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The 6 Traits of Writing: Planning for Assessment. Presented by Jen Kohan, Minnetonka Writing Coach. Go ahead and get started on the GREEN SURVEY. Introductions. THINK about your assessments WRITE down the TOP THREE qualities you look for in a final product

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The 6 Traits of Writing: Planning for Assessment

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The 6 Traits of Writing:Planning for Assessment

Presented by

Jen Kohan, Minnetonka Writing Coach

Go ahead and get started on the GREEN SURVEY. . .


THINK about your assessments

WRITE down the TOP THREE qualities you look for in a final product

PAIR up to determine the top three qualities assessed

SHARE your name, content/grade level, and top three assessment categories

Essential Vocabulary

Writing Process








The Six Traits: A Brief History

Originated in Oregon in the 1980s

Vicki Spandel, NWREL researchers, and 17 teachers

Purpose: to develop a consistent vocabulary for defining good writing/writing instruction; to create an assessment rubric to be used across all grade levels

Evaluated thousands of papers (all grade levels) and identified “common characteristics of good writing”

Those qualities became the “six traits”

Writing and Communication

Routine and structured discussions

Prerequisite skill to writing

Engaging: no passivity allowed

Provides non-threatening practice

Teaches discussion etiquette

Prediction Paragraph


My teacher has asked me to make predictions/form hypotheses about ______________. The things I see in the photographs include _______________. (Add a few sentences of description and/or tell what you think it is.) I think we are going to study this because __________________. I would also like to learn about _______________________. These are my initial predictions/hypotheses.

Traits of Good Writing

Why Use the Six Traits?

It provides a common language for teachers and students to use in teaching and learning about the craft of writing.

It provides consistency in writing assessment and a shared vocabulary for giving feedback to students.

It provides a guiding focus for writing instruction and the tools students need to revise their own writing.

Why is the 6+1Trait Model an Effective Teaching Tool for Writing Instruction?

Defines good writing in a specific way for the teacher and the student

Provides a way to delineate areas of individual strengths and areas of challenge

Allows for greater consistency and accuracy in assessment

Provides a common vocabulary for vertical and horizontal alignment of instruction

Develops all of the traits evaluated in state assessment

Provides a clear link between reading and writing

Enables students to become self-assessors

Principles of Quality Assessment

Has clear criteria

Demands self-assessment

Allows opportunities for revision and assessment

Sensitive to student developmental needs

Quality Writing Assessment

Clear criteria shared with students before writing

Models of writing that exemplify criteria

Process and product oriented


Formative tasks before summative tasks

I always did well on essay tests. Just put everything you know on there, maybe you’ll hit it. And then you get the paper back from the teacher and she’s written just one word across the top of the page, “vague.” I thought “vague” was kind of vague. I’d write underneath it “unclear,” and send it back. She’d return it to me, “ambiguous.” I’d send it back to her, “cloudy.” We’re still corresponding to this day ... “hazy” ... “muddy” ...

~Jerry Seinfeld, SeinLanguage

Principles of Effective Feedback






The Traits and Assessment

The 6-Trait rubrics can be used by: Self, peer, teacher

To assess: A single trait, a group of traits, all the traits

The 6-Trait rubrics can also be used as:

  • A tool for vertical and horizontal curriculum alignment

  • An instrument for grade-level, school, or district measurement

    Assessment is not the end of the writing process.

  • It is the bridge to revision.

  • 6-Trait Writing is all about revision!

What do we value?

Read your sample:

  • What do you notice about this student’s writing?

  • Identify its major strengths and weaknesses.

  • Share your observations with a partner.

  • Discuss what advice you would give this writer.

  • What grade level is this writer? What was the prompt?

The grading dilemma: if I assign more writing, don’t I have to do more (ugh) grading?

  • Philosophical response:

  • View writing as not only a way to assess, but as an aid to learning – as part of the path from the assign to the assess.

  • We shouldn’t be graded for taking the time to flesh something out, to experiment, to conjecture. Mistakes are an essential part of learning! (think: learning to ride a bike, to knit, to parent, to teach)

  • Ask how you can hold accountable without grading extensively.

  • Do athletic coaches or music teachers grade the practice efforts?

The grading dilemma: if I assign more writing, don’t I have to do more (ugh) grading?

  • Practical response:

  • Grade one paragraph of a rough draft

  • Sample 10 learning logs one week, 10 the next, etc.

  • Ask students to choose their three best entries (without warning) for spot-grading

  • Give a + for a thoughtful response in a blog, a – for an apathetic response, a 0 for no response

“If the amount kids write is limited by what teachers have time to grade, there’s no way they’ll write enough to learn curriculum content.”

-William Strong

For discussion at your tables:

What is our current practice?

What can we STOP doing?

What should we do MORE of?

Who needs to do what? (responsibilities)

By when (timelines and deadlines)

What resources are needed?


Closing the Implementation Gap

  • Important Element of Assessment

    • Conferencing – the challenge is . . . The goal is . . .

    • Proficient: Five minute conferences with each student once per month AND I record needs for class mini-lessons

    • Progressing: Five minute conferences with each student once per month AND I keep track of needs in a systematic way

    • Does Not Meet Standards: Conference with students once per quarter, conferences are informal and do not address specific needs

    • Exemplary: Regular cycle of conferences (2x/month) with needs tracked by both me and student. Feedback/corrective teaching connects directly to specific student work. We also communicate in between F2F conferences digitally.

Backwards Design

Identify desired results

Determine acceptable evidence

Plan experiences and instruction

Setting Goals for Assessment

Material studied during unit, but unlikely to be emphasized beyond this unit

Material related to what student know and should be able to do as a result of unit (facts, concepts, principles, skills)

Big ideas and abstract concepts within key curricular areas that students will revisit again and again

“Good assessment always begins with a vision of success.”

~Richard Stiggins,

Student-Centered Classroom Assessment

Identify Desired Results

When we understand we:







Academic Vocabulary
























Determine Acceptable Evidence

Think like an ASSESSOR

What would be sufficient and revealing evidence of understanding?

How will I be able to distinguish between those who really understand and those who don’t (though they may seem to)?

Against what criteria will I distinguish work?

What misunderstandings are likely? How will I check for these?

Monitoring and Assessment







Continuum of Assessments

“We must constantly remind ourselves that the ultimate purpose of evaluation is to enable students to evaluate themselves.”

~Arthur Costa

Nuts and Bolts of Rubrics

  • NOT a checklist of required elements

  • Analytic

  • Scaled descriptors:

    • Should indicate what the student work looks like

    • Should use specific language – what does “adequate” mean

  • Consider weighting categories

  • Fewer than 5 categories (assessed) is good . . .

    • 3 is better.

What should it look like?

Try putting the rubric puzzle together . . .

What do we notice?

Using Rubrics

Provide students with the rubric BEFORE they write

Spend time practicing with descriptors

Balance your point values (consider using a Marzano scale)

Practice scoring with models and non-models in class

Ask students yes/no questions as they look at the rubric

“Assessment is not the private property of teachers. Kids can learn to evaluate their own writing. They must take part in this . . . it is central to the growth of writing. Even before they write, they need to know about what makes writing strong or effective. And they need to know the criteria by which their own writing will be judged.”

~ Marjorie Frank


Content Area Writing Strategies

Writing to Learn


(diagnostic + expressive)

Metacognitive Logs



Digital Communication


Writing in the Disciplines

Content-specific products (labs, recipes, stories, dialogues, etc.)

Structured Paragraphs/Essays:




Quiz/Test Responses

Let’s Review the Traits of Good Writing

Teaching Ideas

For students to arrive at good content, we must help them:

  • Select an idea (the topic)

  • Narrow the idea (focus)

  • Elaborate on the idea (development)

  • Discover the best information to convey the idea (details)

“When I was in school I thought details were just extra words to add in a story to make it better. I thought detail was decoration or wallpaper . . . Details are not wallpaper; they are walls.”

~Barry Lane

Narrowing the Idea: R.A.F.T.

  • R.A.F.T. stands for . . .

    • Role of the writer

    • Audience for the piece of writing

    • Format of the material

    • Topic or subject of the piece of writing

  • Example: You are Jerry Spinelli, author of the delightful novel, Stargirl. Design a three-part advertising campaign that will assist you and your publisher to convince one of the major movie studios to buy the movie rights and make a feature film based on the book.

Teaching Organization

Strategies for effective organization include:

  • Beginning with an inviting and focusing introduction

  • Providing thoughtful links between key points and ideas

  • Employing a logical, purposeful, and effective sequence

  • Controlling the pacing

  • Closing with a satisfying conclusion

Sequencing: Mix It Up

Choose a short piece of text—a poem, a magazine article, a short story, etc.

Cut the text into pieces so students can move them around like a puzzle.

Ask students, in groups, to put the parts in order. Which comes first, second, third, last? How do you know?

If students disagree, discuss the different ways students have organized the parts. Are they logical and effective?

Teaching Voice

  • Voice emerges when the writer:

    • Allows the writing to sound like him/herself

    • Shows that he/she really cares about the idea

    • Writes with energy and enthusiasm

    • Writes with the reader in mind

    • Takes risks to make the writing memorable

    • Matches the writing to its audience and purpose

Teaching Voice

Voice In, Voice Out: Give students a piece of text that lacks voice (instruction manual, textbook, memo, etc.) and invite them to add as much voice as possible. Read the two versions aloud and discuss the differences. Try it the other way, too—have students remove the voice from a strong piece of writing.

“The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

~Mark Twain

Sentence Fluency

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time.”

~William Zinsser, On Writing Well

Sentence Stretching

Ask each student to write a simple sentence of 4-5 words at the top of a sheet of paper.

(Example: Matthew ate a pizza.)

Students pass the paper to the next student who must add or change one element to make the sentence more specific and interesting.

After the paper has been passed to 10-12 people, it is returned to the original owner.

Students write their revised sentences on the board for all to see.

Teaching Conventions

Teaching students the correct use of conventions includes lessons that focus on:

  • Spelling correctly when publishing work

  • Applying basic capitalization rules with consistency

  • Using appropriate punctuation marks to guide the reader

  • Using appropriate grammatical structures to communicate ideas clearly and convincingly

Tips for Teaching Conventions

Get a good sense of what students know and what they still need to learn.

Teach the skills that are developmentally appropriate for students to add to their repertoire of conventions.

Allow for plenty of practice, time to experiment, and opportunities to apply the new skills in their writing.

Hold students accountable for the specific skills for which they have an understanding.

Use wall charts and mentor texts.

Presentation (the + 1)

  • Presentation zeros in on the form and layout—how pleasing the piece is to the eye. (Culham)

  • Presentation makes the piece easy to read:

    • Margins are even; layout is effective.

    • Handwriting or font is legible and clear.

    • Illustrations are appropriate and well-placed.

    • Everything contributes to the effectiveness of the writing.

“The writing process is a means to an end and not an end in itself.”

~Ruth Culham


Plan Experiences and Instruction

What Now?

Establish a writing community in your classroom based on the whole writing process.

Focus your mini-lessons, assessment, and revision on the traits, preferably one at a time.

Use the vocabulary of the traits when reading and discussing texts.

“We’re teaching our students to write, not to trait.” (Ruth Culham, 6+1 Traits of Writing)

“Think of how many teachers you had who actually helped you with your writing. Most people can name one or two. I say to teachers, ‘Be that one teacher for a child.’”

~Donald Graves


Culham, Ruth. 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide. New York: Scholastic, 2003.

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Spandel, Vicki. Creating Writers Through 6-Trait Writing Assessment and Instruction. 3rd ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001.

Spandel, Vicki. “Write Traits: 6-Trait Instruction and Assessment.” San Antonio. 24-26 Oct. 2005.

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