Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, February 25, 2011

The once dreaded five paragraph essay

There was a time not too long ago when English teachers debated about the use of and devotion to the five paragraph essay as being too structured and too stifling in the creative process of writing. I suspect than many of us who demonized that genre would now see it as the promised land in our English class if we look at current trends. When students are limited to 128 characters on their respective hand held app, asking them to generate a five paragraph essay has become a herculean task. In addition, text spelling is becoming the norm and trying to explain the idea of a more formal spelling eludes our young scholars as they don't comprehend the difference between what they write and what we expect as formal writing in an English class. There was a time when our scholars knew that they had different vocabularies and writing styles. That is not so anymore. Another negative by-product is our scholars inability to spend more than a nano reading. A short story has become a novel. Seeing more than 100 words on a computer screen exhausts our weary scholars who need to scurry away to recharge while BBMing their friends of the torture they are undergoing in English class. Oh and they can't type. They are all thumbs.

Today I read "Effective Use of Digital Tools Seen Lacking in Most Tech-Rich Schools" in Education Week. I have always advocated this notion and it was lovely to see Larry Cuban, now emeritus, quoted. He and I used to have wonderful conversations in the 90's about tech use. We always took opposite sides. He missed the point then and still does. Schools of Education have failed to do their part in preparing future teachers in the art of using technology in their classes. If other industries and businesses can use technology in their daily operation then why has education lagged so far behind the curve? We don't use technology in schools because we filter and ban their use and we don't teach our teachers at any level how to use the technology. NYC doesn't have a Department of Technology any more nor is there any technology leadership in NYC schools. Schools are a No Technology zone.

Another sad trend has been represented well on a recent conversation on a NWP technology list which is gaga over programs like Glogster and other programs that have the students generating posters. Posters in English and writing classes. What are you kidding me? Talk about the "dumbing" down of our education. This is why our students can't read or write more than 128 characters. Teachers are excited about a poster program, not a writing tool, not about writing essays. Blogs have been shelved as being too hard or too much work I hear. Now we should be excited about not just a poste, but a group created poster from our English scholars. This from the National Writing Project, Yikes!

I'm still an advocate for the creation of webpages that provide a proper forum for essay writing, creative writing, and publishing. I still herald the advancement of technology in schools as a tool that replaces the book and paper that we used yesterday and the limited publishing of literary magazines replaced with webpages for every scholar to use to express hir opinions on matters of import, to explain hir knowledge of things, and to create hir own work. All of this is published and is presented and has replaced the atoms publishing medium by the digitally publishing medium. The trend I am seeing is taking this technology and letting it bastardize our work as teachers because teachers fail to get it. In some cases it is their fault because they accept the 128 character limit and they have not been taught in our Schools of Ed how to use this technology. The technology innovators are those who learned on their own and at their own expense and have had to suffer the insults and ignorance of colleagues and supervisors who don't understand technology in the classroom. When it comes to the lack of technology use in schools, teachers may deserve the disparaging words about them. Would we accept a non technology oriented professional in any other industry?

Does this image represent teachers' evolution in a technology age?


Ryan Bretag said...

In many ways, Schmoker has it right. Because we are "gaga" over the wrong things, the power of self-authorship, engagement, and deep learning in a passion-based environment is lost to retro-fitted practices that weren't valuable pre-tech and aren't valuable with tech.

To be honest, I'm not sure I've been as frustrated with technology in education as I am recently. In that sense, I'm with Schmoker. Just stop. Get mindsets right and then bring on critical pieces like technology.

Ted, thanks for being a voice that gets it. You have long challenged and enhanced my thinking. Thank you!

Ted Nellen said...

Thanks for the Schmoker reference, Ryan. He and Cuban have provided good insight in our enthusiasm so as to force us to provide a good argument.

Paul shared a link to your IDEA computer room. In the 90's, we in NYC had rooms like this called "Virtual Enterprise." Rooms like this were set up in dozens of schools in NYC and were fine, till, technology took a huge hit from the test crazy leadership. Technology has not shown the benefits it could because of poor leadership. I hope you find success in your school.

Like you, I have become so discouraged by the failure of technology to make the impact it can. In answer to Schmoker's criticism of Differentiated Instruction, which I agree is impossible to implement in most classrooms is to employ technology so that each of my scholars can use my resources and differentiate hir own education.

Great to hear from you and see the great work you are doing.