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Qualities of Good Writing

I spent last week at the Teachers College Writing Institute. I was lucky enough to get into advanced sections with Carl Anderson and Lucy Calkins, who both pushed my thinking. With 103 pages of notes from five days at T.C., I’ll be writing about what I learned as I synthesize it in the days and weeks to come.

However, let me start with this… What ARE the qualities/traits of good writing?

In the past, I’ve thought that good writing could be thought of in terms of:

  • genre
  • focus
  • structure
  • elaboration
  • word choice
  • conventions
  • Ruth Culham suggests that writing can be looked at in terms of traits, which are:

  • ideas
  • word choice
  • sentence fluency
  • voice
  • organization
  • conventions
  • Carl Anderson suggests that meaning is at the heart of everything and that there are four other things we can look for, in addition to meaning, when we assess student writing:

  • structure
  • details
  • voice
  • conventions
  • Who’s right? All of us. I think each teacher of writing may have their own take on what the qualities or traits of good writing are. However, as long as the names are assessing what’s important to making kids better writers, I’ve come to believe that the label or title doesn’t actually matter. I think what matters is being able to DEFINE what each trait/quality means to students so that they can strive to become better in each of the given areas.

    Stacey Shubitz View All

    I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

    I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

    5 thoughts on “Qualities of Good Writing Leave a comment

    1. I have taught for many years ….sometimes older pupils and sometimes younger….the best feeling in the world is when finally all the letters and sounds make sense to the writer and they begin their creative journey. I foster risk taking in early writing …have a go….what might it say…where can you find a better word …who will you ask? My early writing experiences where fraught with fear and trying to get it “right” first time. I often wonder at the writer I could have become without being so stifled?

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    2. I just received my teaching certificate in Illinois – to begin my 2nd career. I’m thrilled to be doing something I love! Naturally, I have all the normal fears, questions, and anxieties. I’m taking a writing class now (as an elective) and am loving what I’m hearing. It makes my head spin to think about all I should be doing to nurture my students and really help develop their writing skills. I loved reading from experienced teachers something to affirm what I was feeling. There are many perspectives on how to teach writing and what good writing is. I couldn’t agree more with your closing remark and I think if I adopt that I’ll feel much better: “what matters is being able to DEFINE what each trait/quality means to students so that they can strive to become better in each of the given areas.”

      Thanks for sharing!!

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    3. I am sooooo grateful that you are blogging about your experience at the TCWI. I am waiting for the day when I can affoard to make the trip to NYC and attend myself. Until then – your writings are pushing me to think about my classroom practices. It is like institute by proxy =)

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    4. I have just finished reading The Resourceful Writing Teacher by Jenny Mechem Bender and Crafting Writers K-6 by Elizabeth Hale. I am currently thinking of writing in terms of craft. It includes all of what you wrote about and breaks it down more. I have read Carl Anderson’s books and Ralph Fletcher’s books. I have read Lucy Calkins’ work too. You are blessed to live so close. http://www.debrennersmith.com

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