Developing national standards for the assessment of writing. A tool for teaching and learning («The Norms project») involves writing researchers from four Norwegian universities. In addition, the research group collaborates with writing and assessment researchers from NZ, USA, Sweden, and UK.
The aim of the project is to develop explicit norms of expectations for writing, and to study what effect the use of these norms may have on the development of students? writing and teachers? assessment competence.
In the first stage of the project (spring 2012) the research group worked on defining what could be reasonable to expect of students? writing after four and seven years of education. This was carried out in close cooperation with teachers from 11 schools. Experiences from a pilot (2011) were also included in this initial study. The researchers collected data from teachers? assessments of student texts through observations and discussions. By identifying what the teachers emphasised in their assessments and how they put weight to different aspects of the texts, the researchers established a set of norms of expectations, which were refined through experiences from use in the classroom.
Parallel with this the research group developed further its functional understanding of writing, which constitutes the theoretical foundation for the project. This understanding ? or writing construct ? is visualised in the model the Writing Wheel, which illustrates writing as intentional activities centred on three dimensions: Acts of writing, purposes of writing and semiotic mediation.
Stage two was designed as a long-term intervention study where the teachers put the norms of expectations to use. This stage (2012?2014) involved teachers and students in four grades (3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th) at 20 schools (about 500 teachers and 3000 students). The researchers carried out a training program for the teachers, focusing on implementing the construct and the norms. The students wrote texts within different acts of writing (to reflect, describe, explore, imagine, convince, and interact), and the teachers assessed their texts by using assessment resources developed in the project. Both texts and assessments were used as basis for quantitative and qualitative analyses, aiming at finding out what effect the norms of expectations and the functional understanding of writing may have on the development of students? writing competence and teachers? assessment competence.
The results from the quantitative analyses display that all the students aggregated became better writers during the intervention period (adjusted for age and maturation). The youngest ones (3rd gr) profited most from this approach. They scored far above what was expected five months after finishing the intervention. Within this group the students who performed as expected or above at the outset, were those who gained most. The older students (6th and 7th gr) made less progress. However, the results vary from school to school ? and also within the same school. Interpreted within the frame of a cultural and ecological approach these experiences give interesting perspectives and hypotheses on how for example learning cultures, learning environments and the design of writing tasks are affecting the students? writing competence and teachers? assessment competence.
When it comes to the teachers? assessments, the quantitative results are somewhat diverging. It is difficult to obtain correlating assessments of the texts. The explanation is probably that writing is a very complex competence, which opens up for different interpretations. Explicit norms of expectations do not manage to make up for this complexity. The teachers have thus not necessarily become cleverer in assessing in terms of reaching the same conclusion. However, in terms of seeing the texts and the students? competence in a more nuanced way they have become clearly better. They have acquired a common language and shared experiences to use when talking about texts and writing.
In addition, qualitative analyses of assessment dialogues between teachers show that they actively make use of the writing construct and the norms of expectations when assessing, but that their practice varies from a rather instrumental and ritualise use to a more flexible and functional approach. Between these ideal typical extreme points there are indications that all the teachers, in different ways, are on their way in a learning process which deals with internalizing a more complex understanding of writing, followed by a more independent and confident assessment practice.
The research group has also carried out different qualitative sub-studies focusing on the writing instruction. In this connection, designing of writing tasks has become an important focus, where our analyses reveal how the students? performances largely depend on how the assignment is formed and presented.
The project's website: www.norm.skrivesenteret.no
The goal of the proposed project is to carry out in-depth research on specified assessment norms for writing as a key competency and what effects such norms will have on pupils' text quality and the quality of teachers' assessment. This goal reflects adva nced literacy needs inherent in a knowledge society and emphasized in the 2006 Norwegian curriculum. To reach our goal, the project formulates three research questions: 1) which specified norms of assessment can sustainably serve as explicit standards for writing in an educational assessment-as-learning environment? 2) which specific effects does the educational integration of shared explicit standards have on the quality of teacher assessment? 3) which specific effects do the educational integration of s hared explicit standards have on the quality of pupils' writing?
The project builds on a social semiotic construct of writing that yields construct and content validity as well as principles for organizing standards and a multidimensional scoring instrum ent.
The project is designed in two parts: In the first part, tentative standards will be refined in collaboration with 8 intervention schools. The second part (16 schools) is designed to investigate whether the integration of standards will lead t o improved teacher assessment and pupils' writing quality.
The project combines qualitative and quantitative methods and is designed as a repeated- measurements field study with six partially overlapping sub-studies, designed to answer the thr ee research questions.
Hosted by the National Writing Centre, the studies will be carried out by an interdisciplinary researcher group from six institutions with partners from Hong Kong and New Zealand, and two national doctoral candidates. A reference group will have participants from Sweden, Finland, Australia and the USA.