We’ve always said so, yes. It’s practically a tradition! But recently, an Arizona teacher mentioned an alternative that truly makes sense. She said, “I like to teach word choice and sentence fluency first because both influence voice so much. Then when we get to voice, it makes more sense.” It’s hard to argue with that logic. I think this approach works beautifully–and what makes sense, always, is what makes sense for YOU. This teacher raises a very important point. All traits, to an extent, feed into voice. So perhaps it makes sense to teach voice continually. Here’s what I mean. When we add detail to writing, we expand ideas, but guess what? We also boost voice. When we write inviting leads or satisfying conclusions, we round out organization–but contribute to voice. Strong verbs, varied sentences, creative conventions: all affect voice, dramatically. Frank Mazzio, literacy specialist with the Oregon Department of Education for many years and a member of the Oregon Writing Assessment scoring team, often said that voice was the “umbrella trait.” It influences every other trait, Frank said–and in turn is influenced by every other trait. We often think of teaching conventions & presentation in conjunction with other traits because of the dynamic interaction. Editing affects clarity, for example–and the way in which we want ideas interpreted determines where we place commas or how we use italics or bold print. How often do illustrations (presentation) influence our interpretation of ideas. Voice is like that, too: a compilation of many traits, working together. Of course, voice is something more, too. An inner fire that goes beyond details, leads, and verbs. Here’s my primary reason for not waiting too long to teach voice. Students who write need to experience success–early on, if possible. That’s because writing is not only challenging but sometimes frightening. We put ourselves on the line when we write, especially when we share our writing with others. For many young writers, notably ELL students and others who find writing challenging for any reason, voice is the trait of success. Writers who struggle with spelling and punctuation or who cannot quite hear the rhythm of English syntax, nevertheless have stories to tell and opinions to share, and in their writing, the voice shines. In telling them so, we give them a reason to write. “I hear you,” we are saying. This is the beauty of the six-trait model. It offers six chances, six paths, for reaching readers. Every writer will find success down one of those paths. But for many, it’s voice that makes the difference. Another reason not to let this trait slip through the cracks.
Should voice be the third trait we teach?