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.
Yesterday I spent 15 minutes searching for a website/resource I want to use this year. I couldn’t find it in my bookmarks, or remember its name, just that I discovered them at NCCE, and could have sword that I wrote about them in a post-convention post. Nope. Nowhere. But I did find it in my bookmarks, (forgot which browser I had it on), and gathered the needles and built a new haystack for colleagues.
(I really need to do a better job of tagging these posts.)
“Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words corresponded to may help very young children master new vocabulary,” Saffran said in a statement.
That’s a helpful tip for parents and teachers, but overall, the study highlights yet another cognitive obstacle facing low-income children. Not only do poor children hear fewer words than rich ones—the gap is estimated to reach 30 million words by age 3—they are more likely to live in loud environments, as McMillan and Saffran write. Their homes are more crowded, their schools are closer to highways, and they spend more time watching TV. (This phenomenon would help explain why children living in urban poverty have lower verbal working-memory scores than those in rural environments.
I would add another noise factor, too, and that is digital noise. Right now I am on overload because of the conventions, the news media, Twitter, Facebook, news outlets, sources, opinions, etc. I am obsessed with politics right now, and cannot seem to break away. Like many educators, I sense I am not alone in this compelling urgency to believe that learning and knowledge can triumph and rescue this historical moment. So I keep reading. I keep analyzing. And the curse of close reading is making my head hurt.
But this — all this — is a luxury, a privilege, of being a reader and thinker. Of growing up in a household, modest to be sure, but where quiet ruled. Where we were allowed to read as long as chores were done, and have mercy on our souls if we woke our mom up from a nap. Being alone and having space in one’s own head was a given growing up. Now I see it not as there wasn’t much else to do, but a gift.
Last year I had two semesters of Computer Skills for my elective. Though technology for publication and communication have always been the standards I’ve employed in my classrooms, this particular elective provided the chance to focus on some newer technologies not attached to content. One project was a podcast. Well, this exercise reminded me of the noise pollution in many homes. (It’s not relegated to homes in poverty, either. Some houses always have a television on, or music playing.) A diligent and creative student came to me in frustration because while she was trying to record her podcast at home she found it near impossible due to everyone else’s level of noise and interruptions. And though we have a room in our building intended for podcasting and filming, it’s been taken over with junk and other things, and proves inhospitable to recording. (I’m going to ask admin if this can be resolved next year, or at least clean out a space of our own for recording.) This is the question: how to make school/classrooms have those quiet/sacred places and times in the day?
This hearkens back to a great discussion on Notice and Note about homework. Not all students have a quiet place to read, practice, etc. I have homeless students. I have students who sleep on mattresses without sheets or blankets. I have students who have disabled siblings that require all the energy and care their parents can provide, leaving them to their own. There is not judgment here, only pragmatism. If I am aware as a teacher that some students face staggering challenges at home, isn’t it my direct purpose to provide reason and solace in the classroom? To explain and make transparent I am not asking for quiet because it makes life better for me, but a gift for them? And trust me — this is one of the most challenging things to do–getting students to be comfortable in their own heads. One student experienced such deep trauma, and was able to share with me that when it was quiet she was not in control of her thoughts just yet. Be aware of this, too, and come up with alternatives.
Middle school students, and probably high school ones, too, fight against all research and reason about multi-tasking. Perhaps it’s time to reframe the conversation and tell them what noise pollution damaged, and how to change habits.
Big talk coming from someone who can’t stop reading.
Okay — I’ll take the dog for a walk. Maybe I won’t even try to catch Pokemon, either.
For years, (and I am not being hyperbolic) I found that no novel, no news article, heck, not even a cereal box would cross my path without my examination of every word in close detail of where and what and how and when some text passage would spark my EUREKA! LOOK AT THIS CHARACTER RELATIONSHIP TO SETTING! This happened long before I heard the term ‘close reading.’ Annotating, discussion points, questioning, digging…on and on. The (over) analysis of literature, news, history, politics, religion, movies, poetry– and yes — cereal boxes, no longer came to me with just the need to read [say this in a Top Gun voice of ‘I feel the need for speed’]. I didn’t need to read for myself, I needed to read through every students’ brain that came into my classroom.
My best conversations about narrative are always with my husband. But even now, I sometimes tell him I don’t want to analyze what we’re watching, which probably hurts his feelings. I don’t blame him. We did manage to enjoy this anthology’s selection of True Detective, and if you say one word against Vince Vaughn’s performance we can’t be friends anymore. I did have one scuffle with a friend over her inability to appreciate the sad, sweet frosting that is The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’m not married to her, so I let it go.
But you see how this goes, right? That what we love and share is as close to our hearts as anything can be? And if we love reading, and then must dissect it, masticate it, and regurgitate for others to find the path…then…(don’t worry: I’m going to get to a good place with this).
Another place that’s mine to share when discussing books is a book club one of my dearest friends started. There are several members, mostly NOT teachers, which provides a refreshing place to discuss books. My friend’s turn to choose came up, and she thought a classic would be in order, so she shared her love, Pride and Prejudice. I went through a “Jane Austen” phase in my late 30s, having not read any of her work in high school. I loved them. I got them. And I saw connection after connection between her genuis of writing about social foibles in her time and the relevancy to today. Now, one of my friend’s friends asked her if it was okay to just watch the movie. I don’t blame her. The text was written in 1813, for Elizabeth Bennet’s sake, and it’s hard to make heads or tails out of it.
Take this passage:
“Pride, observed Mary, who who piqued herself upon the solidity of her reflections, “is…
Austen, Jane (2008-02-11). Pride and Prejudice (Kindle Location 216). Dolphin Books. Kindle Edition.
Translation: This girl likes her own opinions.
We all know this girl. The one who interjects into every conversation her personal wisdom and sage advice.
Am I sure that’s what it means? No. I didn’t look up Sparknotes, or talk about it, or have a scholarly discussion about Jane Austen. I JUST KNOW.
I promised someplace good with this. Some kind of wake for my loss of my reading life. A fête, perhaps.
But here is that slow-burn epiphany: I signed up for this. It doesn’t matter that my inner reading life is no more: I am a teacher now, and all that matters is that I help ease the path for reading, and making meaning, for students. Just like parenting responsibilities, teaching is a biggie. It’s not an avocation or hobby. But unless I get back my own engagement in the conversation with students, it’s going to feel like work. (It did last year, but last year was fraught with a dearth of imagination and abundance of negativity, lack of scope, lack of growth mindset, and just plain bad manners. I can’t abide bad manners.)
But that was last year. This is now. I still love to discuss ideas: ideas from books, movies, graphic novels, politics, media, and world events, past, present and future. As long as I show students that close reading is just a tool to help make reading easier–easier to access the ideas–then it’ll be okay. Close reading, and my internal dialogue and connections with writers’ craft, still delights and engages me, and makes me feel smart and confident. I want my students to share in the same gift.
Wanted to share a great discussion about how students can use personal connection to interact with text more deeply. I cannot remember which educational scholar suggested never to use personal connections when discussing text, but it doesn’t sit right. Every text is personal at some level: it’s the getting beyond the personal that creates critical thinking.
This is also where leveled reading comes in. No matter how good the teacher is, reading complex stuff can be exhausting. Kids need variety, says Willingham, and lots of books that they can read on their own, without much struggle.
The hope, says Willingham, is for these easier texts to build a reader’s confidence and create “a virtuous cycle where, the more you read the more you see yourself as a reader. You’re also picking up more background knowledge. You’re picking up more vocabulary. All of these things sort of feed on one another.” And help when it’s time for the next complex text.
Let’s go back to that reading-as-swimming analogy. It turns out, learning to swim requires both ends of the pool. And, ideally, kids reach a point where they can simply glide under the divider and choose for themselves.
Move to pairings of stories, the many tales we share and hear every day, from the most innocuous, mundane questions, to the powerful stories of perseverance and stamina.
So here it is — every story is personal. If you are a human, you have parents. In class the other day, a colleague shared this story book:
She is quiet and kind: I could ask her why she shared this book, what it means to her, but perhaps her own personal story is just that — personal. We cannot disconnect ourselves from our connected, collective consciousness, and I will challenge anyone who suggests otherwise. The trick is to not allow students’ thinking to be truncated by stopping right at the text nor ending the conversation with a personal anecdote or connection: circle back around. That’s how it’s done.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)