What If I Want to Write Six Paragraphs?

As a math major1 who struggled with the formality of my English classes (diagramming sentences is a plot worthy of Dr. Evil), I found much to relate to in this post by an English teacher and published in, of all places, the National Council of Teachers of English blog.

The five paragraph essay was a core of my writing instruction from middle school through undergraduate work and I guess it must be still if she’s writing about it in 2016. In case you’ve forgotten (I had to look it up), this is a strictly-enforced writing structure consisting of an introductory paragraph, three paragraphs to support and develop your idea (never more than one idea!), and a concluding summary paragraph. Tell ‘em what you’re going to say, say it, tell ‘em what you said. I always suspected it was an artificial school construct since I rarely saw the form used in the real world.

So let’s just cut through the first two parts of her essay and jump to the last paragraph.

In conclusion, the five-paragraph essay is an effective way to remove all color and joy from this earth. It would be better to eat a flavorless dinner from a partitioned plate than to read or write a five-paragraph essay. It would be better to cut one’s toenails, because at least the repetitive task of clipping toenails results in feet more comfortably suited to sneakers, allowing for greater movement in this world. The five-paragraph essay, by contrast, cuts all mirth and merit and motion from ideas until there is nothing to stand upon at all, leaving reader and writer alike flat on their faces. Such an essay form is the very three-partitioned tombstone of human reason and imagination.

Yep, that pretty much summarizes my feelings.

Although I produced a lot of written material for my teachers in high school and college, I never really learned to write until I started blogging (we can argue about that “learned to write” part later) and had a good reason to. By that time I had long since forgotten the processes required in those academic courses, as evidenced by the rambling, often poorly thought out posts in this space.

However, I wonder how many students actually use the five paragraph essay format after they leave the academic setting. How applicable is it today in a world where so much material is produced for posting online, not for print?

But I’m a math major, so English teachers, tell me how wrong I am.

The Grammar of Hyperlinks

During his session at EduCon, Bud Hunt tried to make the case that hyperlinks might be adjectives.

At the time I wasn’t convinced (more likely I didn’t understand :-), but in this post he offers some good examples of the concept.

Aside from that, the discussion about writing for the web that Bud lead was a highlight of last weekend.

[Hopefully videos from this and other EduCon sessions will be posted soon]

Exploring the Bottom of the Barrel

A writer, who now is actually making a living at his craft, wants to tell his “horrible secret”.

For several years he earned money by writing term papers for students unable or unwilling to do the work themselves (including more than a few elementary education majors).

In the time he spent in the business, he notice three general categories of customers, the largest of which was Dumb Clients.

They should not be in college. They must buy model papers simply because they do not understand what a term paper is, much less anything going on in their assignments. I don’t believe that most of them even handed the papers in as their own, as it would have been obvious that they didn’t write them. Frequently I was asked to underline the thesis statement because locating it otherwise would have been too difficult. But that sort of thing was just average for the bottom of the barrel student-client.

To really understand how low the standards are these days, we must lift up the barrel and see what squirms beneath. One time, I got an e-mail from the broker with some last-minute instructions for a term paper – “I told her that it is up to the writer whether or not he includes this because it was sent to me at the last minute. So if you can take a look at this, that is fine, if not I understand.” The last-minute addition was to produce a section called “BODY OF PAPER” (capitals sic). I was also asked to underline this section so that the client could identify it. Of course, I underlined everything but the first and last paragraphs of the three-page paper.

Lots of educational experts and politicians would read this article and conclude that it’s the K12 teachers who did a lousy job of preparing these “dumb clients” for college work.

However, I wonder if the problem might instead be that not every student should be attending college after they graduate from high school.

Or it could be that teachers need to reconsider whether the “classic” term paper is still a valuable learning experience in a time when finding one is just a Google away.

I’m a former math teacher who never assigned research papers so I’ll let someone else address that last one.

21st Century Keyboarding Skills

This past week was a busy one as we met with all of our elementary school-based trainers and, since we have an overly-large number of elementary schools, that meant four full days.

Interacting with all these talented people is the best part and the liveliest discussions this time around centered on the topic of teaching keyboarding.

Specifically, at what grade level should we start teaching kids formal typing skills? Or should we be teaching formal skills at all? Is there another technique that would be more appropriate?

I added my opinions to the mix, of course, but I’m pretty sure I was in the minority. Which is why I’m throwing out my thoughts here where everyone else can ignore them. :-)

Many of our elementary schools teach classic typing skills to 3rd graders, often by taking them to a computer lab on a regular schedule and having them work with an interactive program.

That software uses techniques that are really not much different from those used in the formal keyboarding classes many of us took in high school (and which have disappeared from that level around here).

However, that curriculum came from a time when typing was an analog process on mechanical devices.

Developing speed and accuracy was important because everything you did was largely permanent. Fixing typos was messy and it was very time consuming to revise documents.

Digital devices, which come in many forms (including those that look nothing like a typewriter), make text manipulation a much more flexible process.

Accuracy becomes less important since students can easily make corrections (most text editors will even mark the errors) and revise their work. Not to mention that writing should be more collaborative and less an isolated activity.

And what about speed? Well, I’m not worried about that. Look at how fast our kids can work the clunky input device for texting on most cell phones.

I know, I know… they use a lot of short cuts in communicating with text messaging. And an IM is much shorter than a research paper.

However, it does show that students will learn to operate a keyboard faster all by themselves IF we give them a good reason to do that.

All of this doesn’t mean we don’t need to help very young children learn the basic of using this convoluted entry device known as the QWERTY keyboard.

But there must be better ways to do it than using a curriculum from early in the past century designed for single-purpose hardware.

Guilty… Sort of

The Blog Herald asks Do You Blog While at Work?

Well, I suppose that depends on what you mean by “blog”.

I’m not trying to be evasive. It’s just that the process known as blogging has many components – research, reading, initial writing, thinking, rewriting, more rewriting, more thinking, still MORE rewriting, and, finally, hitting the Publish button.

Anyone who does this on a regular basis can tell you that it’s pretty much impossible to separate all those parts from your work life. Or any other part of life for that matter.

I’m lucky to have a job here in the overly-large school district where some research and reading on a wide variety of education and technology topics are all part of the routine.

Plus I have a large network of colleagues from whom I get all kinds of ideas and information.

All of it is potential fodder for this little rantfest.

Most of the actual writing and all the publishing occurs outside the work day, either early in the morning or right after I get home.

I do plead guilty, however, to doing a lot of thinking about what I’m going to write during the work day. Especially during some of the pointless meetings I’m required to sit through. :-)

Side note: Read those steps in the blogging process again. Isn’t that what we want our students to be doing as they learn to write?