April 25, 2007

How to Introduce the 6-Traits to your students.

One recurring question about teaching with the 6 traits is: “How do I go about introducing traits to my class?” This is a first draft of a lecture I'm developing for my online class: Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits.

Establishing the writing process as the basis for instruction. It’s always (IMHO) Writing Process first, then the traits. You will find this assertion in Spandel & Culham’s works as well.

It does make sense to teach the traits in conjunction with the writing process. The pre-writing phase of the traits is the perfect place to hammer home the importance of Ideas in writing. Pre-writing is when a writer finds the ideas that light them up. For this reason, voice is another important concept to teach as part of pre-writing. We know that voice flows when writers are passionate about their topics. A good topic springs from sound pre-writing activities mated with the understanding of the trait of voice.

Yeah, but what do I do on Monday Morning?

When starting at the beginning of the year I introduced traits to my middle-schoolers sequentially: ideas, voice, word choice, organization, sentence fluency I gave about 3 weeks to a trait.

We'd practice each new trait's core concepts in many small chunks. Writing examples, working with contrasting examples, all of the methods I discuss in the 6-traits online class, plus all of the methods shared by the world wide group of dedicated teachers in the class.

After introduction and practice of a trait, we move on to the next trait.

Seize Teachable Moments

If a chance to talk about another trait presents itself while you are ‘in deep’ with the current trait, go ahead: do it. Don't be afraid to quickly introduce another trait. If you’re introducing ideas, it’s a good idea to talk about voice etc. You don’t have to do a mini lesson or go into depth, but say enough to be appropriate for the moment. This creates a foundation for the concepts to come.

Use 6-Traits Posters

I had traits concepts up around the room in poster format to refer to as needed. Sometimes just walking over to the poster and touching it as you talk is enough to set the pattern for kids. You'll notice kids glancing at the posters and explanations. They know where to look to get the bullet points of the concept. Constant coaching on the concepts is the way to go.

Teach & Re-Teach
Like we do in our online class, each time I started teaching the concepts of a new trait, I would refer back to the previous traits, while foreshadowing those to come. It's recursive practice, teach and reteach throughout the year.

Traits and the Writing Process Work Together

This recursive loop of presenting the traits is similar to the way the writing process works. Pre-writing leads to drafting; drafting reveals the first rush of ideas and voice.

It's at this point that revision should enter the process, working a first draft up to a second draft is more than fixing the spelling and making things neat, yet it's often at this point that the writing process breaks down.

  • Kids don't know what to do.
  • Teachers lack the vocabulary to provide specific and focused feedback.
Understanding how to spot and improve traits in writing provides a way to revise the writing and keep the process evolving. Understanding the traits powers up the writing process by providing entry points for revision.


So often, kids (and teachers) think revision is just fix the spelling and punctuation and write it over neatly.

Save intense focus on conventions and presentation to the publishing stage of the writing process and dive into the meat of the process by learning to revise using word choice, organization, and sentence fluency. This will blow the embers of first draft ideas and voice into full flame.

Waiting for Eureka Moments

When you first start teaching with the traits you wonder if all this work is really worth it. You have to go at it (initially at first) on pure faith. Over the course of the first year it will come together. It will take faith and patience.

I'll admit it felt miraculous when I could see that my kids really were understanding things at a depth! This ability to apply traits concepts to their writing usually showed up around Christmas!

I recall a true eureka moment as I listened to previously inarticulate kids from my toughest class (you know the class that won’t jell and you have before or after lunch) speak eloquently about the ideas and voice they heard in the stories being read aloud. Their comments were on point, supportive, and insightful. They were writers helping each other.

At that moment I felt like crying.

At that moment I knew why I’d hung in all these years as a teacher.

It is moments like that I hope I can help you all find!


April 1, 2007

Annenburg Media: National Poetry Month!

Annenburg Media's Learner.org offers Voices and Visions... great online video of poets, poetry, and word smithing in general:

National Poetry Month

> This April, immerse yourself and your students in the hour-long
documentaries of "Voices & Visions"
http://learner.org/redirect/april/vv71.html>. Featured poets include
Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and William Carlos
Williams. Several programs are scheduled to air on the Channel in April;
click on "Broadcast Dates" for details.

> Our literary analysis series "Literary Visions"
<http://learner.org/redirect/april/lit72.html> includes seven programs
about different aspects of poetry.

> Consider the historical relevance of American poetry in "American
Passages: A Literary Survey"
<http://learner.org/redirect/april/apass73.html> Program 10, "Rhythms in
Poetry," and Program 15, "Poetry of Liberation."

> Get upper elementary students started with poetry with this lesson
plan <http://learner.org/redirect/april/start74.html> on our Web site
for "Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5." The page
includes a link to a list of poems suggested for teaching the use of
line breaks, repetition, and other devices.

> Try out different teaching strategies presented in "Teaching
Multicultural Literature: A Workshop for the Middle Grades"
<http://learner.org/redirect/april/tml75.html>. Draw inspiration from
the work of Nikki Grimes, whose characters in the novel "Bronx
Masquerade" perform at an "open mike" poetry event at school. Grimes's
poems appear on pages 17-20 of this PDF document

> "The Expanding Canon: Teaching Multicultural Literature in High
School" offers lessons plans for teaching poetry, like this one
<http://learner.org/redirect/april/canon77.html> for teaching the work
of Lawson Fusao Inada. Hear and read an excerpt of Inada's poem "Drawing
the Line" at <http://learner.org/redirect/april/canon78.html>.

Visit our Web site <http://learner.org/redirect/april/vod79.html> for
information about our FREE Video on Demand and other viewing options.