One thing you can do to learn more about literacy in your subject

Writing model answers for student tasks can be a game-changer

Planning and preparing assessment tasks for students takes a long time for subject teachers. The notice sheets are very fiddly too, aren't they? Working out the ideal question or instruction, checking outcome statements and typing the marking criteria tables ... it all takes time.


But there's one thing that you can do to make sure the assessment task will do what you want it to do.


Write a sample answer yourself.


And I don't mean just dot points or key areas that students should cover. I mean an example of an answer that would be appropriate for the year level and that would get full marks.


Write a sample or model answer to an assessment task you set for students. It can show you a lot about what you are expecting students to do.

When I started writing model answers


I didn't always write model answers when I was a secondary school music teacher. I wish I had. But I started writing model answers when I was a literacy lecturer in a university. In my first University teaching job, I was lecturing in literacy for 500 students studying for a Bachelor of Education. If I stuffed up the task, I would be impacting 500 students so I felt the pressure to get it right. Also, if my task wasn't as clear as crystal, I would get 500 questions about it. So I didn't want that either.


I wrote a model answer for the task I had set.


When I had written the assignment question, it had all seemed clear to me. But when I wrote the answer, I realised that it wasn't so easy after all. I had assumed too much. I needed to break down the question into 3 parts and give students word count suggestions so they knew what weighting each part was worth. I also realised that I needed to give more scaffolding guidance to students about the types of references I required and direct quotes. And then I wanted students to give examples from their prac teaching in the classroom, and I realised that might be tricky to do, so I needed to be clearer on that. I ended up changing the task requirements AND I gave students my model text to read (with some key parts omitted so they couldn't copy). It all worked so much better in the end. I wrote model texts for every task I set after that and I always changed the task and improved it as a result.


When I write model answers, I always end up changing the task and improving the scaffolding.

Now when I'm working in secondary schools with subject teachers, we always write model texts, and the activities are so revealing and useful.


4 reasons why writing a sample answer is a fantastic idea


1. Writing sample or model answers gives teachers a chance to understand more deeply what they are expecting from students. It gives new insights into the literacy demands of the subject tasks.


2. Teachers may find it harder than they expect to write an assignment that they give to their own students. Sometimes, this process helps teachers realise problems or issues with the task and then they can change it and make it better for the future. As I found with my tasks, maybe the teacher is assuming too much and can make it clearer for students.


3. Writing model texts provides a great chance for collaboration between teachers, to build a culture of professional growth within a faculty. Teachers can write in pairs as a collaborative task or write alone and then share with other teachers at a faculty meeting. The faculty can discuss their views on the task and what has been included in the model answer.


4. The model answer can be used as a benchmark for evaluating the students’ responses after the task has been completed.


5. When teachers have written many model tasks and sample answers, these can become a bank of great examples of disciplinary writing. These sample answers can be the basis of future literacy activities in class. They can be the 'modelled' text for the scaffolding writing pedagogy outlined in this post (click here).


Follow up:

  • For the next assessment task you give students, write a model answer first. See what happens.

  • Schedule a writing session in the next faculty meeting so that teachers have a chance to collaborate.



To reference this blog, please cite:

Weekes, T. (2021, August 22). Scaffolding writing in secondary school subjects. [Blog post]. Retrieved from: literacyinsecondaryschools.com.