A few years ago, I had never heard of the 6+1 Writing Traits® ¹ assessment, but now it seems to be all the rage. I think these sorts of rubrics are fairly intuitive; teachers have probably been assessing the same areas for years before this popular system was discovered/invented. The pervasiveness of 6+1 Writing Traits can be measured, I suppose, by the fact that textbook companies are now creating materials to help teachers use this rubric, and Rubistar has a template for rubrics based on the premise of 6+1.
I think at its core the idea behind 6+1 Writing Traits is sound. However, I have found rubrics that I find to be more exact. Jay McTighe shared these rubrics with us when he came to speak at our school last year. They were created by Greece Central School District in New York. The areas of achievement are broken down into six levels, as opposed to four or five. The rubrics measure Meaning, Development, Organization, Language, and Conventions. I really like the way these rubrics break down.
In comparing the 6+1 Writing Traits model with these rubrics, I found that the Greece rubrics combine 6+1′s “Voice,” “Sentence Fluency,” and “Word Choice” into “Language,” while “Ideas” is split up into “Meaning” and “Development.” That tells me that perhaps the 6+1 model focuses more on learning how to write for an audience, selecting appropriate words, and varying sentences, whereas Greece’s rubric focuses more on communication of ideas.
I love using the rubrics, as they keep me honest. There have been times I have wanted to grade a paper more harshly for problems with conventions, but in looking at the rest of the rubric, I realized they did a better job communicating and developing their ideas. I look at each area separately, and circle the level of achievement I see for that specific area. Usually, students cluster in one level across all areas of achievement, but every once in a while I run into a paper with no grammatical mistakes, but also no substance, development, or organization. I have developed a method for converting rubric scores into true writing scores, and I recommend that teachers use this method rather than simply muliplying the levels of achievement by the areas (in the case of Greece’s rubrics, that’s 6×5=30), then dividing the student’s raw rubric score by the product (for example, 25/30). In the case of a student who scored 5′s across the board — a high level of achievement — the grade would only be a 83. Using my method, the grade would be a 90. Before you exclaim that I’m “dumbing down” my rubrics, let me ask you — do you give 0′s on assignments when students really try to do the assignment? Or do you give F’s that lie somewhere between 50-59?