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Seven Traits of Good Writing Instruction


Q. Teachers today talk about the "seven traits of writing" that they use to score children's writing samples in these new assessments. How should we assess the teaching of writing?


(See Writing #02 in the series)


We can measure how well schools are doing in delivering quality writing instruction by measuring how well they're doing with THESE seven traits, which reveal good writing INSTRUCTION.


Does your child's school:


1. Teach systematic, intensive, explicit phonics in the early grades, K-3, so that children will know how our language works, can think logically and write accurately? Or does it use whole language?


2. Have a teacher-centered, instructional philosophy with traditional individual desks and chairs in first grade on? Or does it use a "child-centered," "constructivist," "discovery learning" philosophy?


3. Teach penmanship properly so that children have the necessary automaticity in letter formation to write words fluently?


4. Have excellent, quality books on the selected reading lists for each grade, with a maximum of classic children's literature and a minimum of contemporary "hot topics" books on social issues?


5. Direct teachers to circle children's grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization errors and have them correct those errors, beginning in kindergarten? Or do they think that hurts kids?


6. Spend staff development dollars on academic development of teachers, or touchy-feely, "fad du jour," nonacademic workshops and conferences that don't help children master writing basics?


7. Insist that teachers be good writers themselves and shoot for perfection in all the written communications they dispatch to students, parents, other teachers, and the general public. And if they can't write very well, they shouldn't hold a teaching job.


We all agree that the "seven traits" of writing that are being promulgated to teachers are important: ideas, content, voice, word choice, organization, sentence fluency and conventions. What educators miss, though, is that parents and the public want the focus of instructional time spent on conventions - the basics.



Homework: Never got the writing basics? Download free grammar packets for Grade 6 on up at


By Susan Darst Williams Writing 03 2008


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