December 14, 2014

Modes of Writing

"Modes of writing, forms of writing, types of writing, domains of writing. Whatever you want to call them, there are different categories for writing. Each mode has a specific purpose. There are four basic modes, descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive. For the intent of this page, I have added a fifth mode for creative writing. These basic modes can then be broken down into subcategories. I have tried to list subcategories here as well, but I am still in the process of collecting them. If you have some ideas or suggestions, please send me an email message." ~ Kim's Korner

December 12, 2014

A Reflective Journal Margaret McKanna

Margaret McKanna
Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6 Traits
Reflective Journal Summary
August 9, 2013

At the heart of Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6 Traits, is a vision of students as assessors of their own writing. This approach is designed to maintain student control at every stage of the writing process. Teachers champion clarity of thought and celebrate the individuality of voice. This approach keeps the writing process whole while also enriching student writing with attention to the 6 Traits.

Teachers trained in 6 Traits writing have a genuine appreciation of student writing at all levels of development. They can clearly identify the qualities of strong writing as they emerge and move toward proficiency. Teachers use the language of the 6 Traits to explore and discuss authentic student writing with students and their parents. This language is used to establish a system of self- monitoring and personal goal setting that strengthen the quality of each trait in student writing. Teachers use the touchstones of the 6 Traits to create their own assessments that will determine what students already know, what they want them to learn and how they will know when students have learned.

Teaching the criteria and language of the 6 Traits to students creates opportunities for young authors to deepen their understanding of what gives writing its clarity and strength. Although the 6 Traits support a unified message, each trait is introduced in a separate lesson. Teachers build an understanding by relating the concepts of a trait in a way that is meaningful and age appropriate. The use of authentic writing samples gives students practice in hearing, identifying and discussing the strength of each trait in context. Mini lessons and strategies help students to identify each trait within their own writing. Teachers model ways to strengthen a specific trait in student writing. Reading aloud helps students to hear each trait in a variety of mentor text.

The practice of students reading their own writing aloud supports the integrity of the writer and ultimately the internal strength of the writing. Students hear their message the way other readers will hear it. They can determine for themselves if the message was accurately delivered. When students read their work aloud to their peers, they invite feedback to determine how the message was received. This focus on the clarity of the message, the way it was delivered and received, lends purpose to the effort of revision.

When teachers listen to students read their writing aloud, they share honest reactions that re-enforce the strengths in the writing while also making suggestions that will move the writing forward. Teachers can help students to hear the way one trait supports another. Sharing the tools of good writing in this context, contributes to writing growth in a way that following the revisions made by teachers does not. Students and teachers work together to define personal writing goals using the language of the 6 Traits.

6 Traits writing is not a formula to follow. It is an approach to writing that demands the full engagement of teachers within the writing process. Teachers must be writers themselves in order to fully appreciate and communicate the essential qualities of each trait. The most effective teachers of 6 Traits writing are seen as writers by their students. They demonstrate the safety of the space by sharing their honest efforts and by inviting student feedback. Teachers make the work of writing visible when they share their ideas aloud and model the thinking behind the decisions they make to support those ideas in their writing. When teachers model revisions of their own work based on student feedback, students realize that all authors must work to improve the organization, sentence fluency and word choices of their writing.   Teachers as writers model self-editing of conventions with regard to clarity of the ideas and integrity of voice or offer their writing to students as a sample for editing practice.

A strong writing program based on the writing process and including the criteria and language of the 6 Traits is the best preparation for success on standardized writing assessments. Students learn to write by writing. When teachers at every grade level build an appreciation of the 6 traits based on the common language of the traits, students deepen their understanding and develop their writing potential at every grade level. The support of student control of the writing process, honors individual voice, develops writer confidence and independence. Students see themselves as writers capable of making choices about their writing based on self-assessment. When teachers promote the integrity of the author, and the strength of written expression, they raise the human capital of their classrooms and prepare students to meet the challenges of outside assessments.

Erik Erickson used the term “generativity” to describe the mid-life choices we make to move forward in new direction, to connect in new ways; the opposite is stagnation. Generativity is a form of renewal based on “creativity in service to the young”. Generativity is a way elders serve not only the young, but also their own well being. As a member of this class, I have learned the importance of listening to the voices of children in their writing and honoring the thoughts they share on paper. I have also learned to trust young authors to control their own writing.  Guidance from that place of integrity will support writing growth at every stage of development. Eight weeks ago, Dennis suggested that I would find this class to be the right place at the right time. This class has generated waves of fresh ideas. More importantly, it has caused me to make meaningful connections to those ideas in a refreshing and invigorating way. I have grown as a writer and teacher as well.

December 10, 2014

Synesthesia, Painting, Poetry, Sentence Fluency, Rhythm with Toby Lurie

Poetry - Painting - Song 

Later in my teaching practice I started writing grants to bring writers and illustrators to my school district. This helped me build a relationship with painter, musician and poet, Toby Lurie:

Toby is an amazing, creative, and unpredictable guy. (The link to his site will introduce you to his work. He shares many QuickTime audio clips of his work that trigger creativity.) It is fun to find him on the Internet after all these years.

I recall meeting him for the first time. Toby was wild white bearded poet with a dangerous gleam in his eye. One look at him and I realized that he was going to draw some lightening.  I was the language arts coordinator for a conservative Nevada school district. I knew Toby was going to make waves and I was glad to aide and abet in a little artistic subversion.  We were at the district's biggest high school.  I'd planned a full school assembly, but an uptight vice principal sand bagged me and side tracked us to a remote spot in the school where they kept the 'tough' kids.

As I was about to introduce Toby to a huge high school class of alternative ed kids.  I didn't have a clue what he was going to do. The rowdy with the bored vibe of caged cats.  I was sure this crowd of edgy and angry high schoolers would tear him apart. 

Just as I introduced Toby, he whispered in my ear, "Tell them I don't speak any English."  I followed his lead and got out of the way.

Toby proceed to emote with sounds and facial gestures and within seconds he captured everyone's attention. He spoke gibberish but it didn't matter. This guy knew how to communicate with sound alone, words were an afterthought. The kids were riveted by the odd man capering and grunting in front of them.

By the end of the assembly everyone was up moving and chanting,  found poetry echoed off the walls and we were all swimming in Toby's unique tone patterns.  Sometimes it's good to be in alternative ed!

To really appreciate Toby's work you need to hear and see him. This new video Synesthesia Part 1 will give you a taste. 

Synesthesia part 1 from Terrence Vaughn on Vimeo.

Choral Reading, Toby Style

Several years later on one of his return visits, Toby taught me a great method that ties perfectly into the concepts of rhythm and sentence fluency. After a writing session, Toby had each student pick a single line from their work. Then he called 6-8 volunteers to come to the front of the room. They lined up shoulder to shoulder and started to read their lines in order from left to right. The first boy read. Then the second. Suddenly Toby would point back to the first and have him repeat the line. Toby would  would mug and gesture and flail his arms all to draw more emotion and voice from the reader.

We soon understood that Toby was conducting a word orchestra.

They began reading their lines louder or lower, deadpan or angry, happy or weeping. Once the whole line had read once, Toby layered together a sound poem based on the melodies of repeated lines and varied voice.

Sometimes Toby had the same student read two or three times in a row or come back to one particularly powerful line repeatedly. No one in the chorus knew when they'd be called on and everyone was amazed at the nuances and lunacies that spilled out of it all.

Toby created a wild reader's theater display of word choice, sentence fluency, voice, organization, and ideas all wrapped in a spontaneously generated poem. It was hilarious, energizing and fun. Everyone loved it.

All of this points to the powerful mix of music, performance, and poetry that supports sentence fluency (and all the other traits as well).

I  used this method myself two or three times a year for the rest of my classroom teaching career. I got so I could conduct a pretty good sound/word poem, but I could never top the Maestro!

Synesthesia part 2 from Terrence Vaughn on Vimeo.

December 7, 2014

Nora Carpon's writing prompt suggestion

Nora Capron, a graduate student in the summer 2012 session of Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six-Traits posted the following.

With regard to this week's readings, I really liked Donald Murray’s questions to help uncover possible topics on page 172:

What surprised me lately? What’s bugging me? What is changing? What did I expect to happen that didn’t? Why did something make me so mad? What do I keep remembering? What have I learned?

These would be fabulous to use in my Creative Writing class! Sometimes it’s tough for kids to “get the wheels greased” with their basic ideas. I agree with the point Dennis made in his lecture when he said people write best when they write what they know, and I think Murray’s prompts would serve as a very comfortable starting point to get the pens moving. I plan to use these prompts next year in the first few classes when we are generating ideas for our writing.

One idea I have to share is a free writing exercise I recently did as a student in a creative writing course I am taking this summer. The professor passed out a bunch of books to the class. Once each student had a book on his/her desk, the professor instructed us to open our book to a random page, close our eyes, point to a random line of text, read the line, write it at the top of our page and use this as our writing prompt. The sentence at the top of my page was “How embarrassing for him, some stoner overhearing.” Needless to say, this got the creative juices flowing very quickly!

I went from feeling overwhelmed with the pressure of generating a new idea to writing something original that flowed really easily. All I needed was a little inspiration, and it came from a source that I had all around me all the time—books! This exercise was a lot of fun and very useful. I will definitely use this exercise in my own Creative Writing class this year. Has anyone done a similar activity with their students? How would you describe this experience? What variations of this activity could also be done?

December 5, 2014

Reading aloud to model voice by Margaret McKanna

Making great children's literature come alive through highly charged read alouds is a wonderful way to model voice. Read alouds are a gift that broadens language experiences in sentence structure, vocabulary, sense of story and character development, and deepens meaningful connections to literature.

Vicki Spandel is a great advocate for the voices of emergent writers. Drawings are full of voice: the size, color, juxtaposition of people and objects tell the "reader" how students feel about a topic. I also think that story telling and story dictating is a wonderful way to capture voice. Spandel also suggests celebrating the collective voice of a class by writing a whole group story, each student adding a new detail and illustrating a page of the book. These books are placed on classroom shelves with other picture books.

Occasionally, I have the privilege of working 1:1 with students who struggle with print. We have a lot of fun rereading passages with different voices, pretending to be a baby or an old man, someone who is very sleepy, a kid who can't stop laughing or can't stop crying, a very serious adult, or the all-time favorite pretending to be someone from Texas or a country western star.

I know a now retired 2nd grade teacher who did dozens of short plays throughout the year. Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock comes to mind. There are so many great trickster tales with surprise twists, fables that teach lessons and really come alive in a student play.These plays were more Readers Theater than staged play. Students practiced the voices of different characters; they also experienced reading fluency and connections with text.

These literary engagements are a great way to build a sense of voice and the emotions and personalities behind a variety of voices. ~ Margaret

(Based on a discussion reply by Margaret McKanna Summer 2013.)

December 2, 2014

OWLs Online Writing Labs

College and high school writing teachers might want to Online Writing Labs: bookmark these sources! 
owl online writing lab   Purdue's online writing lab is one of the best.

These writing resources carry some extra clout with students since the come from main line colleges. 

November 30, 2014

Six Traits Songs

Here's the YouTube playlist for Six Traits Songs. Thanks to Elizabeth Werner & her 4th grade class!

"Elizabeth Werner, 4th grade teacher at Reagan Elementary Elizabeth Werner(Brownsburg, IN), initially used Ruth Culham's 6-Traits songs to introduce the writing traits to her students. But her students wanted something more modern. "

November 29, 2014

Vicky Spandel & Jeff Hicks explain the 6-Traits

From our Facebook page!  6-Traits Resources.

November 16, 2014

Online Class: Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits

EDUC 744 3 ONLINE graduate credits 

100% Online: Enroll Today! 

EDUC 654 Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits Elementary (PK-4)  - 3 graduate credits 

EDUC 653 Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits Middle School-Adult - 3 graduate credits 

Learn to teach and assess writing with the 6-Traits of writing
(voice, ideas, word choice, organization, sentence fluency and conventions). Learn to use the 6-Traits with the writing process to teach revision strategies. Help learners meet higher standards and improve test scores.

What students are saying:

 "I began this course thinking of myself as something of a blank slate with regards to the teaching of writing. I felt that writing was often a hit or miss proposition in my classroom. Today I see that while there are certainly holes in my second grade writing instruction, I'm actually doing more then I thought. I'm not starting from square #1. Today I'm able to categorize and organize what I'm already doing, plus add new things, using the framework of the 6 traits."

"I feel very fortunate to be taking a course like this so early in my teaching career. Someone mentioned to me recently that while there are many great ideas within the 6 trait model, it's easy to slip back into one's old ways of doing things. Perhaps I'm lucky in that I have no old ways to slip back into."

"I've had several important realizations as a result of work we've done these past weeks. The first is the specific connections that I now make between reading and writing. Naturally I was always aware that a connection existed. I knew on some level that reading to my kids was beneficial to their writing development. But too often the reading was undirected and without a plan. Today I have an arsenal of literature with which I can model, discuss, and teach specific traits in a focused way. And I don't have to teach writing alone. I now have the great authors of the world to help me. I can point to a piece of literature and say to my kids, "Take a look at what this author has done. We can do something similar in our own writing."

Your Instructor:

Renee Williams
School of Education
Office appointment calls available via Skype: renwill11 in Dubai

August 30, 2014

Tired of Being a Red Ink Slave to Corrections?

Editing, Not Correcting

How do you respond to the statement: Correcting isn't teaching!

Think about it: all correcting does is make you a better proofreader. Students more often than not ignore your hard work. You as a teacher feel obligated to take out the red pen, while in your heart you know this just isn't working. Don't you see the same errors over and over again? How many times can you check, highlight, underline and explain in the margins that a lot is two words? What else can you do? Isn't every English teacher obliged to correct the work of their students? Isn't that the expectation of parents and administration?

What if you shift the burden of correcting to the student where it belongs? You can do this by integrating editing skills into the writing process from day one. If you establish simple routines by editing every day you can chip a way at the persistent problems without bleeding red ink after school and every weekend.

Many teachers use a daily oral language approach. Let's make it a daily integrated editing exploration approach and stop correcting for our students!
  • Encourage students to re-read their work at every stage of the writing process.
  • Be sure students read their own work aloud.
  • Introduce and use the basic proofreading symbols
  • Start each class with a brief editing sponge or transitional activity.
  • Periodically assemble a list of Editing Essentials to tally the collective skills of the group
  • Collect and organize mentor sentences for modeling usage and grammar concepts
  • Throughout the year, have your students choose e-portfolio samples that document student progress

Edit Anonymous Authentic Samples

Practice editing skills with a variety of anonymous sample sentences or paragraphs in need of specific corrections. Toss the work sheets and find samples from the real world.
  • Use student papers that display the most persistent problems.
  • Find samples in online student publications like KMSoul .
  • Use the NWREL 6-Traits database of student work.
Better yet, use the Notable Sentences Blog a treasure chest of well organized examples. Self proclaimed "sentence stalker" Loren Wolter maintains this remarkable resource. Her blog is a collaboratively build collection of sample sentences organized to address editing essentials like grammar, syntax, figurative language and many other aspects of writing. These model sentences provide powerful teaching examples and pave the way for meaningful, traits inspired, writing process oriented grammar explorations.

Remember: It is far easier to work on a sample than to edit your own work. Provide process practice before you move to self-editing.

Fresh Eyes = Edit Better

When it does come time for your students to edit their important pieces, be sure the writing has time to cool.
  • Waiting a few days allows a writer to edit with fresh eyes.
  • Try reading the text backwards to discover invisible errors like repeated articles.
  • Zoom word processed text or switch to a larger font to see the words in a different way.

Focus on One Type of Error at a Time

Here's a professional proofreader's trick: focus on a single specific issue to keep things manageable. If you try to edit for capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar at the same time you overwhelm your weaker editors, causing them to shut down. For younger students, this may mean starting with just end punctuation or capitalization. For older students, the focus may be the rules of dialog or the use of quotation marks.

Integrate Editing into the Writing Process

Students who can revise and edit their own work are on the way to becoming independent writers. Editing helps writers understand their own voice. I'm not advocating a close spell check and punctuation drill early in the process. Too much focus on correctness can stunt fluency. Instead encourage re-reading and reading aloud as part of the writing/editing process. This habit will provide opportunities for students to experiment with usage as they go.

Model by Thinking Out Loud

Often we expect students to 'hear' or 'see' grammatical problems by applying a mental filter based on their previous exposure to language. Not all students have this filter. This is especially true for English language learners or students with learning disabilities. This is why it is so important to model the editing process using the think aloud method.

Put up an sample of your own weak first draft writing on an overhead projector or computer screen. Talk your way through a quick editing process. Broadcast your inner monologue as you tear into the typical problems you want to address. Modeling your own process shows students how important writing is to you and creates a safer learning atmosphere.

Where Will I Find the Time?

If you find yourself saying, I don't have time for one more thing in my curriculum, you'll love Jeff Anderson's insightful article Express Lane Editing Techniques. His field tested methods for modeling editing and re-reading throughout the writing process are practical and effective. Anderson suggests we approach grammar as.."something to be explored, not just corrected".

Anderson is also the author of the books: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. His books provide a road map for integrating powerful editing practices into the writing process. This isn't dry academic writing. Anderson comes from the classroom and has a voice and outlook are seasoned by the realities we all face everyday.
I started thinking of how we taught editing at our school. It looked like a series of half-baked attempts to solve a problem that we were not sure how to fix. If I asked my sixth-grade class to correct a sentence riddled with errors, did that show them editing is a powerful tool? When I looked at their faces, I had to admit the answer was a re-sounding, "No!"

Set Parent Expectations

Parents expect red ink. You will be pressured to teach the good old-fashioned way. Still, the good old-fashioned way (correcting) just doesn't work. A thoughtful letter home at the beginning of the year is a good idea. Explain your editing approach. Help parents understand that you value independent correctness. Be consistent and proactive. Periodically, send an editing paragraph home and ask parents to work together with their children on the edit. Consider inviting parents who are strong editors to work in your classroom, and train them to teach editing.

Reality Check on Editing

Finally, accept the fact that not everyone will be a strong editor. A writer with a talent for unique ideas and a powerful voice may be very weak in the conventions of writing. Consider Wilson Rawls, author of Where the Red Fern Grows. Rawls was so ashamed of his spelling, punctuation, and grammar that he burned all his manuscripts and almost gave up writing. Yet who can deny the lyrical genius of his prose?

Writing is too often judged by correctness alone. Do good manners insure fine character? Does polished chrome and a fine paint job create a competitive race car? By balancing conventions (correctness) with the other traits of wiring; ideas, voice, organization, word choice, and sentence fluency, you help students find their strengths, while working on their weaknesses.
In the end, by teaching instead of correcting, you arm all of your students with some independent editing skills. You help them on the road to becoming independent writer.
You've done the job. Relax, take the weekend off!

Additional Editing Resources:

Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six Traits (UW-Stout Online Class)
Conventions Homepage (WritingFix)
6-Traits Resources Blog: Jeff Anderson The Write Guy (a guided tour of Anderson's online resources.)
Loren Wolter Notable Sentences...For Imitation and Creation

Resources from Jeff Anderson:

The Write Guy (Jeff Anderson's Website)
Mechanically Inclined (Google Book Preview)
Mechanically Inclined Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop
Making editing useful for young Adolescents
Grammar intertwined throughout the writing process: An "inch wide and a mile deep"
Zooming In and Zooming Out:Putting Grammar in Context into Context (PDF)

August 3, 2014

Writing Process / 6-Traits / Web 2.0

Here's my stab at creating a poster that shows the relationships between the writing process, 6-traits, and web 2.0. ~ Dennis

Click here for a much larger version that you can use as a poster. (Warning it's a big file!)

Right click link to open in a new window. Then right click image for download options.

Do you agree with this view? Suggestions? Additions? Questions?

I'm listening! ~ Dennis

Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits (Online Graduate Class).

December 14, 2013

Six Traits Posters

Click the Hyperlinks to find a world of resources! 

I've assembled this material for everyone's use. Posters are essential in any writing classroom. I also hope that these posters will be useful to the student in my Online Class: Teaching and Assessing Writing with the Six Traits.

July 11, 2013

Teaching Voice to Primary Students by Margaret McKanna

Guest Post by  Margaret McKanna

When it comes to effective teaching and learning, my inclination is to keep it whole. This is especially true in areas of literacy for students whose skills are still developing. Vicki Spandel asks the question:"So why do we study the traits if they're all part of a whole?' and then she answers: "Concentrating on a particular trait helps us see writing through a certain window...helps us appreciate how that trait connects us to others."

I'm all for celebrating voice in writing. Primary students understand this trait in a visceral way. Naming the trait of voice and celebrating it is critical to the development of young writers. Supporting voice while "opening windows" to other traits is also essential. It seems to me that voice has a unique relationship to the other writing traits. While ideas, sentence fluency, organization, word choice, and conventions are definitely where the rubber meets the road, I think voice is the fuel that sparks the engine and moves the writing forward.

Here's an analogy I find useful. As children learn to ride bikes, we support them as they practice the essential skills for bike riding: pedaling, braking, steering, and balancing on two wheels. We support these emerging bike riders by holding on to the seats of their bikes as they sharpen these skills and consolidate them to achieve proficiency. We coach on the side, offer tips for one skill or the other. The learners are completely engaged in the act of riding and I wonder how much our words contribute to their success. We hang onto the bike seats knowing there is so much more to learn. Meanwhile, the young riders are pleading for more independence, a chance to test their own measure. At some point, we need to get out of the way; we need to let go.

In Chapter 8, Teaching Voice within Writing Process*, Vicki Spandel has an excellent collection of lessons and strategies for teaching voice. My hope is to use this resource sparingly; a little will go a long way. Our instruction in writing ought to be slow, deep, and wide with one strategy. Then we must let go. Young writers need the time to experience writing, the pure satisfaction of it. They need time to share writing, the pure joy of it. They also need time to assess their own writing, the undeniable challenge of it!

Margaret McKanna is an experienced teacher participating in the online professional development class, Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits.