Is the Five-Paragraph Essay History? asks Stephen Sawchuk on Education Week Teacher.
Critics say the five-paragraph essay — introduction with a thesis, three paragraphs each with a topic sentence and supporting details, and a conclusion — is too rigid, he writes. Defenders say it’s a first step.
The popular workshop model doesn’t provide enough support to weaker students, Mark Anderson, a New York City teacher, tells Sawchuk. “The (five-paragraph) structure guides them to organizing their ideas in a way that is very clear, and even if they’re very much at a literal level, they’re at least clearly stating what their ideas are,” he said.
Common Core standards stress argumentative and informative writing over personal narratives, writes Madeline Will. “David Coleman, the lead architect of the English/language arts portion of the common core, famously justified the switch in 2011 by telling a group of educators that ‘as you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think’.”
Core writing is all about citing evidence from a text to support a thesis.
James A. Dittas, who teaches in a Tennessee high school, writes about how he’s changed writing instruction to meet Core standards.
“I learned how to craft text-dependent questions and I began assigning longer essays and research papers that required evidence from the texts that we were already reading,” he writes.
He’s more likely to require “an essay analyzing the author’s use of heroic elements in Beowulf” than a poster about the epic hero. Debate and drama must meet a Core objective. The April poetry unit is out. Even “journaling” must address “text-based questions” rather than “personal or current-event-related prompts,” he writes.
The pendulum always swings too far in education.
When I was in high school, we did nothing but expository writing using a structure called the 3-3-3 paragraph. There were no introductions or conclusions, just a thesis sentence supported by topic sentences supported by three (or more) “concrete and specific details.” We hated it. But we learned how to support a thesis.