By Lorrie Akins
Clarke County Public Schools hosted a writing conference using Ruth Culham’s 6 + 1 Traits on Friday, March 25, 2011. Winchester, Manassas, and Prince William County Public Schools, as well as Clarke teachers, journeyed together with presenter Karen Harris through the writing process using the traits of writing.
Karen carefully guided teachers in developing instruction to help children develop the traitsâ€¦ ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation. Karen shared from her wealth of knowledge and experience regarding the writing process. She served as a teacher and principal before retiring and hitting the road to share the traits worldwide. Her journeys with writing have recently taken her to Budapest with an upcoming return trip on the schedule.
Karen’s positive attitude toward her students as they developed writing skills carried over into the workshop, inviting teachers to think outside the box. The writing skills of an unidentified child were compared at the beginning and end of a school year. The end of the year sample demonstrated a definite increase in skill level with all the traits. With this in mind, teachers were able to experience the process as they first wrote a shopping list of items to be purchased at a store of their choice. The list was then pared down to five items. Upon completion, the teachers rewrote the list with the intention of giving it to another person to shop. Being specific in order to acquire the items in mind was essential. Specificity required the use of all the traits. Teachers then shared their list with a neighbor and reported on the experience with the group. Their experience was no different from a child’s as some experienced frustration with coming up with the precise words or product name for an item.
One person wanted a two carat Tiffany diamond from a jewelry store. The listener asked for one slightly important detail, “Earrings or ring?” Another person wrote a list thinking a child would be shopping, so one item on the list included a “red, ripe tomato that was firm, but not too soft.” It became obvious that audience was important. This fun activity was one of many Karen shared to use with students.
Karen also emphasized the strong connection between writing and reading. Books or stories read in class can serve as models for the traits in the writing process. The “craft of writing” over time becomes an art as children are better equipped and able to communicate with their readers.
Participants left with a greater understanding of the language inherit in the writing process of 6 + 1 Traits and better equipped for developing instruction with their students. Thanks to Karen Harris, the passion for writing will live on in the school systems represented.
Lorrie Akins teaches Reading K-1 at Berryville Primary and has been a teacher at CCPS since 1988. She holds a Bachelors degree in Education from the University of Maine, Farmington and a Masters degree in Education from Shenandoah University.