Home' Capricornus Quarterly : July 2013 Contents Is there a single perfect trait for a budding author? No, Julieanne Harris finds out, there are many.
There are times in life when it
seems words just ‘aren’t enough’.
We’ve all experienced them.
They are the ones that usually
involve a Kleenex or two (or maybe
something a little stronger). Not being
able to put such situations into words
is something I experience regularly.
I’m also an English teacher and therein
lies the irony... but also the beauty.
Teachers are, in fact, human (contrary to
some reports), and it’s our ‘human-ness’
which allows us to laugh, cry, sing and dance
alongside our students. Whilst we recognise
that our dancing and singing should be done
alone and with the curtains firmly drawn,
there’s no doubt that genuine empathy
belies our daily interactions with students.
Teaching is exhilarating, emotionally
exhausting and incredibly rewarding,
especially when those alongside us are
riding the wave of a 14 year old’s emotions.
However, one of the most
challenging emotions is a student’s
frustration – especially when it comes
to expressing ideas in writing.
Unfortunately, the process of writing
is indeed a complex one and has been
known to cause a level of frustration strong
enough to bring about World War III, right
in the middle of your lounge room.
Often, we know that they know what
they’re trying to convey. As much as we
wish we could, we can’t mark imaginings
and intentions that hover beyond the page.
We need students’ ideas on paper. And
even then, uncovering the young author
beneath the layers of negativity and self-
doubt often proves to be a long, almost
dramatic event worthy of an Oscar.
For boarding parents, they know that phone
conversations about ‘writing frustration’
and fear of the ‘blank page’ are no fun at all.
(Telstra shareholders send their regards.)
So what is the solution? Great question.
Perhaps there isn’t one solution, but a
literacy framework that offers many.
The 6+1 Writing Traits (Education
Northwest) is recognised by an education
leader, the Marzano Institute, and as such
‘fits’ with Dimensions of Learning, which
forms our School’s learning framework.
In theory, it is ‘perfect’ for our School.
The RGS Literacy Team is currently
trialling this writing framework in Year 7
and selected Year 9 English classes. So
far, student response has been promising.
Even though we are in the early stages,
we are already discovering its practical
applications and welcoming the influence it
is having on our students’ attitude to writing.
So if you’ve had WWIII in your lounge
room or you are personally responsible for
keeping Telstra in business, you may be
very keen to know how these trai ts work.
The traits are a collection of common
characteristics of good writing: Ideas,
Organisation, Word Choice, Sentence
Fluency, Voice, Conventions and
Presentation. The magic of it is that our kids
have to deal with only one element at a time
when they write. Also, the traits apply to all
writing genres (i.e. feature articles, news
stories, essays, short stories, short answers,
reflective pieces, science reports etc.)
Because analogies work like fairy-
dust in classrooms, let’s sprinkle a
little of that ‘thinking glitter’ here and
put writing and cooking in the same
picture to better explain the trai ts.
If Masterchef has taught us anything, it ’s
the processes of creating and enhancing.
On Masterchef, the chefs decide on a
dish. Then they select ingredients carefully
and set to work on the preparation
of each element of a dish until every
element complements the other and
perfection is achieved, the kitchen
catches fire or the clock reaches zero.
For young writers, they are given a
writing genre or question to respond to.
They think and research ideas; organise
them; choose language that captures that
right voice and finally make sure sentence
fluency, conventions and presentation
are ‘right’ as they proofread carefully.
They do this until each element of the
written piece complements the other
and perfection is achieved, the study
catches fire or their mobile rings.
The making of young writers
Students are actually having
amazing conversations about
their writing, evaluating and
discussing specific elements and
celebrating personal progress as
authors. It’s a wonder to behold.
Wendy Goldston’s Year 7 Class members (back to front, Tess Napper, Hannah Woods,
William Christensen, James Richardson and Taseen Awal) learned organisation
and ideas through her simple, yet highly effective hamburger metaphor.
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