Wednesday, July 13, 2005

One-sentence paragraphs are bad

There's a mounting body of evidence that shows that teaching to the test has a deleterious effect on schools. Here's more:

"MEAP [Michigan's standardized test] is not what writing is about, but it's what testing is about," Ms. Karnes said. "And we know if we teach them the five-paragraph essay formula, they'll pass that test. There's a lot of pressure to do well on MEAP. It makes the district seem good, helps real estate values." [NYT]


There it is. Writing isn't whats really important, it's filling in a formula. How often does anyone in the real world use a five paragraph essay? Read a business plan, a newspaper story or column, an advertisement, a speech, anything -- where is the five paragraph formula? It's ludicrous and it's become a near exclusive focus in schools. Note the irony in the article from the New York Times yesterday:

... [T]he five-paragraph essay has become the law of the land: introductory paragraph; three supporting paragraphs, each with its own topic sentence as well as three supporting ideas; and summary paragraph.

Students lose points for writing a one-sentence paragraph.


One-sentence paragraphs -- as evidenced by the NYT writer -- clearly have no place in sophisticated writing.

I like the perspective of one of the teachers featured in the article:

Ms. Karnes isn't totally against the formula. "For kids struggling, if you can give them a formula and they fill in the blanks, some will pass the MEAP test who wouldn't otherwise," she said. "But it turns into a prison. It stops you from finding a kid's potential."

Even for those that are not struggling, it's not bad to start with the five paragraph format because it's simplistic and manageable. But, as Mrs. Karnes so aptly put it, it becomes a prison. I've struggled with this in my own teaching. I try to teach my students what the norm is and then I encourage them -- and hopefully inspire them -- to go beyond it.

With the ever increasing focus on testing, that'll be harder to do.

1 Comments:

Blogger Steve said...

And I'll bet you like to gratuitously split infinitives.

3:01 AM  

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