The Eclectic Teacher|
by Ginny Hoover
Comments and Questions About the Six Traits Writing Model
As I continue to work with the Six Traits, it becomes apparent that some are not sure what it is and how it works. The Six Traits Writing Model was prepared at the NWREL. (Link for NWREL is available Ginny's Six Traits Links.) The traits are based on information provided by a wide variety of writing instructors. They were asked what they valued most in writing. The information obtained was collected, grouped, and used to create a set of standards stated in the form of rubrics for the determined six main areas of writing (Ideas and Content, Organization, Word Choice, Voice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions). Those rubrics are used for instruction AND assessment. They provide an opportunity to assess writing objectively instead of subjectively and also help eliminate the tendency to score a paper according to Conventions only.
Another tremendous asset that comes with using Six Traits is the terminology. When schools, districts, indeed even states, adopt the Six Traits, students gain a common vocabulary for discussing writing. Think how important that is. When teaching students how many times have you had to say, "Yes, linking verbs are the same as being verbs," or "Yes, noun markers or articles are adjectives." The problem? A lack of common vocabulary causing confusion and also making instruction more difficult.
The scoring for Six Traits can also be prescriptive. When I have students self-edit and peer-edit, I require they use the hookups I designed for that purpose. These hookups (on card stock, laminated, and on a key ring---reusable as marked with transparency pen or erasable marker) have a checklist of bullets describing each rating (5, 3, and 1). When looking to see why they received a "3" rating in Conventions, they may find that they were low in spelling and in grammar. They can also see that perhaps paragraphing and punctuation were not a problem. So it is prescriptive, students can then use that specific information obtained to revise and edit.
Does the model have a cultural bias?
I have personally used the model with Hispanics (from Mexico and Puerto Rico), Blacks, Laotian, and Vietnamese (my last school had a 52% minority). There are some cultures who are restrained in emotions and that might affect Voice. However, I found I could help those students by approaching it as a product of Word Choice, as Voice is expressed by a careful selection of verbs, adjectives, and nouns. Some students have a unique way of saying things, due to the rules of their first language. To score in the negative for that would be rater's bias, unless the phrasing caused problems with Sentence Fluency. To address this situation, I would approach those students with mini lessons on sentence structure. You see, I have just given you examples of how Six Traits can be prescriptive even when addressing the unique problems of students from different cultures.
One Hispanic boy I worked with in writing, labored throughout the year to increase his writing skills. He was very intelligent, and it showed most in mathematics where language barriers are less. By the end of the year he said, "Mrs. Hoover, I will never be afraid to write again. I may not be the best writer, but I know I can do it now." High praise coming from a quiet young man who had work hard to increase his understanding of the writing process and of Six Traits.
What About Canned Writing Programs?
Canned writing programs are direct instruction. They give an exact formula for writing. This technique has been quite successful in teaching the at risk. However once the basics have been taught and then adequately learned by students, it is time to move on! As much as they may produce a polished sounding piece, there is also a resulting lack of creativity and originality. Canned writing programs can be used as a jumpstart for struggling writers.
Do we need to teach the writing process?
Like canned writing programs, if we teach a writing process and demand a strict adherence we are also limiting the growth of the writer. There has been quite a discussion on the boards about the need/no need for instruction in the writing process. Although there are those who would disagree, most see the necessity for teaching students to think through what they would write and to organize those ideas before actually starting to write. When I teach the writing process, I teach that any step can be address as needed---not in a strict order. After they understand the process, I encourage them to make the process serve them and their writing.
One student I had continued to insist that she didn't need to know anything about the writing process. Her dream was to be a journalist. Her writing was boring, unorganized, and trite. Someone had "fed her a line" about the quality of her writing, and she was going to continue doing it her way. By the end of the year, her writing had improved very little as she refused to address the problems. Her standard line, "To do my best, I just need to write."
I sometimes try to explain my point of view by talking about their previous essays. They understand when I say, "I don't want another Christmas essay where the only thing that changes is the list of gifts received!" That usually causes a chuckle or two as they immediately identify with that particular essay. We do extensive training in brainstorming for new and fresh ideas. In addition, I address ways of organizing essays for different modes. It is amazing how the quality of writing improves. Once we have covered the writing process, the writer is encouraged to make the process a unique tool for their writing. They are not expected to become a slave to a strict writing process. Flexibility is the name of the game!
Where do I teach Six Traits?
Ideas and Content and Organization must be addressed as the writer plans for the writing piece. The rest are to be considered as they write, but the polishing of Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions may be easily addressed in revision and editing. Again, I used my hookups to help with this process. As students self- and peer-edited, they used the editing/revision cards with clues on finding weaknesses to be addressed. Each flip of the card gives advice on what how to improve the quality of each trait. For instance, I ask that peer editors highlight at least three words the author could change that could improve Word Choice.
Good Writing Doesn't Just Happen
The skills must be taught. Flexibility must be allowed to develop the unique abilities of each writer. When learning to write in the modes, the quality of the overall writing in the essay may decrease. Once the skills are learned the writing should naturally improve.
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Ginny Hoover is a frequent contributor to the Teachers.Net Gazette. Other articles written by her are;