As an English teacher, I’ve had numerous conversations with college professors who lament the writing skills of their first year students. But not all writing. Most students are capable of solid expository writing. It’s their skill with persuasive writing that’s the problem. Specifically, they’re weak at writing a thesis statement that can be argued.
I spend three years teaching my high school students how to write a persuasive essay. For many students, it takes that long. (And I’m lucky to have them that long in my school.)
Part of the problem is that our current school systems — and not just in Canada — aren’t great at producing independent thinkers. Without this ability, it’s hard to create a great thesis statement, anticipate the arguments against it, and then compose your own argument in light of what you understand about the pros and cons of an issue.
I love writing essays. There’s something satisfying about rendering the chaos of thoughts into an elegant form. But I love blogging more. It feels like playing.
So for three years, I write for them, and with them. We talk about opening paragraphs, and they learn how to write them with their thesis statement either as the first or last sentence. (The latter requires more skill.) They learn to use transition words, embed quotations to support their argument, consider the advantages of active vs. passive voice, vary their sentences, and many other skills, all in the hope of creating a strong argument.
The truth is lately I’ve come to question the point of much of this. Does the average person, once they leave school, spend a lot of time composing academic essays? Is this the best way for our students to show their learning? In some places, the academic 5 paragraph essay is hailed as the Holy Grail of non-fiction writing achievement. Yet even if a student can become a great persuasive essay writer, they’re still only semi-literate, at least according to the definition of 21st Century Literacies.
A DIFFERENT BEAST
While traditional essay writing may not help alleviate this situation, I think blogging can. Here’s the problem; Blogging is an entirely different beast. And one of the things I’ve learned about my students is that they don’t necessarily transfer a skill they’ve learned in one area to another without Continue reading