Analytical Essay The Trouble With Wilderness

Analytical Essay The Trouble With Wilderness-64
It’s one of those classes that—less than a month into the school year—has already started to feel like a writing community.

It’s one of those classes that—less than a month into the school year—has already started to feel like a writing community. My AP Lang class and I are in the midst of finishing up our discussion of Joan Didion’s wonderful essay, “On Keeping a Notebook.” It’s a relatively small class: twenty-one mostly juniors who come together at the end of each day to read, write, talk, laugh, and yes, learn.

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After all, I had other things to worry about, like reading all the books I had to teach and managing a classroom of skeptical teenagers. It’s much easier to check if a student’s essay fulfills a template than it is to approach each student essay as its own unique piece of writing, with its own form, structure, purpose, and voice. When students don’t understand something, I try to remember that it’s not only their first time learning something new, but my first time, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about something I heard educator and author Will Richardson say at a conference last spring (and in this TED talk).

To approach writing instruction sans formula is messy. Last year, when I decided to try a different approach with my ninth graders, there were many days I went home feeling like the worst teacher in the world. As one of my mentors often tells me, “Be forgiving. Richardson argued for urgency in our approach to the challenges schools faced.

It’s the type of essay that Katherine Bomer so eloquently describes in These are essays in the wild, unbounded by rules and regulations, and we know that creatures are happier and more fiercely beautiful in the wilderness than confined in a zoo, like Rilke’s poor panther, who loses his vision of the world, grown weary from constantly passing by the “thousand bars” of his cage.

Rather than conforming to the cage bars of any formula or template, these essays are driven by curiosity, passion, and the intricacies of thought.

I went to the University of Pennsylvania for my graduate program, and while I learned a lot about education as a whole, two methods classes aren’t enough to teach anyone about what it really means to be a writer or to teach writing to others.

As a young, new teacher, I welcomed the structure—yes, the rigidness—that the 5-paragraph essay offered. “Baby steps,” my teacher-friends tell me whenever they sense my frustrations. Even a small step is a step in the right direction. Change is hard.” Yet sometimes the only way to fix something broken is to just get rid of it.

While I suspect that many readers of this blog have already moved beyond the 5-paragraph essay, I admit that I have only recently begun to break free of this form. I think one reason I taught it for so long was because it was all I ever knew as a teacher.

As another school year gets underway, and before we settle back into tried-but-not-true practices, I thought I’d share how my own thinking about the 5-paragraph essay form has been challenged and how my practices have shifted, finally, to writing in the wild. Let’s face it, teacher preparation programs don’t generally do a good job at teaching writing instruction.

And generally, they produced writing that fit the criteria I outlined. A common argument for the 5-paragraph essay is that it can be a useful tool for students to organize their ideas. We all need help when we are learning something, especially something as complex as writing. One, most students never move beyond this single tool.

To counter this, we tell ourselves that we’ll just teach other types of writing alongside the 5-paragraph essay.

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