The new Common Core Standards set to come on line in 2014-15 are designed to be rigorous and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers. That means writing will play a huge part in the new Common Core Standards—writing not only in the language arts, but across the curriculum in science and social studies, etc.
"When you talk about 21st century skills, being able to write—being able communicate well in print—is absolutely critical," said Dr. Maria McClurkin, the director of literacy programs for Community Consolidated School District 15.
That’s a major reason why the District adopted the Traits Writing program this year.
During the Department of Instruction’s “Common Core Awareness Days” held last spring, Mary Zarr, assistant superintendent for curriculum, special services, and school improvement, met with grade-level teaching teams across the District. Together, they reviewed each of the new Common Core Standards and performed gap analyses in which they evaluated how well they were addressing each measure.
As teachers reviewed these new standards and realized the renewed emphasis they will place upon writing skills, they clearly indicated they wanted more guidance and better teaching materials to help them strengthen their writing instruction.
The Traits Writing program provides that, as it is based on the "6+1" traits of writing:
- Ideas: The piece's content—its central message and details that support that message.
- Organization: The internal structure of the piece—the thread of logic, the pattern of meaning.
- Voice: The tone and tenor of the piece—the personal stamp of the writer—which is achieved through a strong understanding of purpose and audience.
- Word Choice: The vocabulary the writer uses to convey meaning and enlighten the reader.
- Sentence Fluency: The way words and phrases flow through the piece. Sentence fluency is known as the auditory trait because it’s “read” with the ear as much as the eye.
- Conventions: The mechanical correctness of the piece. Correct use of conventions (spelling, capitalization, punctuation, paragraphing, and grammar and usage) guides the reader through the text easily.
- Presentation: The physical appearance of the piece. A visually appealing text provides a welcome mat. It invites the reader in.
Teachers across the District have long used these traits to evaluate students’ writing, but only recently have those traits been incorporated into a systematic instructional program that outlines how they can teach their students to incorporate those traits into their writing.
“When I saw it presented, I said, “This is it! This is what we’ve been looking for!’” said Dr. McClurkin of the Traits Writing program, which was just released in late 2011. “There really aren’t a lot of writing instructional programs out there. There’s a lot of theory about writing, there’s a lot of writing about teaching children to write, but, as far as a program that really lays out for teachers what the instructional program should be in a systematic way, there really has been very little on the market.”
“So the stars aligned,” she said. “It was the right program that came out at the right time, and everybody was ready. It is really exciting and it has been very well received. Our teachers couldn’t wait to get their hands on these materials.”
The nine-unit program will be used in first- through sixth-grade classrooms, and, with its wide variety of online features, it is expected to be a hit with students, too. For instance, every lesson in every unit includes a “Mentor Text” that’s accompanied by a short online video in which the text’s author explains how that particular lesson applies to the piece of his or her writing that the students read.
“They’re really well done and very engaging for the kids,” said Dr. McClurkin.
As for parents, Dr. McClurkin said that the Common Core Standards’ increased focus upon writing, and the District’s subsequent adoption of the Traits Writing program, mean they should expect to see an increase in both the amount of writing and the types of writing their kids are doing in school.
-Story Submitted by Community Consolidated School District 15