I have been on a blogging sabbatical while school finished up. Whew! There was so much going on, and I had gotten overwhelmed by it all. Now summer is here and I've had a couple weeks to unwind. Some days out in the sun watching my kiddos play has been great!! I hope everyone else is taking time to relax over the summer break too.You need to recharge your batteries so that you can be ready, set, go for another year.
The other thing I do to recharge is do a little professional reading. I know, I know that doesn't sound relaxing, but I enjoy reading and I enjoy studying especially when I can do it in a relaxed fashion and on my own time. So, this summer some teachers and I are doing a book study on 6+1 Traits of Writing: Primary Grades. Our curriculum coach has told us that she would like us to move in that direction with our writing. I have heard of it being used in the upper grades, but I wasn't familiar with it in primary. I love writing, so I thought what a great summer project. So far, I'm impressed. I like the way Ruth Culham thinks about writing and understands little guys when it comes to developing their skills. I'm getting excited about implementing it in my room next year. I wanted to give you the highlights of Chapter 1 for anyone else that might want to join us in the book study or is curious like I was about this writing strategy.
Chapter 1: Building a Foundation for Writing
The chapter begins by giving evidence that supports teaching writing in primary. The author points out that by teaching children early it shows that learning to write is a worthwhile activity. If students can say it, they can usually write it she argues. Once the argument has been made for writing instruction in the primary classroom then she presents how six traits can help to make that process easier for both the teacher and the student. According to the information in the chapter, the 6 traits allowha us to: (1) Have a common language, (2) Nurture process learning (process over product), and (3) Use criteria to set the standard. With the six traits we are able to answer, “What is the student doing well?” and “What can the student do better?” so that we create writers who write to express themselves and not just get the assignment done.
Beginning on p.22 she gives the reader a sample writing from a student and demonstrates how she uses the traits to provide meaningful feedback to the student and set a goal for the next writing assignment. She provides a focus lesson on p.29 for teaching students the importance of process-centered thinking, and a lesson on p.39 for teaching students how to develop and use criteria in their writing. Finally, she provides a scoring guide on p.36 for scoring students developmentally (where they are in their writing growth). She steers clear of the words “good” and “bad” as she claims this stops students’ thinking and creativity. She tells teachers to focus on the process not just the product.
Several points stood out and caused me to take a closer look at how I approach writing instruction in my classroom. First, I know from my creative writing classes in college and the writing I do now that writing is personal and criticism when not delivered well can hurt and inhibit your writing. That is true for little writers as well, so as a teacher I need to remember to tell students what they do well so they know what to keep doing. I also need to show where improvements need to be made. Also I liked how she pointed out that grammar is not the heart of what makes good writing. Writers normally look at grammar last. The rule of thumb is to write, revise for word choice, voice, etc., then go back and edit for grammar. It makes sense to teach our young writers that as well. Focusing on grammar first can be discouraging and stop the thinking process. Finally she affirmed that pictures and wobbly letters are writing. Sometimes we forget that writing can take many forms.
With writing workshop students are all working at their own pace, but some students take longer or get tired of one topic and don’t finish. The same thing happens when journaling. The focus on process lets me know this is okay. I don’t want my students to just work to get done. I want them to learn to enjoy writing and sharing what they have written. She states, “Every time a student works seriously with paper and pencil it should be considered a win.” I want to remember that as I work with my students and adjust my thinking accordingly.
Check back next week as I discuss Chapter 2!