The Five-Paragraph Essay
There was a time when I was proud to say that I could get my urban high school students to produce five-paragraph essays. I had all the tools: the graphic organizers, the sentence starters, the outlines that told them what each sentence should have, etc. I really thought I was doing the right thing, preparing my students for college, getting them to be good “academic” writers. Part of me knew that I didn’t write five-paragraph essays in college, but somehow I thought this essay that *everyone* taught was a mystical stepping stone (regardless of the fact that I didn’t remember it ever helping me step towards anything).
When I first moved to Boston I bragged to a colleague about getting my students to write these essays, and she quickly shushed me and told me not to let our boss hear that. I was a bit flabbergasted, until I started hearing more and more about “beyond” the five-paragraph essay. The more I learned the more I realized I had been doing my students a disservice on multiple levels. Firstly, I wasn’t making them do the thinking, since I was “guiding” them rather than having them work through their own process and purpose (see my post “Chaos Theory” for more on this). Secondly, I was having them write in a form that not only stifled their thinking but wasn’t really going to help them step anywhere. I could elaborate on this more, but instead I will refer you to a fantastic post I read this week entitled “If You Teach or Write 5-Paragraph Essays–Stop It!” In this post Ray Salazar explains the limitations on the five paragraph essay and offers (and models) an alternative way of thinking about writing. I am totally on the same page with him, and reading his post validated the way I have shifted my writing instruction in the past few years. Now my student’s focus on investigating audience and purpose, and considering multiple organizational structures for their writing that can help them achieve their purpose and reach their audience. I use a number of common strategies for this, including modeling my own writing process, reading and examining mentor texts with my students and giving students lots of choice in topic, process and product. Instead of giving the outlines I have them develop outline options depending on their purpose. I still provide sentence starters, but I also have them chose which ones to use instead of spoon-feeding them each sentence of a useless essay. And, as a result, they are making true arguments in their writing instead of parroting three disjointed “points” in their three body paragraphs. So, read Ray’s post – and if you are teaching the five-paragraph essay, stop it! Or at least comment and tell me what value the five-paragraph essay has that I might be missing.
Mexican food is one of our more common go-to meals, and that usually involves some refried beans! As part of our families cost-savings plan, we rarely buy cans of refried beans, and instead we make a delicious version using one of my favorite cooking ingredients – beer! We had these the other night alongside salsa-rice and grilled onions and peppers.
Refried Black Beans - with Beer!
3 cups of cooked black beans
1 bottle of beer
1 TB of olive oil
1 TB ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 cup yellow onion, minced
1) Pour beans in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Pour in the beer and mash the beans a bit with a potato masher. You want some texture – your goal is to mash up about half the beans (or whatever consistency you prefer). Let this pot cook while you prepare the seasoning.
2) In a separate saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is warm, add the cumin and chili and cook for about 30 seconds.
3) Add the onion to the spices, stir to coat, and cook until tender (about 5 minutes)
4) Add the onion and spice mixture to the beans and stir to combine. Stir and mash the beans for a couple minutes, and then just let them sit and cook. A crust will form after another few minutes. Stir the crust into the beans, and then let them cook so another crust forms. Do this a few times – or as much time as you need to prep other parts of your meal. Then, serve ’em up!