How can one rubric address writing across such a wide span of years?
The 6+1 writing rubric defines good writing, whether you are a 3rd grader or an 11th grader. In the trait of Ideas, for example, you still need a focused idea, supporting details that matter, and a central theme to your writing, regardless of age ... right?
However, there is a legitimate question regarding the level of sophistication that is reasonable to expect at different levels of writing maturity. That's why we depend so heavily upon anchor papers at regular intervals across the years. If you have good example papers of what a 5 a 3 or a 1 look like at 3rd grade, 5th grade, 8th grade, or 11th grade, for example, you can begin to see the subtle changes that occur as students develop successful writing strategies. Never forget, however, that a good paper has the same embedded qualities no matter what the age of the writer. Think of it like this. Would you hesitate to give a third grader an "A" on an assignment if s/he did a great job at meeting the criteria? Do we hold out on the good grades until the student can perform at a high school level? Of course not! Why is this any different than scoring a third grader's paper with a 5 on one or more of the traits? If they meet the criteria? Terrific!
Keep these things in mind:
What's the deal with this new trait- "Presentation"?
For years readers indicated that the format of the piece, the spacing, handwriting, layout, graphics, etc., were influencing one's ability to read and fairly assess for the traits. Now, instead of pretending those issues aren't part of the criteria, we have described them and integrated them into the Trait model, resulting in 6+1 Traits. You can use this feature or ignore it, but it is an option that many people are finding useful as students today turn to many different formats to practice and develop their writing skills.
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What's the best thing about the traits?
It's the language, the shared vocabulary that adds such a rich component to our teaching and assessing of student writing. The traits are really nothing new; that's probably why people like them so much. Educators realize that this is not a trend, a blip on the educational reform screen, or simply a quick-fix way to address the many challenges of a writing program. Students, teachers, administrators, and the community echo the same sentiment: this just makes sense. The traits help kids understand what is working well and what needs to be improved in their writing. The traits give teachers a focus for their writing instruction. The traits give us all a common language for talking about and celebrating writing. Rather than a curriculum or a canned program of writing, 6+1 Trait writing offer a model of assessment and instruction designed by teachers and based upon best practices. Furthermore the model gives teachers lots of autonomy to select literature, sequence their instruction, and decide how to best meet the needs of this year's students.
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What's the worst thing about the traits
The Traits aren't a curriculum or a canned program, so they can't be packaged into a sequenced, connect-the-dots textbook. They can't be neatly contained between two covers or compartmentalized from grade to grade. The Trait model is a tool that is alive, evolving, and enormously powerful while, at the same time, accessible to everyone. As a result, it takes a great deal of professional experience and judgment to fully realize the potential of the traits in each individual classroom. It takes a teacher seasoned in the writing process and willing to take risks to branch out and find new applications of the traits and link them back to the curriculum. The traits, if working at maximum capacity, should not look alike from one teacher's classroom to another.
Remember, you don't teach the traits, you use the model as a tool to teach kids about writing. It's an important distinction. Beware of the workshop that promises to give you everything you need to teach the traits. In your heart, you know it can't be true. But, in your very busy everyday world of school, no one can blame you for wishing it so! Think about the times when a student has made a breakthrough in writing. Was the breakthrough a result of a minor, skill-related writing behavior? Or, was it more likely a result of a moment of clarity where a student put all the pieces together and jumped ahead to a new level of writing ability? These are the big breakthroughs that the traits help our students to discover. These "ahas" are hard fought and not easily won, but they are worth it!
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Why aren't all the papers in the practice paper packets scored?
After teachers have scored and discussed the pre-scored sample papers provided at Education Northwest trainings, we urge them to become independent of thinking someone else must provide "a right answer." In order for the 6+1 trait model to become a meaningful tool in classrooms, teachers must do enough independent practice to trust their own scores and use the rubric as the evidence for why they score the way they do. The more papers people read and assess, the better they get at scoring. When we take the training wheels off (the pre-scored papers), the stakes go up a notch and real ownership of the process begins to occur. Now the scores become defensible, not because some expert says so, but because there is agreement among a group of practiced raters supported by evidence found in a rubric. Discussions need to take place, disagreeing when necessary, and always referring back to the rubric for resolution of opposing scores. The final step is for teachers to become so confident in their own scoring that they can work independently in their classrooms providing consistent and reliable feedback to their students.
Scoring is a time-consuming and demanding process. Our hope is that teachers will find the process as well as the product so useful they will transfer this kind of thinking to other areas of student work. It takes years for teachers to internalize all that is involved with the Trait model, and like every long journey we begin at the beginning, with pre-scored papers and then move on.
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Isn't the 6+1-trait model mainly for narrative writing?
Definitely not. In fact, it was field tested in 1985 on both expository and narrative samples, and the teachers who scored those samples felt the scoring guide worked well for both forms, just as it was designed to do. The 6+1 Trait model will work for any prose form of writing, e.g., descriptive, narrative, expository or informational, business, and persuasive. It is not intended for use with poetry. It can also be used to assess technical writing intended for a general audience. If you teach technical writing targeted toward a technically educated audience, you will likely need to modify the language of the scoring guide to make it work for you. To do so, here’s what you ask: "What things do I value in my students' work?"
Perhaps idea development becomes clear and logical expression. Perhaps organization becomes logical and instructive presentation of ideas. Word choice may become correct use of terminology, and so on. And there may be qualities—Traits—that need to be added to the total picture. What's critical is that you share with your students and make known what you feel is important in their work.
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Do I have to assess all seven traits for each piece of student writing?
No! You do what makes sense for the assignment given to the students. For example, you might be working on ideas, organization, and voice for a period of time and only want to have students focus on those three traits. Or perhaps you will want to take it even more slowly and work on one trait at a time. The beauty of an analytic system is you can take the pieces apart, examine them, and then insert them back into the larger picture. It is impossible to look at one trait without feeling the impact that other traits have on the piece as a whole, and it can be very useful, for instructional purposes, to look at one, two, or even three traits in isolation as students are learning to recognize and identify what you see in their work.
From time to time, you may wish to assess a piece of student writing on all seven traits for your own diagnostic purposes. Certainly assessing at the beginning of the year and the end of the year to show progress makes a lot of sense (it can be affirming of all your hard work, too). Periodically, you may also want to assess a piece for all traits to get a sense of how students are doing. How much and how often you assess is up to you and the needs of your students. One of the great things about using the 6+1 trait model for assessment and instruction is the flexibility you have. Assess for one trait, several, or all 6+1 Traits, it all works!
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Doesn't voice assess personality, and should we be doing that?
The goal of teaching voice in writing is to teach students to recognize and craft the tone and flavor most suited for a given audience, purpose, and/or piece of writing. In some cases, this might be a very personal voice, such as in a piece of writing about "My most prized possession.” In other writing, however, such a personal voice might not be appropriate. For example, if a student were writing a research report on frogs, the voice might be excitement: These frogs are unique, and do unbelievable things; I want you to think so too; or sincerity: These frogs will change the way you think about amphibians, and I want you to trust what I have to say. An author needs to craft his/her voice to match the purpose and speak to the audience leaving them wanting more.
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I've been to a Education Northwest-sponsored 6+1 Trait writing institute. I love all the stuff I got, but how on earth do I organize and use it all?
You can't. No one can. We try to give you everything you might possibly need to breathe new life into your writing program and to provide resources so you have what you need to implement the traits. We try. Not everything will be useful to everyone! Give yourself permission to thumb through it all, marking pages or sections of particular interest. Then pull those pages out of your notebooks or materials and set the rest aside. As you begin implementation, you may find yourself wanting to go back through the materials for specific pieces of support. Remember, these are reference binders full of resource material the contents are not simply a set of handouts.
Here's the great part ... you can throw stuff away! Yes, you really can. It may be against your nature, but try it. If you teach high school, you may not want to keep some of the materials for early writers. If you teach 5th grade, specific lessons for a content area that you don't cover could "move on down the yellow recycling road." Some of us have a tendency to be pack rats with materials, so if you can't bring yourself to toss some things, try giving unneeded materials to someone else who may be able to put them to use. It may be hard, but remember 6+1 trait materials are under development in hundreds if not thousands of places all over the world. There's always more ...
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Which trait should I teach first?
We think it makes sense to begin with ideas. After all, this is the foundational trait. Your Idea is your whole reason for writing. All other traits flow out of, and are influenced by, this one. And at the same time it’s important for you to know that this decision is yours, and if another trait makes more sense to you, give it a try! You are the decision maker when it comes to teaching this model of writing instruction.
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Can we divide up the traits to teach year by year?
We are teaching writing, not the traits. The traits are just a tool for teaching writing, a shared vocabulary and integral part of the writing process. The process provides the structure for writing instruction, and the Traits provide the content. To isolate the traits from one another makes no sense. Students need to see Trait influence, one upon the other, as the writing matures. Now to be fair, it is possible to focus on a trait or two for a longer period of time, but to do so a teacher must have a firm and significant grasp of the writing process so they know how to insert the trait back into its proper spot once the focus Trait teaching is completed.
Sometimes I use the analogy of learning to drive a car. Would you tell your teenager that this year they can use the gas pedal only? Then next year the brake? And if that all goes well, by the third year, maybe we'll work on steering? No, of course not; it makes no sense. We're learning to DRIVE, the whole complex process of driving at once, with an emphasis now and again on the things that maybe need more work, but never, ever, in isolation. Writing is a much more complex process than driving, so teaching it in isolated pieces and parts yearly doesn't seem logical and it truly won't help students become better writers. People who have tried that method have hit the wall because, in the end, we teach writing—all of it, and it's hard. No easy answers, no silver bullets; it's just hard. (And tremendously rewarding for the student and you!)
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What if some of my students have already had 6+1-trait instruction? They've heard Fox and Redwoods, too!
Great! They're ready for something more advanced. Fox and Redwoods are classic anchor papers, yet they're not the only papers! Try something harder, longer, from another grade level. Pull a piece from an annual report or a tech manual. Assess an advertisement for word choice, a memo for voice and conventions. Be creative. Stretch your students until they can ably and at length discuss the strong and weak features of any piece of writing you throw at them.
At the same time, don't hesitate to use a piece of writing because some of your students have already read it. How many books have you read more than once? Did you learn the same thing each time? Did you bring the same perspective and observations to each reading? Probably not! Visiting an important piece like "Redwoods" and "Fox" over and over again helps students get at important writer issues that may not surface on a first read.
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Don't despair! Almost everyone is like this, not just students. It takes real practice–guided practice, lengthy practice–to become skilled at assessment. And even then, our own work is always the hardest to assess. And why is that? After all, we wrote it. We're attached to it. This is why it's important to let students warm up on anonymous samples of other people's writing–work that is not theirs. The skill to spot the strong and weak moments will transfer to one’s own work in time, but it does take longer for some students than others. Don't give up. Keep providing practice–then let students return to their own work.
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Is there ever a time the traits come together in student revision?
Yes. Absolutely. They must. The separation of traits in order to do focused revision by working on one trait at a time is artificial, we admit. We have found it works as a way of making revision manageable for students, who often do not know where to begin—it’s a starting place for revision. Writing process steps aren't really separate either. Prewriting, drafting, and revision aren't really mutually exclusive; we separate the traits in order to make writing easier to understand and practice.
Similarly, real writers do think about organization and ideas at the same time; when ideas are revised, voice can improve; when words are revised, sentence fluency will also change Writing is a unified whole, but thinking about it in components breaks down something very BIG and makes it easier to deal with, especially for less experienced writers. Eventually, with practice, students will come to see many possibilities for revision all at once.
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