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And generally, they produced writing that fit the criteria I outlined. A common argument for the 5-paragraph essay is that it can be a useful tool for students to organize their ideas. We all need help when we are learning something, especially something as complex as writing. One, most students never move beyond this single tool.
I created more handouts, more step-by-step instructions, more templates.
Fit your ideas into this fill-in-the-blank, I encouraged them.
Ebarvia.” (Side note: Talking about myself—or my teacher-self—in the third person is becoming habit, I fear. We also read Didion’s essay because it’s simply a beautiful piece of writing. And yes, her essay has an intro, body, and conclusion.
I find that many high school students often need to be reminded that English is a language , the first hand goes up. Encouraged, more students offer responses: “Structured.” “Rigid.” “Intro, body, and conclusion.” “Thesis statement.” “Argumentative.” “Research.” “Formal.” “School assignment.” I then ask, “How much of what you just said describes Didion’s essay? But Didion’s essay is neitherfive paragraphs, nor is it rigid. It uses a first-person point-of-view, it shifts and moves, wonders and supposes.
For Didion, a notebook was a place to remember how it felt to be her.
Our notebooks are the building block of our writerly lives, and I encourage students to use their notebooks beyond our classroom walls.But what looks like compromise is just more work—more work doing something that 1) may be ineffective, and 2) most teachers simply don’t have time to do.In practice, we prioritize the 5-paragraph essay (which we never do), we tell ourselves we’ll teach other forms of writing (which we really don’t).Shouldn’t that be how we approach writing, how we frame essays?As a way of getting to because of three very specific reasons outlined in a thesis statement found at the end of an introduction.After all, I had other things to worry about, like reading all the books I had to teach and managing a classroom of skeptical teenagers. It’s much easier to check if a student’s essay fulfills a template than it is to approach each student essay as its own unique piece of writing, with its own form, structure, purpose, and voice. When students don’t understand something, I try to remember that it’s not only their first time learning something new, but my first time, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about something I heard educator and author Will Richardson say at a conference last spring (and in this TED talk).To approach writing instruction sans formula is messy. Last year, when I decided to try a different approach with my ninth graders, there were many days I went home feeling like the worst teacher in the world. As one of my mentors often tells me, “Be forgiving. Richardson argued for urgency in our approach to the challenges schools faced.When I ask a follow-up, “What’s the difference between Didion’s essay and the ones you just described? During our discussion, I admit to students that I’ve been guilty of (over)teaching the 5-paragraph essay.” a student says, not-so-quietly, “It’s well-written.” His classmates laugh. I also tell them, however, that the longer I teach, the more I realize that some of my former teaching practices weren’t always best practices, though I didn’t realize it at the time (former students: my apologies). Some students seem surprised to hear a teacher admit such a thing, but it’s all about having growth mindset, right? First, I explain, we’ll be keeping our own notebooks throughout the year. “I like to start the year with ‘On Keeping a Notebook’ for a few different reasons,” I tell students.