Putting a Bullet in the Five Paragraph Essay

There's a great essay in this month's English Journal titled "The Five-Paragraph Essay and the Deficit Model of Education." In it UNC Charlotte WP representatives attack a 2007 column by Byung-In Seo defending this form. The article is a very interesting read, and the UNC WP pretty much crush Seo's article and any argument for formulaic writing.

I agree with the points in the article, but I still have a practical question. If not the five paragraph essay, then what? In the past, I have taught my kids that kind of thesis, restricted thesis, at least three body paragraph format because it seems like a good place to start to get students to at least flesh out that much (I know, deficit model). Then again, I've rarely been satisfied with the writing that comes out of assignments like the critical lens essay, controlling idea, etc. I think that most of us know how painful it is to score Regents exams (at least it was in the BPS), where only the top 10% are coherent and even less are original. Don't even get me started on the Task II essays (the factual reading).

So, I guess my question is, what is the alternative? Has anyone had success teaching essays* in any other format? What do you do?

* not personal essays, obviously, which lend themselves to more authentic organization.
** I'd put up a link to the essay, but you have to subscribe to EJ. If you do not, but would like to have a read, shoot me an email at malleyjoel@yahoo.com.


NWP/NCTE, San Antonio, TX

The WNYWP traveled down to San Antonio last week to attend the annual conventions of the National Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English. We had a wonderful time in a great city. To kick things off, we had a working dinner at The County Line, a restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The food was delicious, we shared thoughts and wrote to a writing prompt on a communal napkin (even though Jon Federick mistunderstood the assignment, as usual), and planned for our presentations the next day.

I didn't personally see much of the city outside of the Riverwalk, but I'm sure we'll hear plenty about San Antonio and see plenty of pictures at our open meeting Wednesday, December 10th at 4:30.

Our presentation went rather well, as we shared information about our use of technology within our site. Jon, Genevieve, Suzanne and I shared insights about digital video, blogging and our Red Carpet Inquiry. Thirty or so people piled into our room to check out our experiences, including NWP tech liaison coordinator Paul Oh and a representative from Google.


UB Anderson Gallery: Michael Goldberg

Well, I've been on post NCTE/NWP information overload for the past week and haven't had an opportunity to share. We recently received word from the UB's Anderson Gallery about a writing program they are offering. Here are the details:

The art of abstract expressionist painter Michael Goldberg is now on view at the University at Buffalo Anderson Gallery through January 18th, 2009.

The “Ode to Michael Goldberg: Selective Thievery and the Practice of Looking” exhibition consists of paintings and drawings on loan from the artist’s estate, Knoedler Gallery in New York City and seminal paintings in the university’s collection. The work in this exhibition traces the artist’s career from the early 1940s through the 1980s. Also highlighted in this exhibition are Goldberg’s art and poetry collaborations with poet Frank O’Hara.

A 28-minute long video “Bowery Studio Days” (1998-2000) that includes footage of Goldberg in the process of creating paintings in his studio, along with one-on-one interviews, is available for viewing in the gallery’s exhibition space. As a member of the influential New York School in the 1950s and 1960s, the artist drew influence from first generation abstract expressionist painters Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still and Franz Kline. Goldberg believed that art-making requires an engagement on the part of the artist with other works of art, both historical and contemporary. He stated simply, “art comes out of art.”

K-12 Teachers are invited to schedule exhibition tours for their students between December 8th 2008 and January 18th 2009. Available also for students are art activities based on Goldberg’s art, art making processes and collaborations with O’Hara. The activities are designed to address NYS Learning Standards and can be customized and included as tour-related follow-up sessions. To schedule a tour, discuss transportation options, or for further information, contact education curator Ginny Lohr at UB Anderson Gallery, 829-3754 or Email: ginny@andersongallery.org.


Tom O'Malley Published!

Our original Fellow, Tom O'Malley, is once more leading the way for us with his publications.
This time in conjunction with the opening of the new Burchfield Penny Gallery at Buffalo State College, Tom reflects on the importance of Burchfield's works.


Contemporary Writer Series

Long time fellow Debbie Beis sent this heads up about the last of Mich Cochrane's Contemporary Writer Series:
The "Contemprary Writers Series" is ten years old this year, and Mick Cochrane is to be congratulated on bringing so many fine authors to Canisius, with no cost to the public. At Ann Patchett's presentation, there were two groups of high school students in attendance, who had all read her newest novel,RUN. So other HS teachers should think of assigning a novel of a upcoming speaker, and reserving seats for your students to hear the author speak of his/her work. Not only do the authors read from their books, but they also share what they know of the craft of writing.
Uwem Akpan's SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM is his first book, and hs scoffed when someone in the audience asked him how he dealt with "fame." Maybe I shouldn't say "scoffed," because he actually giggled at the suggestion that he might be famous. He was delightful!

Ann Patchett
was very witty - one can tell that her command of language extends beyond the written word. She was easy to listen to, and she signed books for a very long time, long after the delectable desserts were just memories.
Mick has arranged for one more author to come this year, Rishi Reddi, who speak on Thursday, November 13, at 7:00 pm.
If you have the chance, check out Rishi Redd at Canisius on the above date. Thanks Debbie!


House on Mango Street Project

I think this is a good place to share writing ideas and projects that were successful. In that vein (am I using the right vein? Vain? Anyways...), my students are finishing reading The House on Mango Street. As part of the project, they wrote vignettes in some way related to their neighborhood or to themes in the novella. They composed their vignettes using Google Docs, shared them with me and their peers for editing/revision purposes, and ultimately "published" their pieces into web pages.

After they published their pieces (and thus creating individual URL's for their stories), we created a collaborative Google Map, plotted the location for each Vignette, and then hyperlinked our vignettes. Now you can scan the map, click on a push pin, and read student stories related to the novel. Next week we're going to discuss our collection much as we did Cisneros' book.

View Larger Map

Lisa Mangione in My View

Lisa Mangione, 2003 fellow (and my writing group sister), was published this morning in The Buffalo News' My View section. Take a look at her essay "It's tough to part ways with a good mechanic." Here's a snippet:

My mechanic broke up with me. Then again, I did cheat on him. After 10 years of fidelity I started to stray, despite the fact that the garage was convenient, the mechanic and his employees were honest, friendly and reliable and the service was solid.

So why did I stray? I believe the adage “you get what you pay for” is a theorem bordering on fact: I paid a premium for such service.