Learning to write for meaning, not perfection
Two of my 12 year-old students, Shin and Dai, provide a good contrast in writing strategies. When asked to write, Shin sticks with what he knows he can write accurately, so often ends up with grammatically perfect papers that don’t say much of anything. Dai enjoys stretching his imagination, but that often means mistakes, which can make his meaning difficult to understand.
Which student would you judge to be the better writer?
A Six-Trait rubric lets me look at how well Shin and Dai are doing in different categories – ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions like spelling and punctuation – and supports teaching writing as a collaborative and strategic process that is more than just getting the sentences “right”. It also means that students can see that they’re doing well in one area (like ideas) but might need some help with another area (like organization). I can see where my students are on the spectrum of emergent, transitional, or fluent writers, and we can adapt the writing process for their skill level.
In Shin’s mind, if he has corrected spelling and grammar he’s finished, so he has a hard time with the idea of revising. Dai, on the other hand, benefits from peer feedback (“What do you mean here?”) as struggles to make his meaning clear. Once students correct grammar and spelling mistakes, it’s very, very difficult to persuade them to make changes. So, it makes more sense to focus on meaning first, and grammar and spelling last.
Over the years I’ve worked to adapt process writing methods and 6-trait assessment for use in young learner EFL literacy instruction, since both are more commonly used in classrooms where English is the primary language. The adapted writing process, and rubric are available in the member’s section of this site.
My students do best with writing projects that allow them to stretch their imaginations, but includes some structural guidelines to work within. One popular project was writing a mystery story. We used a mystery story from their coursebook as a writing model. Having to include five random objects in their stories in a meaningful way challenged students to think creatively, and encouraged even my most accuracy obsessed students to try writing beyond their limits. In this slideshow, you can see the improvement in the quality of the story when the initial focus is meaning, and the final step is correction.