For many decades in English classrooms, writing instruction tended to follow a common pattern: teachers assigned essays each Monday, collected them the following Friday, and in the meantime devoted class time to other activities–which most often meant reading and discussing literature in anthologies. Students turned in their essays at the end of the week; teachers graded them over the weekend and returned them the following Monday. Most of the students would glance at the grade, ignore the carefully written comments, and file their work in their notebooks (at best) or the trashcan (at worst.) Then the cycle would repeat: topic assigned, due date given, and on to other topics.
What is missing from this description is the knowledge we have from more than two decades of research on composition: that writing is an act of discovery, a way of clarifying ideas, a social activity that often thrives upon contact with others, and a recursive process requiring time, reflection, feedback, and revision.
This curriculum guide is designed to offer tested and proven ideas to teach students how to write an essay. Its purpose is to demystify the writing process for both teachers and students and make it accessible to everyone. It reflects what we (as English teachers ourselves) have found to be successful, based on the best of writing research adapted to the realities of our high school classrooms. It has been developed over the last thirty years and used successfully with students at all ability levels, grades 9 through 12. We have seen elementary and junior high/middle school teachers use it in a variety of adaptations. It has worked in all these classes.
We would like to comment on the formulaic nature of the unit. For the first two essays–which we called the training essays–we have sentence requirements for each paragraph. This lets us see if our students understand the parts of the essay. When they are ready to leave the format–when they have shown us they understand how different parts work together–they are free to wean themselves from it. They must meet the minimum number of paragraphs (4), the minimum number of words per paragraph (outlined in the chart on page 71), and the minimum ratio of concrete detail and commentary, but they no longer must adhere to a sentence requirement. The formulaic nature of this unit does not bother us because students may leave it once they understand it. Some students leave the format early in the process; others choose not to leave it at all because they like the structure and say it helps them know what to do with a blank page.
In 1999, Jane Schaffer Enterprises published Teaching the Multiparagraph Essay: A Sequential Nine-Week Unit. 3rd edition. Jane began working on the fourth edition in 2005, but had not completed it when she passed away in 2010. This fourth edition was posthumously published in 2013 in Jane’s honor and dedicated to her grandsons, Noah and Sam. The fourth edition, titled Teaching Analytical Response to Literature focuses on literary analysis, also known as response to literature.Developed in this 248-page guide are materials for both middle school and high school students of all levels and with a variety of learning styles. From the very simple model of the Cinderella paragraph to Advanced Placement® interpretations, this guide reveals an academic approach to writing. The standards-based curriculum guide demonstrates alignment with both the Common Core State Standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The scaffolding of skills includes Jane’s prewriting strategies, student-centered terminology, color-coding, and Web-off-the-Word™, Jane’s breakthrough approach to commentary and vocabulary development. From terminology to final draft essays, this guide is designed to assist the English language arts teacher with strategies and techniques that yield successful writers.