In my second year of teaching, I made a grievous, but memorable, error. I was always the type of student who was motivated by tough love. My favorite teachers were the ones with the highest expectations, and a scribbled, gruff marginal note like, “You’re a better writer than this. Try again” was often enough to send me under the hood of the text. Of course, I am not every student. Wanting to motivate a student I knew could do much better, I returned her essay with this brief message scrawled across the top, “This is the worst essay I have ever read. Try again.”
Looking back, I don’t recognize the young teacher who would be so callous with a not-much-younger student. Of course, my comment only did harm. It gave my student no hope, no information about what to do next. The only saving grace about this regrettable action? I was allowing her to revise. That, and I learned to never do something like this again.
Thankfully, this student and I worked past this incident. I apologized; she forgave. A year later, she moved to another school, but during a return visit, she visited me and shared the 6plus1 Writing Traits rubric her new English teacher was using. Not surprisingly, it was helping her, and I instantly adopted the practice in my own classes.
Over the years, for whatever reason, I have drifted away from the 6plus1 terminology, but this trimester I decided to bring it back. The shift only required slight alterations to the scoring guides I already used:
The Six Plus One traits have existed since the mid-80s, and these descriptors of good writing are an attempt to quantify what makes writing work. Using them—especially when they are used across grade levels and disciplines—can demystify writing feedback for students and help them recognize what they do well and target what they need to improve.
My students now keep a Writing Feedback Record via Google Docs. When I return a marked paper (more on my feedback process here), they update their record sheets. When doing so, I ask them to look for patterns in their work, and when we hold one-on-one conferences I often ask them to refer to their record sheets to highlight what they’re working to improve.
I also keep a record of their individual 6plus1 scores in my grade book. First, I know to have a backup in case some students are not consistent when recording scores. Second, and more importantly, I am interested in moving toward a standards-based grade book. I want my grade book to look less like a list of scores and more like a record of skills we have been studying, and in my own reflection of the “traditional letter grades versus standards-based assessment” debate, a hybrid approach seems most effective, at least right now.
The addition of the 6plus1 writing traits into my grade book is my way of quickly putting my toe in the water of standards-based assessment. I have a feeling that next year, however, I will dive in. This initial experiment is already energizing me, and my students tell me my feedback is more useful to them.
Rick Wormelli & Standards-Based Grade Books:
The Game of School: