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.

No comments: