Essays are a necessary evil in my job. They are an integral part of any high school English class. I hate assigning them. I spend approximately 6 weeks teaching my 11th grade students how to write and format an essay. You ask why I spend so much time teaching an essay. they have been writing essays since they were in 5th grade. I know this because I subbed in a 5th grade class when I was getting my credential. I had a friend who taught 5th grade. She taught essays and it was standard curriculum for 5th grade.
So, one would thing that by the time they get to me they should know how to construct a 5 paragraph essay. I begin by teaching them brainstorming. They get that. I follow that by teaching them how to outline. We start by doing one together on the board. I teach them the rules: the roman numerals, if you have a one you must have a two and so on. I have them choose an author from their literature book and have them outline the one page biographies. Then I have them outline a newspaper article. Then we go to the computer lab and type them according to the rules. Once they type their own they practice by typing 3 more, just to get the format in their head. they haven't even been told at this point that they are going to do an essay.
After the outlines I teach them all about the MLA Works Cited Page. I have a practice exercise that involves finding the correct information they need for thirteen pieces of information they might cite: a song from a CD, a book with two authors, a map from an atlas, an article from a magazine, a letter to the editor, an advertisement, a cartoon or comic strip and six others. There is a handout that gives them exactly what information they need to compile for each item. then we take all this information to the computer lab, again, and learn how to type it up in MLA format. I model it for them, I give them examples of what it should end up looking like and we discuss the rules regarding formatting. I also introduce them to Easybib which is a free website that allows you to put all the information into boxes under the categories and it will format the citation for you. A miracle.
We go step by step into choosing the topics (a persuasive essay), getting backup, parenthetical citations, formatting the paper on a whole, how a 5 paragraph essay is constructed and what goes into each paragraph. then they write a rough draft. We read them out loud to each other. We do peer editing. then they type it up and have a tutor edit the first final draft. then they put it all together, make corrections, and type up a final paper with citations and Works Cited page. Comes out to be 4 pages, tops. Easy Peasy! Right? One would think so.
But every year, even though I do get a couple of A papers, and not always from the best students, just the ones who cared enough to try and learn how to do a good job, most of the papers never get a grade above an F. And I think about giving up. Just giving up on these kids because it is part and parcel of their make-up not to care too much. They can't see how important this all is. They will need this stuff when they get to college. Sadly, many of them will remember my class and regret not learning more. But it won't be because I didn't try. I hope they remember that.