Disclaimer: I really wanted to try to write this blog in the Schaffer format, but I started to get frustrated and continued to just put off the blog and I began feeling nostalgic (and not in a good way) about my high school English classes… Long story short: I’m ditching the Schaffer method while I still can.

I remember hating English class even though I loved to write. I hated writing literature papers even though I loved the books we read. It was a confusing time. I never really thought about the fact that it could be the way in which I was told to write that was the problem. I never realized how much of a…. (sorry Kim) dictatorship a lot of classes can be. And while that may be an extreme term, I think it really begs the questions of who is in control of what is taught, how we learn, and what’s accepted as learning or even growth. I think our education system is completely built on the attempt to find a formulaic answer for teaching, when in reality, that isn’t and can never be the case. And while that is broadly speaking… and I may have been motivated to write that after reading a news article about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the continued eye rolling that followed… this sentiment can really be applied to the 5 paragraph essay. A lot of student individuality and creativity is drained by creating a formula they have to follow in writing. Now, I know there are supporters of the 5 paragraph essay and keeping some sort of outline in order to ease the stresses of writing. I get it. But, I disagree with how it is enforced, at least in my case. I had the majority of my teachers shove the 5 paragraph essay down my throat and it was really hard for me to see where each one of my sentences and opinions went in the outline they gave me (so much so that I often times took out a lot of my analysis). It wasn’t until my third or fourth year that I had a teacher that wanted my voice to shine through in the paper. She wanted more of my personal analysis, whether or not it fit in a given section of the outline. For years I felt like my voice was taken away or maybe just not prioritized in the writing I was doing. And, in this case, I hate the 5 paragraph essay format. I find it to be truly limiting (this includes the content of what’s written, the length, and the overall creativity and individuality of each student). However, even though I found this format to be basic and juvenile and…. at times, demeaning (is that too harsh?), I can see its basic pros. For students who for various reasons are lost when it comes to putting their ideas in some sort of paper/essay format, I can see how this method allows some organization and a building block for expanding their writing outside of this basic format. That being said, I hate how it’s taught right now. And I know there are exceptions to the rule where some professors will find creative outlets to engage in writing that isn’t as robotic (talking about you Kim!), but for the majority, the 5 paragraph essay, especially in middle school and high school, is seen as the one and only writing option. I actually just talked to my 12 year old sister yesterday via FaceTime and she told me how she hates her English class because she was to write this essay on a book and the teacher told her she wasn’t following the structure he laid out for her. And, she ended up telling me that it kind of ruined English for her because she doesn’t want to be writing papers like that for the rest of her life. And this is where I would say my heart broke a little bit. So, I summoned my inner-Kim and started talking about all the different kinds of writing she engages in on a daily basis without even realizing it (why is this my life now?!) and that the structure she is learning should only be a guideline. A guideline that teaches her about having a theme in her writing, about how to incorporate evidence and arguments and analysis, about how to have everything flow and be organized, etc. In other words, I may have encouraged her to rebel a little bit. I think it’s healthy and to be honest, I did the same thing and turned out fine (I think?). I just don’t want her to feel limited and constrained in the way I do when it comes to writing. And I don’t want her to be completely shocked when she comes to University and finds out that the years of being tormented about the 5 paragraph essay were for nothing because she’s all of a sudden allowed to express her opinions and is exposed to a variety of different writing techniques and usages.

As for expanding literacy practices… I’m learning that … It’s kinda like when I took English 4 AP Literature in high school and my professor, since the very beginning, said that he would in fact ruin all movies for us because we would start to analyze all the symbolism and dig deeper into every plot/character and see how the hero’s journey is oh so overused. I feel like that ever since I read Szwed and “Metaconcept.” I may be overexaggerating a little when I say I mention expanding literacies every day, but I swear I feel like I always bring it up in every class discussion we have and I constantly see how it would benefit me, my peers, and the students who utilize the ESL center.

P.S. – #expandliteracypractices is my new favorite hashtag and I may just have to create a twitter for the sole purpose of using it!

  4 comments for “#ExpandLiteracyPractices

  1. Ruben Mendoza
    Ruben Mendoza
    February 19, 2017 at 12:23 am


    Get it Diva!

  2. David Puerner
    David Puerner
    February 19, 2017 at 10:56 am

    “I may have encouraged her to rebel a little bit. I think it’s healthy and to be honest, I did the same thing and turned out fine (I think?). I just don’t want her to feel limited and constrained in the way I do when it comes to writing.”

    I feel you about the expanding literacy practices thing. And I like that you encourage your sister to hang in there, and that her experience with writing for school may get better with time. I love the rebel bit personally.

    I wonder about the five paragraph essay, and formulaic writing in general. I’m starting to think that the old formulas should be taught alongside plenty of opportunity for growth, discussion, and play.

    It seems very prescriptive and it seems to reduce students into a kind of “unit” that needs exposure to a preordained list of objects as a part of a preordained chronology. What i mean by that is it seems insanely industrialized. Like we as a profession are trying to apply the concepts of Fordism and industrial assembly to the development of our children. Composition profs apply hinge-A to tab-Y and then their job is done (the ability to write achieved), then the “unit” moves down the line to History where the prof doesn’t have to worry about the placement and functionality of Hinge-A because it’s not her job and presumably the job has already been done correctly within a preset timeframe.

    It’s nice in theory, but for those student’s not receptive at the wrong time they might miss a whole bunch of stuff that may be crucial to their success in other classes.

    Pair that with our belief in individualism, and the faults of the institution become ascribed to the individual student and are seen as a reflection of their worth. The role the institution played in undermining student success might be obscured by the “myth of absolute individualism.”

    So some of my questions start to be focused this way:

    If the state of Education has some dysfunction, and if the state of education allows some students to “fall through the cracks” while enabling others to rise, relatively speaking, through “classroom distantiation,” in what ways is the mainstream society maintained by this disfunction?

    What myths and worldviews play into its reproduction?

    And what steps do we as potential educators then take to begin to move towards a better system?

    What might that system even look like?

    And if you see yourself as a voice of progress in your field, are there professional dangers inherent in challenging the status-quo?

    Thanks for the great blog post,

  3. kjaxon
    February 19, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Love the hashtag! And, more importantly, that you are advocating for adolescents’ literacies! Your blog made me smile, especially the disclaimer. Why would we subject ourselves to tortuous forms of writing?! :-)

    Could be interesting as a class to continue to unpack this idea of voice vs form. How do we empower students to find genres that fit their goals for being heard? When we talk about multimodal composing, it might be interesting to look at the role of digital storytelling in these efforts: https://youthradio.org/journalism/health/growing-up-homeless/

    Enjoy your blog posts so much. Thank you!

  4. Ginamarie Wallace
    February 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm


    It’s funny how you use the word “dictatorship” because I actually used the word “indoctrinate” with parentheses in my blog post for further explanation to describe the experiences with the 5 paragraph essay I heard you guys discussing in-class on Wednesday! Thank you for telling us about your own, very often frustrating, experiences with writing because I find it so helpful to share these. I think it is helpful for the person who experienced it as reflective and almost cathartic as well as helpful to the those who are being told about the experience both because it can validate their own experiences with writing and give them another perspective.

    In addition, I appreciate that you do acknowledge the idea that formulaic writing can be beneficial for students, to an extent. I found that one of the most important points Wiley makes in “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing” against using the Schaffer Method and writing formulas like it, is the fact that students become unable to make important rhetorical choices about their writing. I think you did a great job of explaining this fact to your sister as well. She is so lucky to have you!


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