3 Common Misconceptions About The 6+1 Traits of writing

Misconceptions about the 6+1 traits

It’s no surprise that I get a lot of questions about the 6+1 traits of writing.

I do, after all, bang on about them ALL. THE. TIME.

Why?

Because even though I love writing and have had articles and stories published in journals and books, I never had an effective way of breaking quality writing down for students until I learned about the traits.

Pre-traits, I didn’t have a consistent set of ‘looks-fors’ when reading student writing. I’d hesitantly offer up suggestions for next steps and then feel deflated at the lack of significant improvement in student writing.

Enter the traits…

Finally, I was able to ‘look under the hood’ and label all the little cogs that work together to produce impactful writing. I could assess students’ writing with these cogs in mind and identify precise teaching points that were actually relevant to my students.

The turn-around in my confidence and competence in teaching writing effectively is what keeps me banging on about the traits today.

I want every student (irrespective of postcode) to be on the receiving end of high-quality writing instruction that gives them the whole story about effective writing (i.e- it’s much more complex than just structure + punctuation + grammar + spelling).

So, to help clarify your understanding of what the traits are and what they aren’t let’s look at 3 common misconceptions about them:

Misconception #1: The traits are a writing program.

Nope.

The traits will NOT tell you what to teach next week.

They will not give you a bombproof recipe for instruction that will turn every child in your class into Meg McKinlay or Bronwyn Bancroft.

(Note: Can I get a bit of appreciation for my clever use of alliteration in that last line please? Hello Word Choice trait!)

In fact, this misconception is probably the one that disappoints teachers the most.

Often what happens is, they’re looking for a quick fix for their writing instruction, they buy the traits books, read them and then get disappointed when they can’t find the pre-prepared lessons they need to teach.

That’s because the traits aren’t a program or a script to follow.

They’re actually a set of assessment criteria.

Assessment criteria that empower you as the teacher to make professionally informed teaching decisions based on the writers in your class.

Nothing else matters in teaching and learning as much as quality assessment, that is, data that inform and differentiate instruction for each learner in a never-ending cycle of inquiry to discover what works best.

(Sharratt, 2019)

An investment in learning about the qualities of good writing is an investment in the ONLY silver bullet in high-quality literacy instruction: teacher content knowledge.

Build knowledge on how to assess writing and you’ll then be able to flip that into targeted teaching points for your students.

Misconception #2: The traits only apply to narrative writing

If you’ve read my blog on traits vs genre you’ll already know this one’s codswallop.

The writing traits were developed after a bunch of teachers read 1000’s of pieces of students writing (in all different genres) and identified the common elements of the most effective pieces.

These common elements reached across genres and certainly weren’t just applicable to narrative writing.

Good writing is good writing- be it narrative, persuasive or even business writing.

Check out this comment on the voice trait from Holly Cardamone, Australian communications expert, in her book Tell Your Story:

Here’s the thing: nailing voice is not easy. There was an entire study unit dedicated solely to voice in my Writing and Literature Master’s in the context of narrative, non-fiction and fiction, because voice is one of the critical elements of readability.

(Cardamone, 2020)

See! The qualities of good writing aren’t genre specific.

Misconception #3: The traits won’t prepare my students for NAPLAN

Before I tackle this one, I want to make one thing abundantly clear:

Our job as teachers is NOT to create NAPLAN writers.

Our job as teachers is to create lifelong writers- the ones who go on to use writing in their lives outside of school.

The ones who know and respect the power of words and writing and have enough skills to unleash that power- if and when they so desire.

My intention in responding to this misconception is NOT to help you ‘game’ your writing instruction to get good NAPLAN scores, it’s to prove that good NAPLAN scores will be a natural consequences of strong writing instruction that tells the whole story about effective writing.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up…

For all its faults, the NAPLAN writing assessment actually has a decent set of criteria for evaluating good writing.

Both the narrative and persuasive assessments use the following 9 criteria headings (the number in brackets denotes the maximum score available for each criterion):

  • Audience (6)
  • Text structure (4)
  • Ideas (5)
  • Vocabulary (5)
  • Cohesion (4)
  • Paragraphing (3 for persuasive, 2 for narrative)
  • Sentence structure (6)
  • Punctuation (5)
  • Spelling (6)

The difference is, the persuasive assessment includes a ‘persuasive devices’ criteria (4), whereas the narrative assessment has one for ‘character and setting’ (4).

Let’s look at those criteria in terms of the 6+1 traits:

TraitNAPLAN CriteriaPotential points impact
IdeasAudience, Ideas,11
OrganisationAudience, Text Structure, Cohesion14
VoiceAudience, Ideas11
Word ChoiceAudience, Vocabulary, Cohesion, Spelling21
Sentence FluencyAudience, Cohesion, Sentence Structure16
ConventionsAudience, Paragraphing, Sentence Structure, Spelling21

Hmm…interesting!

Irrespective of whether it’s in high-stakes testing, business writing or even a Facebook status update, good quality writing is good quality writing.

Teach that, and the school’s NAPLAN growth data will take care of itself.

So there you have it- 3 common misconceptions about the 6+1 writing traits.

Do you know of any others lingering about?


Of course, if you want to learn more about the traits, I’m running a self-paced online course version of my Writing Traits Masterclass that starts tomorrow (Monday, Feb 22).

6+1 writing traits PD online

The Writing Traits Masterclass Series is focused on building your knowledge of the key qualities within each of the writing traits.

It’s about going beyond basic definitions and learning how to identify the elements of effective writing in mentor texts and student writing.

The online self-paced course is structured to go deep on one trait at a time, with approximately 1 hour of content for each module. The lessons and resources will be viewable for 12 months.

This course would be ideal for groups of teachers to learn together (and equally as useful for individual teachers).

Here’s what some previous participants had to say about it:

I loved that you presented the PD like a teacher! No confusing acronyms or long-winded explanations for everything. Just simple, practical, useful knowledge. I didn’t feel mentally drained after any of your sessions. It was refreshing. Thank you! Krystin

I loved the picture book example texts and the way the classes were paced. Great take away ideas for all traits. Really valuable teaching opportunities were explained well and easy to implement. -Dianne

References:

  • Cardamone, H., 2020. Tell Your Story. Melbourne.
  • Sharratt, L., 2019. CLARITY: What matters most in learning, teaching, and leading. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.
Share the Oz Lit Teacher love:

Leave a comment

eighteen − fourteen =