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  • Traits Writing The Writing Traits Model: Research Proven By Lois Bridges, Ph.D.

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  • 2 Traits Writing:The Writing Traits Model: Research Proven

    Traits Writing The Writing Traits Model: Research Proven If students are to learn, they must write. ~ National Commission on Writing

    With the advent of the Internet, written communication goes on apparently without interruption, and words are more vital than ever in our day-to-day lives and everyday transactions, especially as written material arrives in illuminated flashes via ubiquitous media unheard of even five years ago. Consider this:

    • 1,052,803 books were published in 2009—up from 247,777 in 2002—a 325 percent increase (Bowker, 2010).

    • 107 trillion emails were sent in 2010.

    • 255 million websites now dot the Internet—21.4 million were launched in 2010 alone!

    • 25 billion tweets took flight on Twitter in 2010.

    • 600 million people cohabit on Facebook. (Pingdom, 2011)

    Wanted: Skilled Writers As the National Commission on Writing makes clear, “Writing today is not a frill for the few, but an essential skill for many” (2003). And the contexts for writing are expanding. We write more than ever for multiple purposes across a wide range of media. Writing in the 21st century, dominated by technology, is “defined by its frequency and efficiency, and modern writers must express ideas in ways that enable them to communicate effectively to many audiences” (NAEP Writing Framework, 2011). What used to be accomplished face to face or over the phone is now more likely addressed through an email, making the ability to write well more important than ever. Indeed, for corporate America, masterful writing has become a coveted skill—a skill not, however, easily found in new hires. According to a survey of 120 American corporations and in reports that assess student writing proficiency:

  • www.scholastic.com/traitswriting 3

    • Writing remediation costs American businesses as much as $3.1 billion annually (National Commission on Writing, 2004).

    • About half of private employers and more than 60 percent of state government employers say writing skills impact promotion decisions (National Commission on Writing, 2004, 2005).

    • Poorly written applications are likely to doom candidates’ chances for employment (National Commission on Writing, 2005, p. 4).

    • Thirty-five percent of high school graduates in college and 38 percent of high school graduates in the workforce feel their writing does not meet expectations for quality (Achieve, Inc., 2005).

    As summed up by Susan Traiman, a director at the Business Roundtable, an association of leading chief executives whose corporations were surveyed in the study, the problem shows up not only in email but also in reports and other texts. “It’s not that companies want to hire Tolstoy,” said Traiman, “but they need people who can write clearly, and many employees and applicants fall short of that standard” (Dillon, 2004).

    The writing challenge often starts well before students are applying for their first job. They may encounter trouble as soon as they arrive in college without the basic academic skills needed for success. Researchers from the Manhattan Institute Center for Civic Policy found that only 32 percent of students leave high school academically prepared for college (Greene & Foster, 2003), and this percentage is even lower among African American and Hispanic students (20 percent and 16 percent, respectively). These figures are troubling because these students are likely to need writing remediation in college. What’s more, they are less likely to complete their degree than classmates who enter with stronger literacy skills. And surviving in today’s “knowledge age” without a college degree adds to the challenge of finding meaningful work (Trilling and Fadel, 2009).

    What We’re Doing Wrong As we might expect, the roots of the problem may well lie in school writing instruction—either its absence or, if not applied well, its presence. The 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports steady gains over the past 15 years in the number of eighth-graders moving from below proficient to basic; however, students have not moved significantly from basic to proficient. Indeed, only one writer in a hundred achieved the distinction of advanced. Multiple studies outline the problem:

    • Work sheets and prompts still dominate even though we know they do not lead to thoughtful, complex prose. Indeed, they serve to reinforce the notion that writing is a simple task with one primary purpose: write to satisfy the teacher (Graham & Perin, 2007; National Commission on Writing, 2003).

    • The total time students spend writing is equal to about 15 percent of the time they spend watching television (Graham & Perin, 2007). The “Neglected ‘R’” report from the National Commission on Writing makes this recommendation: “Double the amount of time most students spend writing and require successful completion of a course in writing theory and practice as a condition of teacher licensing” (2003, p. 3).

    • Teachers are bombarded daily by local, state, and federal demands, sometimes at odds with each other. We need an “integrated system of standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment” —one that “makes room for writing as a key instructional strategy in all subject areas while clearly communicating high expectations for student performance” (National Commission on Writing, 2006, p.19). The Common Core Standards represent a first step toward achieving this national goal.

  • 4 Traits Writing:The Writing Traits Model: Research Proven

    The Writing Trait Model: Research Proven More than ever, strong, vigorous writing is essential to American productivity and an engaged, intelligent citizenry. No surprise, then, that The Writing Framework for the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress defines writing as “A purposeful act of thinking and expression used to accomplish many different goals” (p. v). For those of us entrusted with fostering new generations of capable and confident writers, we want to make sure that every instructional moment is grounded in sound research and the Common Core State Standards—the state-led effort to establish a single set of clear educational standards aimed at providing students nationwide with a high-quality education. Our goal as teachers is nothing less than helping students become skilled, flexible writers who know their way around a persuasive essay, an inspired narrative, or an expository piece brimming with convincing facts and details. Indeed, the 2011 NAEP Writing Assessment will evaluate students’ ability to “achieve three purposes common to writing in school and in the workplace (the three modes of writing): to persuade; to explain; and to convey experience, real or imagined” (NAEP Writing Framework, 2011).

    To this end, we can turn with confidence to more than two decades of convincing research undergirding the Trait Model of Writing, now widely regarded as the gold standard of classroom-based analytic writing assessment and targeted writing instruction. With the Trait Model, teachers and students alike are supported by a continuous teaching-assessing loop.

    The Research Behind the Writing Traits For more than two decades, the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (now known as Education Northwest) and other researchers have studied the effectiveness of the Trait Model and the professional development tools used to train the teachers who use it. The traits represent the essential elements of writing inherent in all extended written communication: ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation. To date, the largest and most definitive study about the traits of writing was conducted by Education Northwest, Portland, Oregon, and published by the Department of Education, IES (Institute of Education Science) in December 2011. The goal of this five-year study is to provide high-quality evidence of the effectiveness of the analytical trait-based model for increasing student achievement in writing.

    Data for this cluster-randomized experimental study were collected from participating fifth-grade teachers and students in 74 Oregon schools. Two cohorts of schools participated in the study across two consecutive years, 2008/09 and 2009/10. Teachers who worked in the 74 Oregon schools were randomly assigned to two study conditions: 1) the treatment condition included 102 teachers and 2,230 students; and 2) the control condition included 94 teachers and 1,931 students. Teachers in the treatment group received professional development that enabled them to implement The 6+1 Trait® Writing Model in their classrooms according to their own style and preferences.

    Grade 5 students—23.7 percent of whom were from a minority racial or ethnic group and 48.9 percent were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch—were chosen as the target population because the development of academic writing skills is key in this grade level. This is a time when students focus on learning expository and persuasive writing, which is used in much of their subsequent academic careers (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2010).

    Three Research Questions The experiment was intended primarily to determine the impact of the intervention on student writing achievement during the first year of implementation, under conditions that would be typical for teachers receiving 6+1 Trait Writing professional develo