I’ve just returned from a great department meeting. A major topic of discussion was the essay and our expectations around that for each grade and level.
There were a few things about our conversation that encouraged and even inspired me in my work:
We were actually having a conversation about essays.
I know that for some teachers in some schools, talking about the sacred essay with an intent to alter expectations for it is simply not an option. I am grateful that I work with a team, and a department head, who are willing to review topics like this.
We all agreed that the five-paragraph essay can be over-used.
One of my colleagues described Grade 11 students who became anxious when she suggested that a topic might be better addressed in seven paragraphs instead of five. Another spoke of senior students asking for handouts to complete an essay.
Our consensus was that we will introduce the five-paragraph essay format in Grade 9 only, and explain that it is a crutch we are providing. Thereafter, fill-in-the-blank handouts and forms are going to be avoided, as many of us have already been doing.
We all agreed that we will use a greater number of alternate assessment tools.
The Ontario Curriculum has changed, and Media Studies now occupies one of four strands. (The other three are oral communication, reading, and writing.) With this shift, we agreed that we need to be introducing more multi-media projects as tools for assessment rather than relying on the essay to do so much.
In very practical terms, we sat down and hammered out the minimum number of essays and other standard written projects that we will expect from each level. This allows us to achieve some consistency across courses. (For example, all of the Grade 10 Academic students will complete a minimum of one essay and one persuasive piece, regardless of who they have as a teacher.)
All in all, I’m pleased with the progress that we made together in this meeting. I’m also relieved that I don’t have to try to extract 6 essays out of my Grade 12 students next semester.