Home' Capricornus Quarterly : July 2013 Contents 18
By breaking down the process and
allowing students to deal with one element
at a time, it lets them be in control.
And that ’s just what we want.
We don’t want to be in control of their
writing. They are the authors, we are their
guides, or as I like to think: ‘Miss Janes’. (You
may recall that Miss Jane held Mr Squiggle’s
hand as he drew his infamous upside-down
pictures during that old ABC kids’ program.)
Please know, that whilst we won’t literally
be holding your child’s hand while they write,
we will be on sidelines, cheering them on
as they tackle one element at a time. And
in most cases, this type of support and
educated guidance can be all that’s needed
to produce confident, competent writers.
So what other magic can the traits perform?
The framework provides a common writing
language for students and teachers. For
instance, instead of students handing over a
written draft accompanied by a whispered,
‘Would you please read this and tell me if it’s
OK?’ they are using direct questions such as:
‘Can you help me enhance the voice of this
expository essay?’ (Moments like this make
us want to break into a very cool dance.)
In traits classrooms, 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.
RGS Literacy Team teachers meet regularly
to share our students’ writing and literacy
strategies that ‘work’. We use trait language
in our meetings. Equipped with such shared
understandings, we are able to traverse the
boundary of ‘primary and secondary’ schools
and focus purely on students’ writing.
As such, the framework allows us the
flexibility to employ best practice with
flexibility and coherency. Whilst as teachers
we may be implementing writing strategies
in different ways to accommodate our
students, the traits remain a constant.
It is the proverbial ‘glue’ that binds.
During Term 2, Years 7 and 9 students
focused on persuasive writing and this
is where our traits journey began.
Wendy Goldston’s Year 7 students learned
organisation and ideas through her simple,
yet highly effective ha m burger metaphor.
Word choice and voice assumed the role
of condiments for flavour. At the end of the
unit, students were treated to a reflective,
celebratory session where they compared
their earlier to latest persuasive writing pieces,
whilst enjoying a real hamburger
in true Masterchef style.
Leah Peckett carefully
designed a traits writing
rubric that was implemented
across Year 7. (A rubric is a
term we teachers use. It ’s
a document that articulates
the expectations for an
assignment by listing the criteria,
or what counts, and describing levels
of quality from excellent to poor.)
The rubric provides students and teachers
with specific evidence about students’ writing.
Such data will allow teachers to see ‘at a
glance’ the elements that students are scoring
well in and areas that need enhancement.
We are also extremely fortunate to
have Jason Rooks who worked with
the traits framework during his teacher
exchange year in a Canadian school.
“Students there attended school for nine days
every fortnight. That meant that teachers had
two days every month devoted to professional
development. During those sessions, English
planning was centred on the traits, sharing
strategies, evaluating and discussing student
progress. It was a fabulous program.”
Currently, Gareth Saunders’ Year 7 students
are discovering ‘Voice’ in narrative writing and
learning to make ‘words work’ in short stories.
Through the processes of identifying tone and
mood in published texts and experimenting
with language choices, his students are
engaging directly with the art of writing.
“Feedback is really important. Having an
understanding of the traits enables me to
provide more specific feedback and helps
students recognise when they are writing
well and what they can do to improve
their writing. They’ve adopted the traits
quickly and their understanding is obvious
through the icons they’ve created.”
Libby Doyle has been instrumental in
implementing the framework in Year 9
English. Her students are already using traits
language naturally in self-evaluations, and
peer and teacher conferencing sessions.
They have recently designed individualised
Writing Books, allowing students to keep
a clear record of their writing progression
beyond traditional assignments.
“Improvement as a student writer isn’t
necessarily immediately revealed by
assignment grades. Development as a writer
takes time. For example, when I see my
students celebrate the fact that their topic
sentences are more logical, I know they are
honestly engaged in the writing process and
are on the road to success. Along the way,
they need to practise what they learn and
have easy access to their past writing so
they can see their progression. The traits
rubric lets them to see this. The framework
makes sense. It ’s logical to them and makes
conferencing a far more efficient process.”
Cassie Cocks and Daniel Maynes are new
teachers to the School and we are so lucky
their paths have led to us. They are particularly
enthusiastic about the conversations they’re
having with their students concerning writing
and are always coming up with much cooler
ideas than textbooks ever could. Their
classrooms buzz. They are truly inspirational
and their energy and accomplishments
make us ‘oldie’ teachers wonder what we
actually did ‘back in our time’. They are
When I see my students celebrate
the fact that their topic sentences are
more logical, I know they are honestly
engaged in the writing process and
are on the road to success. Libby Doyle
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