Yesterday I worked with a middle school faculty on assessing writing. In my school system, each school is expected to have at least 2 school-wide goals, and then at least one intervention to correspond with each goal. This particular school has a writing goal, and has chosen trait-based assessment and instruction as their “intervention.” This faculty is one of many in my district that has chosen this intervention. When I accepted this district position, I had no idea that 6 Traits and 6+1 would become such a big part of my professional life. It is a difficult undertaking – getting every teacher on board to incorporate trait-based writing instruction in their lessons, especially in secondary school. After all, teaching writing is the job of the English teacher.
As an English teacher, this philosophy is frustrating. I’m always a bit amazed at how many people in this district will readily claim what is and is not part of their jobs. How is the job of an English teacher or science teacher or math teacher defined? Well, in this system, there is one contract for all teachers. So, I suppose, the content-specific job requirements come from the certification requirements and the standards that we are supposed to teach. When you look at those, only English teachers are required to have any sort of writing or writing education course, and writing is only in the ELA standards. Does that technically mean that writing is, in fact, only the job of the English teacher?
I was at the club last night with one of my friends who also happens to be a teacher at the middle school. Not an English teacher. As much as I tried to avoid it, the conversation eventually came around to our work that day. This teacher is trying to incorporate writing instruction into her health and home ec lessons. She is using the rubric with her students. But as we sat together with a beer, she admitted that she is not comfortable with the rubric. They have a 4-point rubric, to make it easier for the teachers. She said she basically looks to make sure it’s not a one or four, both of which would be rare, and then picks between the two and three. She feels fairly certain that she’s not scoring consistently, and she is not confident that an anchor set will change anything. Finally, she said, “I look at those descriptors and I think if I’m not even sure I can do that, how can I judge if the student is doing it?”
Even if, somehow, everyone suddenly agreed that writing should be taught by every teacher, how can that happen effectively when it’s not part of their education. And, maybe more importantly, writing is not part of their lives. Even if they want to teach writing, they don’t really know how. They don’t really know what writers experience. They don’t write with their students, even on the assignments they give. Is a 2 hour training once or twice a year enough to bring everyone up to speed?
And all of this leads we to wonder if we’re doing more harm than good when we ask teachers who don’t write and who don’t understand a rubric, to teach writing and use a rubric to assess writing.