Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I remember vividly in 10th grade English class trying to explain to Mrs. Ewig that I really hadn't the slightest idea what an appositive or a gerund was. She was shocked. "No one who writes the way you do can be ignorant of the conventions of grammar and usage." But seriously, I was, and I remained so until much later, when I took Latin as an undergrad at Loyola College in Baltimore. I learned most of my grammar when I took advanced French grammar courses earning my second bachelor's degree in my 30's.

And yet I have taught writing at two universities and I've been certified to teach writing to kids in public schools. How? Why? WTF?

I think the book 6+1 Traits mirrors my own ideas of how writing should be taught and learned in schools. I always told my freshmen in college that the only way to run a faster mile was to run, and the only way to write better was to read a lot and write. I can stand in front of a room and bore you to death with rules and conventions until you choke to death on study sheets and charts--but until you actually sit down and write, you will never improve. And part of the process is looking at successful writing and determining why it works.

This book is the latest in a string I've been given in order to prep for how my new school does things. I found it very helpful and inspiring. Of course now I have to unlearn all the junk I've picked up the last three years in BCPSS. But I've got to unlearn everything at this point, so why not throw another skill set on the fire? The examples are useful and clear (though I have a feeling many of the authentic student texts were actually written by adults), the assessment standards are valid and useful, and the suggested lessons for teaching each trait of quality writing are interesting and fun. I can't wait to try them!


Shelley said...

As a writer, I agree with you completely that students need to be writing. But I don't find the rules and conventions confining; I find them, especially for students, freeing.

Nyarlathotep said...

I actually agree with you--but how the conventions are taught is key. They can be drained of life and turned to rigid mathematical formulae with severe consequences for deviation, or presented as mysterious and magical quite fun. I've been fortunate to have teachers capable of each approach, and I've also had too many who were rote reciters of the former type.