The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.
Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?
Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.
Some close reading/close writing ideas:
Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?
These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.
Years ago I read The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I didn’t have anyone to share my thoughts about it with, until later a friend casually mentioned she hated it. It never occurred to me until that moment that someone I loved wouldn’t love the book, too, or at least find some worthwhile metaphor. Those little moments, when we don’t connect with someone we love, are odd…but it happens. Life would be unbearably boring if we all thought and believed the same things. The thing that nags at me, though, is when we realize someone we love believes or has a different opinion, we often awkwardly dismiss the moment, and don’t ask their point of view or perspective. It’s like we’re trying to be polite and not come off as challenging or argumentative. (Because especially us ladies…oh boy do we ever get in a pickle when we state our opinions…)
But these are not discussions about literary preferences, or who prefers microbrews to martinis. Some have a chemical hatred of cilantro, while others find its presence the only thing that matters. (I am the latter.) This is about something that cuts, and has cut us all, much more deeply, and perhaps left some scars. There is no denying in our nation’s point in history we are in deep, deep trouble, and not necessarily all because of who’s in office. We hate each other now, and if we don’t hate, we are suspicious to a terrifying degree.
If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.
Numbers 1 and 2 are where the wheels came off my bus, so to speak. And, in fairness, I am wondering if I’m now experiencing my own media saturation, or “availability bias,” jumping at every shadow — because there are so many now–
Rothschild blamed politicians for overstating the terrorist risk. Media saturation is also to blame. Having ready access to images of every atrocity known to mankind makes us prone to what behavioral scientists call “availability bias,” the tendency to give weight to what comes to mind most easily. The blanket coverage of the Sept. 11th attacks successfully seared the images of terrorism on our brains; shootings, which happen every day and—with the exception of a few mass shootings—are largely ignored, have less of an effect.
We are all jumping at shadows, but unfortunately, many of those shadows have weapons.
It is one thing when strangers have unfounded beliefs, but a whole ‘another issue when it’s a relative or close friend.
And that is when I lost my stuff.Calling Obama a “fascist” is so distorted and wrong– and I had the painful anagnorisis** that not only was my relative living in some distortion field that so many of his race, gender, background, and beliefs led him to.
“‘Hope and Change’ is over.” ***
Taking a pause here: I stand by the Politifact article:
It does what I wish all students and citizens would do: take a step-by-step analysis and provide CONTEXT AND COUNTERARGUMENTS. Yes, big all-caps. Without context no discussion is possible.
In this entire post, there is one nugget I want my relative, and others, to take away–and this is discourse 101.
Do your own damn homework.
Analyze the facts, truths, and opinions in a piece. Facts are quantifiable data: truths are personal beliefs, and opinions are positions. Sometimes truths and opinions can get a little muddy. Anecdotal evidence is not facts.
Annotate the sources and statements, and find three credible resources that support and refute the claims. And consider: how is it being supported? To what gain? And how is it being refuted, a “because I told you so?” statement or other findings?
A credible resource: finding and curating credible resources does not mean that the source can’t be argued or debated. It can be an opinion piece that uses data and facts to support claims. Often reading what is NOT there is the critical piece.
About this time I turned off notifications, so I didn’t see his comments asking if I had read the EO: in truth, I had read some of the highlights from various news sources, including his preferred sources.
As acting attorney general, Ms. Yates picked the fight of her life on Monday when she ordered the Justice Department not to defend President Trump’s executive order blocking refugees and restricting immigration to the United States. Ms. Yates became convinced, based on the president’s own statements, that he had intended to unlawfully single out Muslims, senior officials said.
“We have comments from the president about what this is supposed to do,” Ms. Yates said in one meeting on Monday, according to two people involved in the discussions. She later added, “The intent was clear from the face of it.”
And here is John Green, who somehow manages to do the smart, calm thing, and provide a piece about this EO:
Little, little men, with little little hands are capable of changing who we are, who we want to be, and all the laws of the land may not be able to stop them.
What is my conclusion in all this? Am I feeling more heartsick and discouraged, or calmer, with clarity? Yes, the latter. I am not going to engage in these pointless battles. If the person on the other end wants to reach clarity and purpose, understand that we can disagree, but have to do so with facts and strong listening skills. (My “grow up” comment does not fit this category.)
So yes, that is the president’s press secretary rationalizing why it was important to our national security and safety to handcuff a five-year-old. Most of the things happening now come from their own mouths, on tape. They can try to gaslight us all they want, but we are not the same 20th century generation– we are far worse, and far better. It’s about understanding the onslaught of information, and not allowing their lies to stand. It isn’t fake news. If anyone wonders why most Americans are fighting so hard to end his time in office before he and his ilk destroy the Constitution, maybe you’ll join us, too, once you see for yourself.
But I won’t hold my breath: I’ll breathe and keep working to make things right.
*Not sure how The Daily Beast stacks up. To research later.
Not in any particular order, this is my own curated list of what I perceive as the hugely influential, double-edged swords of structure from 2016. Warning: I will not apologize for analyzing politics in this post (see #4). If you’re fed to the teeth and just want some ideas, skip over words. We’re all feeling like children whose parents are in the beginning stages of a dysfunctional divorce: still a lot of yelling, we don’t know if we want to live with mom or dad, lawyers have been contacted, and broken glass to clean up. And no one’s seen the family pet for days.
Comments in Political Posts and the Great Unfriending
Repeated Article Loop
Book Lists and Reading Challenges
On-line Shared Annotations
Perhaps one of the most telling of all is the P-E’s use or misuse of Twitter.
Though he’s tweeted hundreds of misspelled, egregious, taunting and terrible tweets, for some reason this one sent me over the edge, well the original version, not the sarcastic People for Bernie Sanders version:
Perhaps what did it (sent me over the edge and all) was someone’s comment about how we all just need to suck it up, he’s our president now, too damn bad, stop crying, stop whining, etc.
And I need to point out — what he said, what he tweeted, clearly says he is NOT my president by HIS WORDS. He called me his enemy, someone who fought him, “lost so badly” that now I’m in a fog, whimpering and wandering around like a lost child at a county fair.
What exactly does he “Love!”?
Twitter is as high or low as humanity brings to its 140 characters. It’s been a good source for me to add to my PLN, tweet out random #haikuoftheday for fun, and things of that nature. Now I don’t know if I can look away, or look more closely. I don’t have an idea.
At this point, there are probably fake news stories on how to combat fake news. Teach media literacy, make it relevant, make it matter. Liken fake news to a fake rumor, and how devastating that can be personally, and imagine a whole nation being harmed, literally and figuratively, by fake news on a grand scale.
We’re all guilty of it, clicking on what we know is click-bait. That easy lure of outrageous headlines promising some juicy reward while our cheeks are pierced by sharp objects. It would be a great mini-lesson or mini-unit to have student analyze the structure of click bait and how it changes their psychological views.
Comments in Political Posts and The Great Unfriending
I went to tag someone on a teacher post the other day and noticed I lost another Facebook acquaintance, and have no hard feelings. How could I? I use social media for a variety of purposes, but mostly, and unfortunately for some, it’s my ‘thinking out loud place’ and sometimes my inner voice is pretty damn loud.
We’re all going to have to set our own journalistic best practices as we move forward and be clear that our posts are ours, and if you comment, do so at your own risk. If you decided my (over)posting and sharing of information is not for you, then I completely respect that. If nothing else it is my contention that we are in control of our own narratives, and if we don’t want to blend our colors into one another’s then we should never feel obligated to do so.
But you might miss out on that great cocktail recipe. Just sayin.’ Passing up the details of my recent gall bladder surgery, well, don’t blame you.
Relabeling and Code Switching
This is one structural/literary choice/device that needs to be examined much more thoroughly. This is Orwellian doublethink at a mastery level.
Alt-Right means NazSupremacistsemicists/Domestic Terrorists.
“CITE EVIDENCE” means “I’m firing my misdirection shotgun to make you try to spend the time to prove something I’m not going to believe anyway.”
Mansplaining: A misandric term meaning when someone patronizingly “helps” to fill in the background knowledge for someone else. It is observed by a man or woman who explains to another woman what is happening.
Repeated Article Loop
The repeated or republished article is an interesting device– I included it in this structure series because while reading any narrative, flashbacks and foreshadowing are regular solid tools to move a reader through a narrative–and the repeated article, and I’ll include Facebook’s “Shared Memory” device, does the same purpose. This can be good and not so good, especially not so good when it plays house with Fake News. Some stories are repeated so often, and intentionally they use an old photograph from another incident.
Note to social media and big mega software folks: Please bring back i-Google. Okay. That’s never going to happen. But invent an organized way people can read an article, and then share it to an album and organize it, and it won’t go back in their feed. Yes, something like bookmarks, and folders, but in that media source.
Lest you think I’m all doom-gloom (hey, I didn’t make this mess!) I have some heartening news, too. Turns out my master’s thesis of using children’s literature to engage students wasn’t too far off the mark. (Insert a mini-eye roll emoji here.)
I have fallen in love with BookRiot and Nerdy Book Club. The format and structure of these sites are simple: curate lists of books that a reader might love. This type of literary world-wide book club is dangerous for my budget, though, because I want all the books!
The word choice of “challenge” is interesting to me, as well as the choice of ‘lists.’ Challenge and lists implies plowing through, and not necessarily joyfully. I use these words, too, but wonder if there will be another approach that is less perfectionistic, completism, or competitive.
As we move toward bigger and grander conversations, it’s my hope we use our technology for idea and question sharing — stil think Genius and other on-line share annotation tools and sites are pretty cool.
Much ado is being made about age these days. Maybe it’s my own resentment of being a digital pioneer, and constantly being reminded I’m in charge of training children for jobs that don’t exist yet (for Pete’s sake, it’s not like I’m asking them to be farriers or corset-stay carvers!) At the NCCE, included in one lecture’s description was “NOT YOUR PARENTS’ TEXTBOOK!” which, yes, using the “o” word — offended me a tad. And not only am I playing a shoddy offense but defense as well. In this political climate my sons’ generation is constantly maligned: labeled entitled, privileged, whiny, and naive. My friend John Spencer gets it. VSauce has a great video about “Juvonoia,” the idea that younger generations are lame.
So I suppose if those younger than I are a bit miffed and allow for casual ageism to creep into the conversations, I must try not to cast my own disapproving glare.
But ageism is actually quite horrifying. We’re all living longer, and creating a world where each generation gets a little smarter (thank you unleaded gasoline!) and a bit more savvy with all these critical thinking skills we’ve been touting. We’re creating awesome smart monsters humans. And while young folks may think of us as “elders” in their capitulating apologies, it has very real consequences.
Yes, young woman, you are contributing quite a bit. But over-40s are not quite “elders” yet.
So why does this get to me? Perhaps because it has an ‘ism’ at the end. “Ism’s” connote binary decision making: yes or no, black or white, up or down. Ageism is permission to assume someone cannot learn something about anything, but usually, especially technology, because they are old. Is it as bad as racism? I can’t make that claim. Its consequences may mean someone doesn’t get hired, so while we elders are trying to pay for our millennials’ college, we also can’t save for retirement. This article feels like a biography. Ageism decreases opportunity and allows for mocking on good days, and discrimination on bad. There’s that binary thinking again.
So, tiny examples: if I see something cool, guess what I do? I try to figure out how it was done. One of my little goals right now is to create gif doodles. Believe it or not, I can’t find any good tutorials, and this is making me feel a bit doddy. But they’re so cool! Not as cool as the Silicon Valley holographic mustache, but still…
Is there something you’d like to learn how to do? Can anyone help me with this? I’ve fallen in a gif and can’t get up!
Sometimes I wonder how we adults take a stance on things we do not do well ourselves: sometimes we don’t get it right when it comes to social media etiquette, so how can we expect our students to do so? We are all connected and wired to one another, and have equally sized megaphones drowning out respect and ideas. Determining when to cut loose or when to strengthen bonds is challenging sometimes. My decade-long love affair with the written word on a computer screen is still in the honeymoon phase. But not all my friends and colleagues have enjoyed this delicious means of communication. Mordechai Luchins wrote an article for GeekDad, “Why You Should Teach Your Kids to Unfriend Without Guilt.” The take-away:
Remember, your feed/wall is your digital home. If you see that someone is not someone you’d want to invite to hang out in your real house, why would you invite them into your virtual one?
We haven’t had guests in our real home in a long time: this weekend my brother-in-law is coming out for some July 4th hijinks: it was great to have this real goal of getting the house back in some shape: it’s not a dirty house, but became cleaner. We pushed to get our air conditioning fixed, and did other house projects. Point being: we do decide how we want to present ourselves in our real and digital lives. Be mindful, and hopeful. There are some rules of thumb, though, you may want to keep in mind (and help students understand, too).
3. Be clear in intent: I cannot help or defend when someone thinks I’m self-promoting, self-aggrandizing, or proselytizing. To be fair, if someone knows me well, they know I am a thinker and curious. Sometimes this ‘seeing all sides’ thing drives my husband crazy, who is capable of seeing a situation or controversy in clean lines. Since being judged as someone who is just a pot-stirrer, I am increasingly mindful of stating intent in potentially controversial posts. But I reserve the right to state a claim, too.
4. Perspective. The Internet has done a great job at creating a chum-bucket of click bait. If you intend to litigate every post, you will have no time to watch those cat videos. Be respectful of perspectives, and don’t lose sight that people bring a whole lot of unspoken personal truths with them everywhere they go, virtual spaces most of all.
5. Share and Share Alike. If you link an article or idea that someone else has written a statement or idea about, link the entire thing, including their comment or insight. You are welcome to state your own ideas/opinions in your forum.
6. Share and Shake It Off. If someone forgets to @yournamehere, let it go, too. The Internet is an echo chamber, and inherently serves the intention and will to repost and share good articles and ideas. What fascinates me is how it’s altered the art of conversation: our minds work like Reddit feeds now: layer upon layer, so far down the rabbit hole, we can’t possibly keep track of everything that sparks our interests.
7. No Quarter. If you still see someone’s posts, but they never comment on yours or give you a ‘thumb’s up,’ it means they’ve hidden your posts; you’re not ‘unfriended.’ In my personal experience, I can only infer that I have posted way too many controversial/political posts and it’s fatiguing for most colleagues. It’s okay. Curate your own information, too. (Pinterest has become my haven for my virtual bulletin boards, as has Tumblr.)
8. U and Me. Don’t assume everything posted by a colleague is their personal gospel: perhaps they are wanting to engage a conversation about a topic and get different points of view. I know that is why I post many things, because I am curious, not judgmental. I enjoy thinking about something from many perspectives. (See #3.)
9. Sins. We humans, so full of flaws. I have had to hide friends’ posts because I can’t see one more shot of their toes in Hawaiian surf, or when someone pontificates in political diatribe that offers no room for dialogue. It’s not that I don’t want them to have their vacation, of course I do, and I truly honor free speech. But these things can distract us from our core selves, and get our own purposes splintered.
Though this is intended for business, it serves us educators, too: (Click to make larger.)
10. Fuggedaboutit. As my esteemed friend says, Rule #10 is break the rules. If it’s important to you to say and think, you will find a way to do so. Nothing is as protected as a good, old-fashioned journal or idea list.