Week 4: Approach to teaching writing and Chapter 1 of Creating Writers

Posted: November 8, 2013 in Write on!

This section of the IRP is extremely useful! The section first covers writing strategies organized by their purpose:

  • prewriting – generating ideas for getting started, often including building criteria and setting goals
  • drafting – writing down ideas
  • revising – meaning-based refining and polishing
  • editing – grammar and style refining and polishing
  • presenting and publishing – preparing a presentation or representation and sharing it with others

 

The reader is then introduced to the scaffolding method of teaching, which stresses the importance of teaching using modelling skills, using the gradual release of support. Good teaching of writing involves progressions: first the teacher models, then the class works as a group, once there is success as a group students work in pairs, and finally,  the teacher incorporates writing workshops into the classroom to guide the practice of independent writing.

grr

The use of an analytic writing system allows teachers to create criteria for students in order to show what good writing looks like. The two frameworks discussed in the IRP are the BC Performance Standards for Writing and Writing Traits.  The BC PSW focuses on meaning, style, form and convention. Writing Traits breaks down this system even further into 6+1 Traits: Ideas, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Voice, Organization, Conventions and Presentation. The BC PSW is a broad, encompassing framework that I feel would be better for middle school and high school writers who already have a strong writing background. I prefer the Writing Traits framework because it closely follows the gradual release of responsibility model, which seems better suited to elementary students who are learning how to write and improve their writing. The Writing Traits framework focuses on breaking down concepts into manageable traits in order for students to fully understand meaning.

Chapter 1 of Creating Writers

The following is a breakdown of Chapter 1 of Creating Writers, along with my reflections on the chapter.

 

In Creating Writers, Vicki Spandel introduces the 6 traits of writing that can assess and guide students’ writing.

The 6 traits are as follows:

1. Ideas: the writer’s main message, or the heart, of the writing.

2. Organization: the internal structure of the writing, it should follow a logical sequence and create connections between the writer’s ideas.

3. Voice: the writer’s personal touch on the piece. The voice gives the written piece a unique identity.

4. Word Choice: carefully chosen words, phrases, and imagery used to create a scene and guide the reader through the piece.

5. Sentence Fluency: creating a flow or rhythm to the writing. (what writing sounds like)

6. Conventions: how the writer chooses to edit the piece. Makes use of proper editing tools (or, lack therof…BFG) + : Presentation: the aesthetic appeal of the piece. What font type and size is used, are there bolded words, are there illustrations?  How has the writer presented the writing to the audience?

I think it is important for student writers to be aware of and write with these traits in mind. It would be quite easy to create a poster and have the traits hanging up in a “Writer’s Corner” area in the classroom. 

In writing, I place the greatest importance on ideas. Is the writing detailed and descriptive? Does the idea make sense? Is the writer making an insight or a higher connection? I also value the voice of the writing, and if it can make me laugh, cry, or illicit some kind of emotion from the reader.

As educators, we need to be aware and mindful of our biases when reading and marking work. As a society, we are quick to pass judgement, and also quick to overlook something if it doesn’t fit or agree with our own world view. For these reasons, I feel it is important to assess writing using Spandel’s 6 traits and to use her 6 point rubric.

The rubric outlines criteria for each of the 6 traits, on a 6 point scale:

 

 

I like the flexibility of this rubric; if you do not want to grade on a number scale, you can use words to let students know where they are on the scale, as shown in the above diagram. Spandel’s note on page 15 highlights the importance of scoring. I agree with the author; writers only get better with practice! Revising and editing is integral to the writing process. If we do not score or mark work, students are not motivated to get to that next skill level.

There are 9 tips given for scoring writing samples well. The ones that stood out for me were: A score of 1 indicates beginning performance, a score of 5 or 6 indicates strength (not perfection), and watch out for rater bias. 

I really feel that it is important for students to understand why they were given a low score. Spandel’s suggestion of telling students they “made a beginning now let’s build on those first thoughts” resonated well with me. I like how the focus is positive encouragement. At the other end of the scale, I feel it is important to remember that writing can always be improved: a strong writer needs to be pushed out of their comfort zone and always be given a challenge! Finally, being aware of your biases will allow you to mark students’ work fairly and maybe allow for new perspectives to emerge. I know that I tend to re-read subject matter that interests me, and only skim through information that does not appeal to my personal preferences. However, I need to be aware of this bias and give all material the same chance!  In the Pet Peeves section, I can relate to being bothered by misusing they’re, their, and there. I am also appalled when a business displays large advertising (like sandwich boards) and there are multiple spelling mistakes (have another employee look it over before you let hundreds of people see your sign!)

As a teacher of writing, the 5 highlighted research points are guidelines that I will teach to my students. I want to help my students reach their goals in a safe environment, and I feel these points are a perfect example of what good writing looks like.

Lastly, the one trait I would add to list on p. 28 is COLLABORATIVE. I firmly believe it is important for writers to: share their ideas, give, and receive constructive feedback.

 

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