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“It doesn’t exemplify how we talk, how we write or how most essays you read are actually structured.” Consider paragraphs.They should be about one subject and then naturally shift when that subject changes, Olin explains.
She thinks it stifles creativity and “takes away the thinking process that is key for good writing.” And she says she’s not the only one worried that the structure doesn’t help students develop their writing.
In Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay, a book she wrote with Kristi Latimer (who teaches English Language Arts at Tigard High School in Oregon), Campbell cites research studies that critique the approach of teaching the five-paragraph essay.“Studies show that students who learn this formula do not develop the thinking skills needed to develop their own organizational choices as writers,” she says.
“It cheapens a student’s thesis, essay flow and structure, and voice.” A year later, her stance hasn’t budged.
“When I see five-paragraph essays come into the stack of papers, they invariably have this structural problem where the ceiling is so low, they don’t have time to develop a real thesis and a truly satisfying or convincing argument,” she says.
She wants students to read a variety of essays, and pay close attention to structure.
The students can then develop ideas in a writing workshop.“In fact, it is often used with students who have been labeled as struggling.Rather than supporting these students, or younger students, it does the opposite.” For his part, Hayes thinks the five-paragraph essay makes it easy to not be creative, not that it necessarily stifles creativity.She explains that later on, however, students need a looser structure that flows more with the way they’re thinking, especially if they go into the humanities.Kimberly Campbell, an Associate Professor and Chair of Teacher Education at the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling, is strongly opposed to the five-paragraph essay structure.Hayes says college writing instructors need to get students to understand that the reason their K-12 teachers kept assigning five-paragraph essays was because they were working with “100, 120, 150 students,” and a standardized writing assignment “that works the same way every time” is easier to read, assess and grade.In regards to students who leave K-12 with a “strong ability to write the five-paragraph essay,” he says, ““I don’t want to snap them out of it because I don’t want to dismiss that knowledge.” Take Mc Kenzie Spehar, a Writing and Rhetoric Studies major at the University of Utah.He believes creative students can work their imagination into any structure.Allen, the retired English professor, stresses that even if writing isn’t argumentative, it always needs some structure. She still stands by a piece she wrote in 2014; in it she said she was “being really brave” by stating she believes in teaching elementary school students “the good old fashioned” five-paragraph essay format.As they develop their content, they consider how to structure those ideas.“Students can explore a variety of organizational structures to determine what best supports the message of their essay,” Campbell says.