Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Testing and The Five-Paragraph Essay

I want to start out with this statement: There is no such thing as a five-paragraph essay. That is my belief and I stand by it completely. I have never blogged about it. I just believe it. Actually, I have avoided the subject because it is popular with many teachers. However, after having a conversation with a friend who teaches at a local university and discussing this issue, I decided it was time to make my feelings clear.  There is no such thing as a five-paragraph essay.

Beginning my career as a district coach, I was working with some fifth grade teachers. We worked on writing good narrative pieces. We worked on writing informative feature articles. But one day one of the teachers asked me, "When are we going to learn about the five-paragraph essay?"  My answer?  "Never!" 

Taking some thoughts from Kelly Gallagher in his book, Write Like This, he says after doing lots of searches in books, newspapers, magazines and speeches, it became apparant that "in the real world, there is no such thing as a five-paragraph essay."  Using mentor texts as models for writing, you will never find one to use while teaching this. Kelly says, "If our goal is to develop lifelong writers, and we recognize that the five-paragraph essay doesn't exist in the real world, then why are we still hammering it into our students' heads?"

Yes, I can hear the idividuals who belive in this form now...'But my students struggle without that type of structure.'  Yes, students do need structure. The structure they need is to write with a beginning, middle and end to their pieces. When they do this it might turn out to be a four paragraph essay or a fourteen paragraph essay. It is whatever they need to achieve the purpose of the piece. The paragraph just needs a beginning, a middle and an ending.

As students are getting ready for the state testing, some teachers believe they need that structure to do well on the test. That is not true. Teach them to write well all year, and they will do fine on the test. Use a good piece of writing as a mentor text, and students will do well.  I love the example of going to the doctor.  When I go for my yearly exam, I do not exercise like crazy the week before.  I do not eat lots of fruits and vegetables. I do not suddenly go on a diet. No, I try to live a healthy life all year long. That is the same with writing. Write all year long.  Write lots. Write various genres. Enjoy writing!
As Kelly says, "Let's teach our students to write well first, and the concern over testing will resolve itself."

Check out Kelly's website at:  

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