Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writing Complexity: The Insight Garden Essay

When I first started teaching, I did not know how to teach writing. Well, actually, I did not know how to teach much of anything! I knew how to ASSIGN reading and writing. I knew how to ASSIGN literary terms and examples of those terms with my students. I knew how to put together what I thought were intellectually stimulating units based around a theme in famous novels. 

But I did not know how to actually teach my students who were not already accomplished readers and writers. Poor students!

Then a colleague introduced me to the 5 Paragraph Essay, and I thought, "WOW! I've just been thrown the biggest life preserver in the history of drowning teachers and students." I clung to that life preserver for years, despite the fact that I quickly saw that it became formulaic and boring. It was all I had. My more experienced colleagues recommended it. Students seemed to like the "plug in" formula. So I kept using it. The results, however, tended to be less than inspiring. 

So what happens when a struggling reader is given the task to write? This essay, entitled, "It's Cool to Be Kind" is written by the reader discussed in the previous post, "Reading Complexity." It's inspired by "The Insight Garden Essay" from Gretchen Bernabei's Reviving the Essay. This book is filled with ideas for teaching students structure without turning writing into a formula. 

Insight Garden Essay by BAHS 9th grade student 2016. Please click to enlarge. 
After reading Chill, we brainstormed some ideas for life-lessons, or powerful ideas that readers might take away from the novel. 

This poster version of Bernabei's "Insight Garden Essay" shows a student making genuine connections between a novel, a movie, and her own life. She writes candidly about it being "cool to be kind" and uses specific examples from each "text" to support her thesis. The font color of each paragraph was her choice. She explained that she wanted the poster to look nice, and she wanted to be a responsible author by making it as easy as possible for her readers to understand that this essay had 3 different texts supporting a single thesis. 

We decided to cut out her concluding paragraph and run it as a strip across the bottom of all the body paragraphs to emphasize how it was tying together all of her thinking and examples on kindness. 

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