A Passionate Plea

If you haven’t read this magnificent rebuttal to the Time magazine cover calling teachers“Rotten Apples” click and go there right now. Thank you Nancy F. Chewning, Assistant Principal, Roanoke, Virginia for such a voice-filled, passionate plea for teachers to become more involved in how our profession is viewed by all. The figures in this article are shocking; the analogies are dead spot on, and we all need to heed Ms. Chewning’s call to action.

Read the Article: Dear Time Magazine….by Nancy Chewning

But if you have, and/or once you do, you’ll likely want to discuss it with someone, right away. Each of us has our own specific stories to add to those from the blog. Together, we add up to a workforce that has never flexed its muscles to get the attention of people who matter. Instead, we go to work every day, each in our own way trying to use our time to make it possible for teachers to teach and students to learn. We do whatever the policy makers feel is the best new direction (for not always the most altruistic reasons). And it’s not working.

We have to become passionate, omnipresent advocates for students and teachers every day in big and little ways. Teachers have never relished the role as rebels, preferring to pour time and attention into the children they serve in so many positive ways. But, the conditions of teaching worsen every year and with the results of the most current election, they will erode even faster now.

Speak up with parents, with administrators, with policy makers. See if you can establish a “bring your legislator to school day.” Let them see what real schools do every single day. They don’t know the magic that teachers bring into children’s lives under the most challenging. Invite the school board or state commissioner to visit and talk with kids. Challenge them to find out what is really happening in today’s schools and why it’s a miracle in itself that teachers keep showing up.

Do it with colleagues or by grade level, or by school. But do it. People in powerful positions who have the authority to dictate the terms of funding and how those funds are used need to know what schools today are like. They need to rejoice in the joy and skill that teachers bring to classrooms; they need to be horrified at the conditions under which many work.

Be an advocate for us all. I promise to do the same. Together we are a lot stronger than divided. This is not a partisan issue: it is an issue of morality, integrity, and ethics. Public schools can fulfill their promise¾but if we don’t fight back against the assault, we’ll lose this battle. I, for one, can’t imagine living the United States of America without a vibrant and thriving public school system that provides a world-class education to EVERY students regardless of their zip code, race, or gender.        – Ruth

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Pssst…Do you want to be a writing thief?

The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham [International Reading Assn. 2014]

The Writing Thief by Ruth Culham [International Reading Assn. 2014]

When you write, revise (endlessly), and eventually publish, it’s very scary to know your words and thoughts are “out there” in the world for all to read and criticize.  So, imagine the courage it takes for me to say,  “I love this book.”  Creating The Writing Thief  was a joy ride for me from beginning to end, and I think the voice and ideas in the book reflect it.  I’ve never been as happy writing as when I was working on this text.  Seriously.  The early reviews have been swift and overwhelmingly good.

The Writing Thief  takes using mentor texts in new directions and with new purpose.   It has wonderfully insightful passages about using reading to teach writing from some of your favorite authors and mine:  Kate Messner, Ralph Fletcher, Nicola Davies, Lester Laminack, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Yee, David Harrison, and Lola Schaefer.

It has over 90 books and everyday text citations and teaching ideas organized by mode (narrative, informational, opinion/argument) and by the four key qualities of each trait (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation).  It has updated writing research and thoughts about the Common Core State Standards.

I really do love everything about this book including the cover and the title.  Most of all, it has my heart on every page.  I hope it finds a place in yours, too.

XO  Ruth

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ImageHi Folks! We have simplified the search name for our FACEBOOK page to make it easier for all. If you have linked to it [on your mobile device, or your website, or your bookmarks, for example]  you should UPDATE THAT LINK to the new URL: 


You can also always find us by just searching terms TRAITS WRITING.  


XO Ruth

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Common Core, Modes, Traits and Everyday Texts

Your school is probably in full-blown Common Core State Standards mania. Or, if your state didn’t adopt the Common Core, the pressure is likely building to meet and exceed your state standards. Either way, teaching writing and helping students make great gains will be a big part of your school year. It’s a good thing, right?

Over the summer, I spent time falling in love with new picture books. I gathered everyday texts like brochures and posters. I am always reading, looking, and taking pictures to find examples that exemplify one or more of the traits and their key qualities.

Last month, I went to the Hoopla in Salem, Oregon to watch a friend’s son play in the city-wide tournament that filled the streets. As I was watching, I looked down and found mentor texts under my feet and embedded in the sidewalks: opinion, informative, and narrative. Seriously!

Oregon TenacityWishram LegendInitiative

Which are which? Narrative, informative, or opinion? I know you know this, but the first is opinion, the second narrative, and the third is informational. Right under my footsteps!

It’s interesting isn’t it? Our world is filled with fascinating examples of good writing. We just have to reach out with our cameras and capture it or tuck a paper copy into our pockets to bring back and share. What could be a more delightful way to show students how each purpose for writing shows itself in the world: everyday texts.

As I’ve discovered new resources, I’ve been pushing my thinking about how the traits and modes fit together in light of the renewed emphasis on both in the Common Core. What I’m thinking is simple: the traits are “how” we write: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation. And the modes are the “what” we write: narrative, informative, or opinion/argument. (Or for those of us stubbornly clinging to traditional terms: narrative, expository, and persuasive.) To write in any mode, you have to know the traits, so students need good, solid instruction in both modes and traits to be the best writers they can be.

Look for examples of the traits: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation, right along with the modes/purposes as you are reading and living this year. I bet you’ll be just as lucky as I am to find local examples of what good writing looks like that will take students a long way toward excellent writing to meet and exceed Standards.


– Ruth

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Join the Conversation


Did you know that Traits Writing has its own Facebook Page?

It’s a great way to connect with other teachers and professionals, get the latest news, and to weigh in with your own thoughts and suggestions.

Join the conversation at Traits Writing: A Complete K-8 Program facebook page.

Hope to see you there!  

XO – Ruth

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A New Traits Writing Website launched….

I’m thrilled to announce the relaunch of the Traits Writing website: www.Scholastic.com/traitswriting. Completely updated with tons of new information and success stories, you’ll love seeing what teachers and administrators have to say about how they’ve revolutionized their writing program by adopting Traits Writing, K-8. Check it out!


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Speaking Back to the Common Core by Thomas Newkirk

This elegant, brilliant article found its way to me today and I have read it several times, nodding, then cheering at each clear point.  I share it with you, hoping it will provide just what you need to bring back to your colleagues and schools to initiate a discussion about CCSS, point by point.

Perhaps we should be asking ourselves how it happens, in American education, that holes are filled with initiatives like NCLB and CCSS.  We simply must ask these bigger questions right along with doing the very, very difficult work of teaching children to read and write.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so darned hard if students were steeped in language and learning while reading with fascination and writing fiercely about what matters to them.  I challenge whether marching to the tune of CCSS without keeping in mind what we know genuinely motivates, encourages, and challenges learners is the best we can do.

Here’s the article:  read and think hard about every single point.  Please.


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