Friday, January 27, 2017

When All You Have is a Hammer...

I wish I found this image for my last post on teacher comments.
Lotta work ! Lotta learning? 

I was Googling for a google site called something like "Not an Essay" which listed things a student can do instead of writing an essay. (If you find it, can you link to it in a comment? I'm still looking for it. I thought I book-marked it; clearly I didn't.) instead, I came across this terrific post called "This is Not an Essay" by Lee Skallerup Bessette.

My reaction? ?Yes, Yes and more Yes!"

She writes:
It is important to understand norms, to be able to replicate them.* But it is also important to interrogate why these norms exist and to be able to see the process for what it is: a process.
 “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. – Proverb”
Set word or page-lengths, prescribed number of sentences per paragraph, limiting the number of paragraphs to five… All of this focuses the student on the form, rather than the content and purpose. The purpose of any essay then becomes, to meet the prescribed formatting requirements, rather than to communicate to a reader. Form and content are intrinsically linked, and students know that. They practice it every day. Except when they are writing for school. (my italics) 
It's a must read. 

Why? Because this all gets to bigger things. Either we teach the kids to challenge the system or conform to the system. 

If we don't help kids to learn ways to express themselves beyond "the hammer" of an essay- a medium which they will never use beyond their formal education- we've done them a disservice. We've made it harder for them to change the system with their words.

* I very much like that she does not fall into binary thinking. It is important to understand and replicate norms. I am not advocating abolishing the essay. It is important. But it isn't the end all and be all of student writing.

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