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Phillip65 Phillip65 is offline
 
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Phillip65
 
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The Outline
Old 11-30-2016, 09:36 AM
 
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So many High School teachers love to have students create an outline as an activity to get kids planning their writing. I'm opposed to this practice in general.

First, I think outlines are good for organizing information and arguments you are going to make. This presumes that a student has an idea what they are going to say in the first place - has a concept of the content. When I used to apply outlines to get students preparing to write, students would engage in two errors as a result:

1) They would "hunt" through a work or text to try to find examples that "prove" their argument - more often leading to citations out of context and misuse of citations.
2) Their last body paragraph was always a repetition of the first or second body paragraph- and a poor one.

My experience taught that this was because students just didn't have enough information to plug into an outline when I started having them make an outline. Now, if I have students organize their thinking prior to writing, I make sure they have examples from the text that help develop their claim in advance, and have something to say about those examples ahead of time. This way they are organizing their thinking about a text or a subject. I believe that this is really what an outline is about - organizing one's ideas. Such a practice presumes a person has ideas to organize, and I often see the practice of using outlines misapplied, presuming students have thought and engaged enough with the concepts the essay will demand to even begin to organize those ideas.

Thus, I'm not opposed to outlines as a rule, but I am opposed to the use of outlines without the application of various strategies to help students generate ideas about a topic or text first. I think kids need ideas TO organize in order to use the outline making process effective.


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NavyHusband NavyHusband is offline
 
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Old 11-30-2016, 02:57 PM
 
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The creator of the LDC for my class LOVES outlines and since my district mandates I use all the materials provided, I have to use the (horrible) outlines and it is a bigger pain than it is worth.

Quote:
2) Their last body paragraph was always a repetition of the first or second body paragraph- and a poor one.
This is something most of the students in my school struggle with, do you have any ideas on how to explain what a conclusion is without saying "Restate your thesis without copying it verbatim"?
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Phillip65 Phillip65 is offline
 
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Conclusions
Old 12-01-2016, 09:22 AM
 
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I don't see why you can't make outlines more meaningful, since you HAVE to use them... and I'm not opposed to their use, just their premature use, to be more precise. So, if we make sure that kids have enough knowledge and reasoned thinking (on paper) to begin to organize into an outline, then I think outlines can be great! If I tell you to create five categories for all my paper-clips before giving you my paper-clips, you are going to make some wonky categories aren't you? You don't know what kinds of paperclips I have! In essence, I think that this is what we are doing, oftentimes with outlines.

For conclusions, what is the purpose of a conclusion? I think many teachers feel it is to summarize an argument. I have never used a conclusion to do this. In research the "conclusions" part of the research paper is used to tell the reader how the researcher is interpreting the data as a whole. Conclusions are often the 'meat' of the research study, in this sense. In informal articles, they are often used to propose a witty response to the information presented by the writer, or wry observations, perhaps even poking fun. It is frequently used in this context as a moment of reflection upon the content as a whole, but not a summary of the content. How do we teach kids to see and do that?! Hard stuff. Personally, I think the introductory paragraph and conclusion paragraph are the hardest part of a typical essay writing task.

What if the conclusion is used to present a reflective argument, one that the main body of arguments don't have time to address: a reflective argument. For my students' current assignment, writing an essay applying a psychological interpretation of PTSD to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. The body of their essay demonstrates that Tim O'Brien has all the requisite symptoms of PTSD. Students are using the conclusion paragraph to write about how they believe Tim O'Brien is using the novel as a kind of therapy, to help himself process his PTSD. It is an reflective argument, discussing the purpose of text as a whole.

I think the standard for writing in our post-modernist age is that less is more, and if a paragraph has no purpose, it shouldn't be there. I think we often apply 19th century sensibilities to our Language Arts instruction.

An example of this is the "plot mountain" we teach. Ever notice how 20th century short stories don't have an exposition? If you claim it does, compare it to any 19th century short story, and try to convince me (or yourself) that there isn't a dramatic difference. What about "falling action" and "resolution"? Doesn't really exist in 20th century shorts stories. Most of the 20th century short stories end shortly after the climax and refuse to provide resolution. That's a post-modernist 'form' - denying the reader the satisfaction, breaking form to demonstrate the power of breaking form. Of course, that's a new form, but we still teach the 19th century "plot mountain" and make kids struggle to apply an incorrect "plot mountain" to a story in which it doesn't apply.

I once witnessed a veteran teacher teaching the plot mountain, and then had kids try to apply it to a "slice of life" short story. If you remember your English 1B courses, that's the style of literature that has no plot structure, per se. It's literally a "slice of life," so it utterly breaks with the "plot mountain" convention. The teacher apparently didn't know this, and so tried to make kids 'make it work' when it clearly didn't. Tragic to witness. I think we do this a lot in Language Arts. But then, literature is hard stuff, it traditionally breaks rules, so teaching 'rules' and 'conventions' using content that celebrates its tendency to break conventions is going to naturally be challenging.

(Wry reflection conclusion paragraph with summary argument)

My high school English teachers claimed that the English teacher's job was to be the "guardian of the language!!!" That is a humorous premise to me now. Guard what?! Try to keep it the same, you mean?! Try to stop the ocean from changing the shore? Time, globalization, technology and myriad influences are constantly turning and changing how we speak and write. Jaques Derridah writes about how linguists believe that writing degraded language, and even more - degraded civilization! We seem to try to similarly argue that television, internet and texting degrades language. I don't believe we are 'guardians' of the language, but facilitators of language, introducing adolescent thinkers and writers to language in it's myriad forms to convince, inform, instruct, inspire and deceive, and giving them the tools to participate in the ongoing discursive act that forms how language is used today and provides them with the tools to continue it's evolution into the future.

Last edited by Phillip65; 12-01-2016 at 10:15 AM..
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ChrisLit ChrisLit is offline
 
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ChrisLit
 
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As for conclusions...
Old 01-27-2017, 06:11 PM
 
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I'm not sure where exactly I stand on the Outlines debate. But, as far as conclusions go: what I tell my students is to think of their conclusions as a next step. For example, if they write a paper analyzing how Holden Caulfield's emotional state changes over the course of CITR, their conclusion can then have them briefly state what Holden will need to do to overcome these problems, or what could happen to him if he never overcomes these problems. This way their conclusions seem much more meaningful and it lets the students provide closure without repetition.
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