Useless Teaching Conventions (e.g., The 5-Paragraph Essay)

Discussion in 'General Education' started by EdEd, Jun 7, 2012.

  1. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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  3. each1teach1

    each1teach1 Cohort

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    Did you just pimp a book at us? Or is there a way to read the premise of your argument without paying $22.50 plus shipping?
     
  4. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    From the link:
    "Product Details
    Author: Kimberly Hill Campbell and Kristi Latimer
    Year: 2012
    Grade Range: 6-12
    Media: 232 pp/paper
    ISBN: 978-157110-852-4
    Item No.: WET-0852


    Love it or hate it, the five-paragraph essay is perhaps the most frequently taught form of writing in classrooms of yesterday and today. But have you ever actually seen five-paragraph essays outside of school walls? Have you ever found it in business writing, journalism, nonfiction, or any other genres that exist in the real world? Kimberly Hill Campbell and Kristi Latimer reviewed the research on the effectiveness of the form as a teaching tool and discovered that the research does not support the five-paragraph formula. In fact, research shows that the formula restricts creativity, emphasizes structure rather than content, does not improve standardized test scores, inadequately prepares students for college writing, and results in vapid writing. In Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay, Kimberly and Kristi show you how to reclaim the literary essay and create a program that encourages thoughtful writing in response to literature. They provide numerous strategies that stimulate student thinking, value unique insight, and encourage lively, personal writing, including the following:

    •Close reading (which is the basis for writing about literature)
    •Low-stakes writing options that support students' thinking as they read
    •Collaboration in support of discussion, debate, and organizational structures that support writing as exploration
    •A focus on students' writing process as foundational to content development and structure
    •The use of model texts to write in the form of the literature students are reading and analyzing
    The goal of reading and writing about literature is to push and challenge our students' thinking. We want students to know that their writing can convey something important: a unique view to share, defend, prove, delight, discover, and inspire. If we want our students to be more engaged, skilled writers, we need to move beyond the five-paragraph essay."


    It seems to me that it's an adequate amount of information to support the premise of the thread: that some things we teach should be re-evaluated.

    Off the top of my head, I can't think of any in the courses I've taught recently, but I can certainly appreciate the premise.
     
  5. donziejo

    donziejo Devotee

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    I've always disliked teaching the 5-paragraph essay. Creativitiy is lacking in many of the students I've taught. I don't have the time to read the article at the moment. Thanks for posting, I look forward to reading it.
     
  6. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Funny :) - sorry, I haven't read it either, so in fairness I'm not claiming it's right, but just using it as an example of the concept - that some things we might teach in schools, but not really need to.
     
  7. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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    We don't teach the five paragraph essay.
     
  8. TeacherGroupie

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    The five-paragraph essay is in fact unjustly maligned. Taught with proper flexibility, it's a template that's incredibly useful for situations in which one needs to produce focused, organized, utilitarian prose under time pressure: the teacher who has the bones of the format in mind is likely to expend a lot less time and sweat writing letters to parents, text to accompany IEPs, or the dreaded cover letter than is the teacher who doesn't - and the prose that results is much likelier to get its point across successfully, simply because the flow of the argument isn't obscured by disorganized sentences and paragraphs.
     
  9. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I don't teach writing. But as a kid competing in Extemporaneous Speech, I found that a variation of that 5 paragraph essay was a winning organizational system:
    Intro
    State the question
    3 areas of analysis
    Conclusion.

    Just about every paper I ever wrote in college was an expanded version of that format. Not 5 paragraphs, not always 3 areas of analysis. But it was a great starting point.

    I think the problem with a lot of what we teach is the idea of "when am I going to use THIS?" as opposed to "How can I take this idea and expand upon it to fit my current need?"
     
  10. donziejo

    donziejo Devotee

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    I'm not sure what you mean. I find teaching the five-paragraph essay to be somewhat boring. It does teach focus and organization and the other things you mention. I also agree it is a useful tool. The issue I have is the lack of creativity and original thought I see in students. First they are learning to write a sentence, then 3 paragraphs, then 5. Using a graphic organizer they all write the same thing. I haven't read the article but I've often had the thought in the back of my mind that little robots are being created. I also see the same format in IEP's They all sound alike from year to year Yes, the % may be different, but the format is identical. It does make it easier. Prehaps I'm thinking more of teaching creative wrinting along with the 5 paragrah essay and mechanics and conventions. I don't know though. I'm interested in what other's think.
     
  11. giraffe326

    giraffe326 Virtuoso

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    The 5 paragraph essay itself isn't important in everyday life. However, it IS important to education. It is usually a student's first taste of structured expository writing. When I introduce it, I always ask if they read Harry Potter when they began to read. I get nos and giggles. They learned with picture books. The 5 paragraph essay serves the same purpose- it is their introduction. They should grow and flourish from there.
     
  12. TeacherGroupie

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    Bingo, Alice.

    The five-paragraph essay SHOULD be taught as a toolkit of transferable skills. These skills include

    - refining and clarifying the thesis, so that the writer herself is clear just what it is that she is trying to sell the reader on

    - cataloguing the possible arguments in favor of that thesis and settling on a set of arguments that is both manageable in number and compelling for the audience

    - locating evidence to back up each of those arguments

    - controlling the flow of information not only between the paragraphs but within them
     
  13. TeacherGroupie

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    Try this, then, donziejo: let your kids write the same thing, to begin with - and then challenge each kid to figure out how, within the framework, to make his or her essay unique. This is where we start dealing with the effects of variation in sentence structure and rhythm and with the effects of different choices in diction - and this is a way to help students develop their unique voices.
     
  14. chebrutta

    chebrutta Enthusiast

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    See, I always looked at the 5 paragraph essay as the stepping stone.

    Intro
    3 bodies
    Conclusion

    I view it the same way I view paragraph structure. In 7th grade, it's a transition, topic sentence, 5-7 supporting details, clincher. This is not the sort of paragraph I expect a third grader to write, nor is it the sort of paragraph I expect to see out of a 12th grader or college student. It's the basic format.

    Perhaps - if there is an issue at the higher levels - it's not the 5 paragraph essay itself; it's that no one has taught or demanded students to expand and experiment beyond that.
     
  15. dgpiaffeteach

    dgpiaffeteach Aficionado

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    I too think the 5 paragraph essay is a stepping stone but also a good tool to have. I think it helps teach kids the general foundation. I used it a lot with my 8th graders this year. Usually their writing portion of tests is structured so it can fit in a 5 paragraph essay. Their major writing assignments and in class assignments are obviously different but I do think the 5 paragraph essay has a place. At least it did for me this year!
     
  16. KateL

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    My issue is that my students don't know how to make paragraphs if their essay is not is the 5 paragraph format. For example, this year I had my students research a disease and write a story about a character's symptoms and treatment. My students are so accustomed to the 5 paragraph format that they didn't know how to begin their stories or how to separate dialogue into paragraphs. An alarming number of students wrote their entire 2-page story as 1 giant paragraph because they didn't know where to put the separations. This is something that sophomores in high school should know or be able to figure out.
     
  17. smurfette

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    The 5 paragraph essay is not meant to teach fictional stories. There are much more effective ways to teach stories, but I agree that the 5 paragraph essay is a good step in the learning process for students who need expository writing skills.
     
  18. TeacherGroupie

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    Um. Actually, the convention - a paragraph break for each new speaker - is one they should've learned in middle school, if not earlier, or at least they would if *I* ran the world.

    I've sometimes differentiated between little-p paragraph, which is the indented thing, and big-P Paragraph, which is the logical chunk - and fiction certainly still does need to be organized into logical chunks.
     
  19. TeacherGroupie

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    Well, and fiction also has its thesis and organizational pattern and needs to provide evidence: it's just that the evidence appeals to the senses more than to the intellect.
     
  20. each1teach1

    each1teach1 Cohort

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    Sorry for being grouchy earlier. I've been doing grad school research and run into that pay wall constantly and the mere sight of it ticked me off.

    I would agree with the useless of the 5 paragraph essay if that was an endpoint. If that's as far as you ever go as a writer, then you have been done a disservice. However, I feel that the 5 paragraph is supposed to serve as a starting point, a bare minimum. Get the kids here and then we can develop them even further. It's just like picture books don't resemble anything in the "real world". Doesn't mean it doesn't have it's place in the educational realm. Unfortunately some kids never progress beyond that or even get TO that point.
     
  21. Tyler B.

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    We teach expository writing by having the students analyze a strong professionally-written essay written for their grade level. I find these in children's magazines. After they pick it apart, they come up with "rules" for an expository essay, and we write several rough drafts in our journals. Then they pick one to refine and "publish" on our wall of honor.

    None of these fit the 5 Paragraph Essay format. I think if I were to teach that convention, I'd use the same process, however it's not an art form commonly found outside of academia.





    Favorite Teacher Blogs:
    http://ed-is-life.blogspot.com/ and http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/
     
  22. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    I don't find the five paragraph essay to be useless.
     
  23. KateL

    KateL Habitué

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    I know. My point was that my students associate paragraphs so strongly with the 5 paragraph format, that they don't know how to do paragraphs any other way. I think this points to a gross overuse of the 5 paragraph format in my district.
     
  24. TeacherGroupie

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    A gross misteaching, KateL, for sure.
     
  25. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I think the problem is that we don't teach extrapolation.

    Our kids are too literal. They need to be taught that a lot of what they've learned is a starting off place.

    In our technological society, there is no possible way to teach our kids all they'll ever need to know. We can't possibly predict what will come their way in the decades to come.

    But we can give them the basic frameworks, and teach them how to adapt those frameworks. So you teach them that 5 paragraph essay, and teach them how to write a cover letter, using the framework as a starting place: tell why you're writing, tell why you're the right candidate for the job, conclude with contact info. It may or may not be 5 paragraphs, but the basic structure is intact.

    Likewise, I teach geometric proofs. I tell my kids that, unless they teach geometry some day, they'll never do another one, but the proofs still have value. They're supposed to teach how to present-- and recognize-- a logical progression of thought. In a geometric proof, every statement you offer needs a reason. Think of the value of recognizing that as you watch a political debate, or argue for a promotion.

    I think that's the part we're missing-- the idea that what we're teaching isn't written in stone. It's a basic structure that can and should be adapted depending upon the circumstances.
     
  26. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    To qualify for my school, a student has to be at least a year behind in credits, so as you can imagine, they come with many, many gaps in their education. For many of our kids, junior high was a blur of suspensions, moves or severe at risk behavior. They remember little or nothing of what they should have been taught.

    The five paragraph essay is the necessary first step to get them to understand writing. If I didn't teach with that structure first, they would be completely overwhelmed. We read professional essays, and we analyze them for what works and what doesn't, but for the most part, they see those writers as people who possess some sort of "magical" skills that they'll never have. (I know that's not true, but convincing them of that at first is very difficult). So the five paragraph essay gives them a safe, effective starting point.
     
  27. queenie

    queenie Groupie

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    :yeahthat:

    When are they ever going to have to raise their hand to go to the bathroom or move their number to demonstrate where they are eating lunch again?? BUT they ARE going to have to be able to use both stated and perceived "rules" and "regulations" throughout life and respect authority and work/relationship/church/society guidelines just to get along with the rest of the world.
     
  28. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    While I agree that the 5 paragraph essay is not the most artful form of composition, it is a great assessment tool. As others have said, I do think it is an educational tool. A couple weeks ago, I had a class compare a song and the novel we had just finished reading. I asked them to compare based on plot, characters, and style, with a brief introduction and conclusion. This activity was not used to assess any composition standards. The purpose of this activity was for them to show me in a clear way their understanding of the novel and song.

    http://www.amazon.com/Reviving-Essa...=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339158787&sr=1-1

    This is the book I prefer on the topic, when talking about actual composition.
     
  29. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    As for other "useless" conventions - I wouldn't say math problems are "useless" - drill and practice of these skills is important. However, word problems and scenarios - application of the skills - is what really needs to be assessed. How often in life are you given a math problem to solve? Almost never. But how often are you in a situation where you need to first figure out how to set up the problem and then solve it mathematically? Probably almost daily. This has been severely lacking in math curricula that I have seen over the years.
     
  30. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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  31. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    That is exciting. My last school bought this book for all the ELA teachers in the district and we did several workshops with it throughout the year. I still use it a lot.
     
  32. greendream

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    Fiction does not have a thesis; it has a theme that is almost never directly stated.
     
  33. amakaye

    amakaye Enthusiast

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    Mind if I steal this explanation? Third grade is when we really get into paragraphs--including developing a complete paragraph to support an argument/answer, dividing writing into paragraphs (logical chunks), and paragraphing rules (indenting, dialogue, etc.). With so much to keep straight, I've struggled with explaining why a paragraph needs to be a fully developed idea, but one short line of dialogue needs to be its own paragraph. I think this may really help.
     
  34. TeacherGroupie

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    Which both misses my point and makes it. What I had in mind when I posted my claim that fiction has its thesis was narrative that is written on demand: the prompt for such texts generally is intended to elicit a story that makes a point ("The most influential teacher in my life was...", "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"): the writer who succeeds is the writer who keeps the prompt in mind while selecting details and story structure that reinforce the point. That point IS a thesis, in the sense that it takes a position that can be defended - "sold", so to speak, to a reader - and it is then up to the writer to choose a story and details therein that will sell that thesis.

    Larger works of fiction certainly do have themes (plural, not singular: the kid who thinks that there is one theme only to be identified in a book is the kid who's going to get stuck). Not all writers have themes in mind as they write, though some do; the reader who identifies a given theme does so on the basis of evidence that the writer gives, intentionally or otherwise, but the theme that the writer selects and for which the writer intentionally provides evidence will come across more strongly. More to the point, a description of a character ("Joe is lazy") is a thesis-like claim: the writer who convinces us that Joe is lazy is not the one who tells us so but the one who presents evidence of Joe's laziness; the evidence happens to consist of literary elements including characterization and sensory detail, but it is still evidence.

    My point is that telling kids that the concept "theme" belongs only to fiction and the concept "thesis" belongs only to nonfiction invites young writers to believe that the two concepts have nothing in common and therefore the skills that they have developed to deal with the one are inapplicable to the other.
     
  35. TeacherGroupie

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    You're welcome to it.
     
  36. greendream

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    Still, fiction does not have a thesis.
     
  37. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Very interesting discussion since I last logged in! Thanks for all of the interesting responses. I very much agree with the sentiment of those posting - that just because something may not eventually be used in the same exact form doesn't mean it doesn't have value for instructional purposes.

    In terms of kids who get stuck not being able to move beyond the form of the 5 paragraph essay, that's likely due to a lack of generalization which is, of course, one of the latter stages of learning. That lack of generalization is typically due to lack of instruction in generalization that should follow instruction of the "template" or specific topography of the skill itself. This point is I think one problem teachers often cite with standardized tests - if kids are only expected on tests to identify or perform a target skill, but not to transfer that skill to other areas or morph the skill to fit new instructional demands, generalization may not become a focus.

    So, it seems there is consensus that the 5 paragraph essay is useful. Assuming the premise of the post is valid that there may be useless conventions taught in school, can anyone identify any?
     
  38. TeacherGroupie

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    Sure, EdEd:

    Teaching kids that a sentence can never begin with "Because".
     
  39. monsieurteacher

    monsieurteacher Aficionado

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    You can't take 8 away from 7!
     
  40. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Because you can't ever do that? I wonder how many teachers teach this. Because, if there are a good number, that might be an issue.
     
  41. TeacherGroupie

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    Amazingly many, EdEd. Your examples aren't sentences, by the way: they're all subordinate clauses in search of main clauses to which to be moored.

    Because I'm reasonably well versed in English grammar, I can construct legal sentences that begins with "because" - and this sentence is itself an example.
     

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