Slay the Monster!

“How many of you,” I asked my students, “were taught to write the five-paragraph essay in high school?” Every student in the class raised a hand. 



by Kathleen Dudden Rowlands

I’m teaching the English Methods class in our credential program, and I knew from entries in my students’ Writer’s Reader’s Notebooks (Rief) that they were struggling with the articles I assigned about the five-paragraph essay. Some were shocked to learn of the long-term instructional damage that focusing on form before attending to the interplay among purpose, audience, and content has on developing writers (Durst; Pirie; Tremmel). Such a form-first instructional focus is not “scaffolding” as many claim, but a leftover from the current-traditional rhetoric of the mid-nineteenth century. Form-first instruction severely misrepresents composing’s complex, messy, recursive nature (Hillocks). This oversimplification by form-first instruction gets in the way of enabling students to develop considerations of audience and purpose that drive authentic content choices and arrangements. Form-first instruction gets in the way of teaching students how to write.

Formula does not equal form—one is static, the other dynamic.  –Thomas Newkirk

In her wonderful monster cartoon, Sandra Boynton perfectly captures and parodies the five-paragraph theme, characterizing its parts as having “lots of teeth but no bite” or being “somewhat limp and drawn out.” Its development contains “some minor points” that are “mostly bulk.” This is a monster in which form dominates, and content is considered only marginally. Indeed, form’s imposing dominance makes this monster particularly dangerous and especially difficult to vanquish …

PDF:  Slay the Monster! by Kathleen Dudden Rowlands