Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy.

Put simply, this test measures what students have been learning already in school. There is no pass or fail grade, but given the subject matter is very broad many students worry about meeting the challenge when they have no idea what to expect or how to prepare for the tests. There is no actual course of study for it and according to the NAPLAN website, there is no benefit to be gained by trying to study for it by drills or too much targeted practice, because of the purpose of the test.

What NAPLAN Is For and How Results Can Be Used

In a nutshell, the test is designed to identify strengths and weaknesses in students’ abilities, so that parents and teachers can respond individually and the government can act on any apparent problem areas, by addressing them in the curriculum. The marking criteria are available on the NAPLAN website so you can see what features are under scrutiny, if you have a bent for grammar, literacy and maths.

Schools and teachers may get a clearer indication of the effectiveness of their teaching strategies and make whatever adjustments they deem necessary to lesson content and methods to improve students’ learning opportunities and outcomes. That means, scrutinising which errors were made by a particular student, then working on areas of weakness, as well as locating strengths and extending them to a higher level. Individual student’s scores are ranked nationally, so teachers, students and their carers, are free to compare their placing with those of others.

Are test results connected to in-school assessments and grading?

NAPLAN results do not impact upon your students’ school grades or class placement. Individual schools conduct their own assessments for those and NAPLAN is completely unrelated.

What’s Included:

For the Writing component, students will be given the same ‘writing stimulus’ from which to complete their task, and to date, they have always been directed to write one of two text-types, either a Narrative or a Persuasive text. These forms might sound daunting, but children use them all the time. ‘Narrative’ simply means ‘story’, and what child hasn’t used persuasive language when engaging in pester power, or listening to a politician or radio advertisement.

These two genres (Narrative and Persuasive writing) are selected because they are the most suitable for showing what skills and ability a student has and they are deemed essential for successful communication at a higher level, thus improving the students’ opportunities in life.

It’s important to give your students ample learning opportunities for both of these different text-types in order that they can be familiar with the standard format and conventions required for satisfying the task requirements.

The numeracy component assesses problem-solving ability and reasoning across three key learning areas: numbers and algebra; statistics and probability and measurement and geometry.

Preparing for NAPLAN

Students do not need to study for the test but ideally they should be prepared for it. That means, engaging in everyday practice in the areas that will be tested, (literacy and numeracy), and becoming familiar with the test format. The knowledge being tested is developed over time, so it’s simply impossible to ‘cram’ for a NAPLAN test. Completing practice tests beforehand makes it easier for students to go in with an understanding of the format and the kinds of tasks they will be asked to do. Most schools now offer students a practice test, (usually just the test from the previous year) within the fortnight prior to testing.

You could buy expensive sample practice-test packages online and books full of NAPLAN study tasks, but the highest advantage is most likely gained by focusing on everyday curriculum requirements and using the free test samples available on the NAPLAN website via the following link:

According to the education specialists who manage NAPLAN, the best way you can assist your child to prepare for the test is to support them well in gaining and increasing their literacy and numeracy skills. The links included above and those below, are for Australian websites that aim to do just that:

Another valuable resource is the online learning platform, Skwirk, which is used in homes and schools. Skwirk offers an enormous opportunity for students supporting literacy and numeracy across the board, while catering to different student’s individual learning styles. Although it does not specifically target NAPLAN, the underlying learning principles are the same as those sought in the testing and students are able to easily access engaging content across all areas of the NAPLAN testing components.

What is the worst thing that can happen if a student fares poorly in a NAPLAN test?

Some significant areas of difficulty have been pinpointed, enabling parents and educators to assist them towards clarification, understanding and move towards a fully functional use of those areas. And remember, the test scores don’t only indicate what a child can’t do, but show us what they have mastered, and provide records of their ongoing progress.

Felicity Wright has taught High School English and English Language for fourteen years, during which, she worked extensively on the range of state and national skills tests including NAPLAN. Now, Felicity works as a freelance writer.

Currently teachers, parents and home educators can subscribe to Skwirk using the discount code NAPLAN for a 20% discount off all individual subscriptions. Offer ends 12th May.

Recently I was introduced to the new (and helpful!) features that Skwirk has incorporated into its users’ experiences.

In the past, I’ve been an avid user of Skwirk as a reliable and engaging source of information. Any secondary teacher would agree that trawling the internet for ‘hubs’ of relevant information for students is a time consuming task. That’s where Skwirk, for me, came in handy. It was a place where information had been aligned to the NSW syllabus subjects (for me, junior history) and I could rely on it to be accessible for students of varying levels while also being thorough enough to be a launching pad for further work with varying classes.

Now, with their new features and tools, I find that Skwirk is now even more of a time saver! While still being a hub of information, the ability to manipulate the content to better suit my classes and their needs has made the whole process of preparing a lesson even easier.

Broadly, and simply, the Skwirk tools that I find myself using to the students’ (and my own) advantage (and which help me save time in my preparation and teaching) fall under these three areas:

  1. Engagement through multimedia
  2. Catering content to students’ needs
  3. Explicitly addressing the syllabus/curriculum

Generally when one comes up with a list, it helps to go through them one-by-one, so I’ll start with …

Engagement through Multimedia

Skwirk has always stood out in my mind as being one of (if not the) first Australian-based education website that has effectively and meaningfully integrated multimedia elements into their content. I distinctly remember using animations for junior history topics in the ‘old curriculum’ to really help provide more than just a written/text-based experience for students. Visual learners could understand how causes lead to effects, how Federation came about, and how World War One affected Australia and Australians.

What was also extremely helpful was the fact that these animations and the multimedia elements were already there and designed to address the syllabus and curriculum areas that I was aiming to cover (more on that later). I didn’t need to modify or take time in a lesson to bridge the content – I was saving time both in and out of the lesson!

Now with the changes to Skwirk, the new features that have been integrated into the users’ experiences allow for the teacher to develop more engaging and more meaningful lessons without taking any time away from those other important areas of our work.

Everyone’s pressed for time these days – teachers (arguably) more than most. In between exams and marking, reports and interviews, administration and paperwork, the fundamentals of lesson planning and resource development sometimes can be pushed to the back-burner. That’s certainly not to say that teachers are neglecting their classes or not putting in their best – they are.

Yet I’ve often found that engagement in a lesson is one of those things that takes the most effort. A well designed lesson with relevant and connected content, combined with the genuine learning experiences, all work towards creating those engaging lesson.

Now, on top of the already great multimedia and animations that Skwirk has had in the past, teachers can now develop class-specific pages that combines the Skwirk content and additional content of their own choosing.

This is what I love most about the changes: I can now integrate all those disparate sources of information – like YouTube videos, like images I’ve randomly saved, like audio clips and other animations – to create the engaging and interactive lesson that I need without taking more time!

I’m saving time and making genuine learning experiences for students.

I’ll describe the in’s and out’s generally here and if it sounds complicated don’t worry: It’s infinitely easier when you’re working on the dashboard when you have a subscription.

So let’s say I’ve started the year, and I’ve got a year 7 history class (which isn’t far from the truth right now!). I want them to be excited about history, to develop a passion for the content and the skills, and to really want to come to my classes because they know they will be learning for the long term. Rather than piling up the textbooks onto the cart and wheeling them in, or firing up the photocopier (all of which require time and resources that – as any teacher knows – sometimes we don’t have), I log onto Skwirk.

My school has a subscription, so I can easily get online and start to generate the first lesson. I navigate my way through the vast resources and content that Skwirk (all easily organised under the national curriculum topics and dot-points) until I find the first area year 7 is going to look at: Investigating History – What does history do for us?

The content that the students need is all there, but I know that, in the past, I found a couple of great YouTube videos that are great lesson starters and finishers (a YouTube search for ‘Why is history important?’ and looking for the video by the user Mr. Corwin will do you no wrong) and a few images that really provoke student discussion (quotes from historians that describe why they think history if important).

From the ease of my own computer, I can begin to edit that content that Skwirk has made available to me and integrate the videos and images that I want to include. It takes a few seconds to link to each of the resources, a few minutes arranging the structure of the page, and in no time I’ve got the bulk of that first lesson ready!

I can save that page (as it is) to my own dashboard so that when I walk into class I can have it all up for the kids on my data projector in class or they can access it themselves on the computer room I’ve booked for them. We/they work their way through the content there, being able to watch the videos, discuss what they think, and engage with the content in a way that textbooks and reams of photocopying just doesn’t allow.

Let’s face it: A 21st century kid almost expects there to be a video to accompany whatever it is you’re talking about! Not only can we meet their expectations of an engaging lesson with Skwirk, we can actually exceed it – and it’s quicker to do than ever before!

It might sound simple, but that’s because it really is. I’ve found I’m saving enough time with preparing for each lesson that I’m able to prepare more lessons in each of my ‘planning sessions’ (code for: Late night preparation) and get ahead faster, freeing up time in-school to complete the more time-sensitive and immediate tasks. I am able to give my students more attention.

But, what’s just as helpful: If your school keeps that subscription for the next year, all your material is ready to go day one, term one! There’s no reinventing the wheel or scrambling to find that worksheet that worked last year. It’s all there, saved online, ready to go.

I know I’ll be thanking my past self next year when I have even less initial work to do and am able to focus my efforts on refining and improving my material from last year based on my reflections of the lessons.

I can’t throw my support behind Skwirk enough with their new changes. They are an absolute time saver in terms of preparation – both in the short and long term. You won’t go wrong, no matter your technical level and experience with Skwirk in the past. Find out more below:

Get 25% off an Individual Teacher Skwirk Subscription today with the discount code ‘teaching’. Click here to get started.

Thomas Elley is in his sixth year of teaching, having attained a Bachelor of Education with First Class Honours and a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in History and English) from the University of Sydney. I currently teach junior and senior history in a government NSW school.

Sacred Heart College is a rural Catholic Secondary College located on the border of Victoria and New South Wales with a total student population of 260 students. In 2010, our College went one to one with Mac laptops and also began integrated curriculum throughout years seven to ten.

After an initial trial of Skwirk, we introduced the website to our students as an additional research method that provided accurate and reliable information on VELS relevant topics.

In year seven, the students are currently studying Ancient Egypt as an integrated unit. With the use of Skwirk, students are able to access information, maps, quizzes, timelines short videos and even podcasts to assist with their research and assessment tasks.

Skwirk enables students of all abilities to achieve success in their studies. Students who have lower literacy levels are able to listen to the podcasts that summarise the topics through iTunes on their Macs, making Skwirk an invaluable classroom tool.

CYNDI GLEESON is Year 7 Coordinator at Sacred Heart College in Yarrawonga, Victoria.

Grab a free teacher trial to Skwirk, click here.

As a teacher, I have taught in various high schools for 17 years. I, like my colleagues am constantly evolving my teaching pedagogy, looking for engaging, interesting and fun ways to challenge my students. One approach is getting onto the technology for learning wave! Every teacher knows that technology can be a powerful tool in assisting the content that we are teaching to our students. There are many websites that teachers can direct their students to use to research the content but the list becomes endless!

Every teacher knows that technology can be powerful tool in assisting the content that we are teaching to our students

One such site was Skwirk Interactive Schooling, which was a useful tool for both teaching and learning. The benefit of using Skwirk is that the content is specific to the Australian state-specific syllabus and is written clearly and concisely for students to understand. I came across Skwirk when my school subscribed 2 years ago and was impressed by its clear layout of the units of work the students need to learn. Consequently, I started to incorporate Skwirk into my teaching last year and I would like to take this opportunity to make suggestions on how the learning objects can be used in classroom teaching and learning.

1. Each chapter usually has animations or videos which are designed to help students understand concepts being taught.

These animations can be used to cater to individual learning styles. This may include students who learn better with visual presentation rather than reading the content. Teachers can put together some questions based on the animation that students can answer. The animations are a great way to introduce the concept to the class. A short animation will always gain student attention and after the animation has finished playing the teacher can follow up with a class discussion or learning activities.

2. Students can apply their learning to the content in the chapter with different activities.

For example; a comprehension or worksheet can be designed. The current offerings of worksheets and many more in the pipeline are important learning resources for students to both gauge and apply their learning. Students can also work individually or in groups develop a multimedia presentation such as a PowerPoint, webpage, podcast or a short video. The student laptops issued in public schools enables students in Year 9 or above to make use of voice recording and webcam as well as video editing software. This is a powerful means to enable students to construct and develop knowledge to aid and enhance their learning.

3. Each Skwirk chapter also has a quiz, which consists of 5 or 10 multiple choice questions.

Students can complete the quiz after they have read the chapter. They can complete the quiz as many times as they like until they score 100%. The advantage of the quizzes is that students can go through the course at their own pace while giving the teacher time to assist students one-on-one. At the end of the unit of work, there is a final exam, which can be used as a form of assessment.

I hope this brief article gives teachers some ideas on how Skwirk can be implemented in the classroom as a teaching and learning resource.

‘DANIEL KING is a classroom teacher with extensive experience teaching Commerce.’

Skwirk is a fantastic resource for teachers and students alike. It lets students use technology to get a better understanding of the various topics in Maths. They can use it in class with their teacher and classmates. Then each student can go home and work through a chapter individually, at their own pace. Skwirk can reduce the workload on teachers by having their lessons prepared for them, particularly those lessons that use technology. It helps keeps students more focused during lessons and using the computer always makes students more motivated. The Skwirk website is easier to navigate than other sites and it provides a wider range of subjects and resources.

Daniel Willingham is a cognitive scientist who has written a book called Why Students Don’t Like School, which provides practical applications of cognitive science research to education. In his book, he makes the point that thinking is a difficult task and that most of us rely on memory rather than thinking or problem solving. He states that students will enjoy thinking and problem solving when they are presented with “cognitive work that poses moderate challenge”. Students find work that is too difficult or too easy to be unpleasant.

Of course, the challenge is to present material in a way that engages all students, particularly when those students are across a range of abilities. Skwirk lessons, in conjunction with technology such as smart boards, make it easier for a teacher to set work at just the right level for the students in their classroom. The material in each Skwirk chapter contains material that is pertinent to all students. The teacher can leave the content of a chapter on a smartboard or whiteboard. He or she can then set a variety of stimulus materials to meet the needs of each group within the classroom. Bloom’s taxonomy or de Bono’s six thinking hats could provide a scaffold for these stimulus materials. Alternatively, the teacher can prepare a range of questions and activities that are relevant to the content of the lesson.

Paul Larkin, Secondary Maths Teacher

Get your Skwirk teacher trial today, click here.

Find out how teachers are using Skwirk: