Archive for ‘middle school’

April 17, 2014

Teenage boys lag behind girls in developing ‘critical social skills’

by Grace

According to a six-year Dutch study, teenage boys are slower to develop two social skills.

Cognitive empathy — “the mental ability to take others’ perspective”

Affective empathy — “the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings”

In adolescence, critical social skills that are needed to feel concern for other people and understand how they think are undergoing major changes. Adolescence has long been known as prime time for developing cognitive skills for self-control, or executive function.

“Cognitive empathy,” or the mental ability to take others’ perspective, begins rising steadily in girls at age 13, according to a six-year study published recently in Developmental Psychology. But boys don’t begin until age 15 to show gains in perspective-taking, which helps in problem-solving and avoiding conflict.

Adolescent males actually show a temporary decline, between ages 13 and 16, in a related skill—affective empathy, or the ability to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, according to the study, co-authored by Jolien van der Graaff, a doctoral candidate in the Research Centre Adolescent Development at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the boys’ sensitivity recovers in the late teens. Girls’ affective empathy remains relatively high and stable through adolescence.

Affective and cognitive empathy are valuable skills in the school setting, and these gender differences could help explain why boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college”.

The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.

Testosterone and social pressure may both be determining factors.

The decline in affective empathy among young teenage boys may spring at least partly from a spurt during puberty in testosterone, sparking a desire for dominance and power …

Boys also feel pressure from peers and some adults to “act like a man,” which they often define as being detached, tough, funny and strong …

How much do fathers matter?

Fathers seem to play a special role. Teens whose fathers are supportive, who say they feel better after talking over their worries with their dads, are more skilled at perspective-taking, says a 2011 study of 15- to 18-year-old boys in Developmental Psychology.

Ambiguous terminology in the use of “cognitive” and “noncognitive” can be confusing.  The term”noncognitive” seems to vary in meaning depending on context.  Daniel Willingham helps explain how it is sometimes used as shorthand for what many people consider “non-academic” skills.

“Non-cognitive factors” is a misleading but entrenched catch-all term for factors such as motivation, grit, self-regulation, social skills. . . in short, mental constructs that we think contribute to student success, but that don’t contribute directly to the sorts of academic outcomes we measure, in the way that, say, vocabulary or working memory do.

Boys can try to catch up to girls.

I keep hearing that boys tend to shape up and mature after freshman year in high school.  That has not been my observation, but even if they do this just means they have to catch up to girls in a few short years or else suffer long-term consequences from getting off track in their early teen years.

——

Sue Shellenbarger, “Teens Are Still Developing Empathy Skills”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 15, 2013.

November 22, 2013

Do students get too much homework, or too little feedback?

by Grace

… Tales of the homework-burdened American student have become common, but are these stories the exception or the rule?

How much homework do high school students really do?  Here are some numbers.

… The National Center for Educational Statistics found that high school students who do homework outside of school average 6.8 hours of homework per week.

The 2007 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that 50% of students in grades 7-12 reported doing one hour or more of homework on weekdays.

20131117.COCHomeworkTimeStudents2

There appears to have been little change in homework time for 17 year-olds over the last 35 years, as shown by this U.S. Employment and Training Administration (ETA) chart based on NAEP data.

20131118.COCNAEPHomeworkOverTime2


The reality is that a heavy homework load is unusual.

Based on National Education Association guidelines that homework should increase by ten minutes each school year, a high school senior should average two hours per night.  A teacher told me she believes local high school students average about three hours per night, and based on other information this sounds about right.  This puts local teens among the fewer than ten percent of American high school students who are doing three hours or more of homework each night.  Keep this in mind when you read stories like the one Karl Taro Greenfield wrote about his middle school daughter’s burdensome homework load averaging about three hours per night.

A ten-hour work day is probably fine for some teens.

Three or more hours of homework is fine for some students, those who are highly motivated and can maintain their focus on school work over a long time.  But it’s overly burdensome for most.  It seems wrongheaded and harsh to expect teens to put in ten-hour work days when many adults would find that same schedule to be onerous.  Under that scenario (7 hours of school + 3 hours of homework + 9 hours of recommended sleep = 19 hours) only five hours are left all other activities.  Meals, grooming, extracurricular activities, commuting, chores, jobs, and relaxing must all be fitted into those few hours left.  Given that sports, theater, and other activities often take up two to three hours after school, it begins to look even tighter for many kids.  And when a doctor’s appointment or other non-routine event comes up, such a schedule can be thrown all out of whack.  Yeah, three hours is too much for most kids.

My strongest objection to the hours of homework is the failure of some teachers to grade or otherwise provide meaningful feedback.

… Effective learning depends on the receipt of timely and useful feedback from teachers so that students can come to a better understanding of what they have learnt and, where appropriate, correct misunderstandings. Sometimes teachers do not provide this feedback to students; in the absence of effective teacher feedback homework is likely to be of little value to students. 

Two important ways that homework can enhance learning are by offering deliberate practice and formative assessment.  But when a student’s work is not evaluated by the teacher, neither is likely to occur.  Students quoted in Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman shed more light on this.

Without an explicit teacher response, Kristian said, her homework did not seem like deliberate practice.
I really want the teacher to evaluate it, so I can know what I’m doing wrong. From there, she can go over what we need, and maybe create another homework assignment to explore something that we didn’t get. – kristian

And unless a teacher intervened, said Christina, practicing something wrong in a homework assignment could be worse than not practicing it at all.
Until you understand what you’re doing wrong and how you can change it, you’re just going to continually do it wrong and think that you’re doing it right. – christina

One reason for hiring a tutor is to grade homework when teachers “don’t have time” to do it.  That just seems wrong to me.

Related:  The Homework Wars:  How much is too much?  (The Atlantic)

November 8, 2013

Dumbing down algebra in high school leads to remedial classes in college

by Grace

Passing Algebra II in high school used to be a reliable indicator of college readiness, but not anymore.

… taking and successfully completing an Algebra II course, which once certified high school students’ mastery of advanced topics in algebra and solid preparation for college-level mathematics, no longer means what it once did.  The credentialing integrity of Algebra II has weakened.

This is the conclusion reached by Tom Loveless in his recently released Brookings report, The Algebra Imperative: Assessing Algebra in a National and International Context.

Pushing more students to take higher level math courses has resulted in an increase in students completing Algebra II.

Percentage of 17 Year-Olds who Completed Second Year Algebra (1986-2012)
1986 —– 44%
2012 —– 76%

Look what happened to test scores over the same period.

 NAEP Math, 17 Year-Olds who have Completed Second Year Algebra (1986-2012)

20131105.COCAlgebra2Scores1


Research indicates too many unprepared students are being pushed to take advanced math.

Foundational problems begin in elementary school, and by middle school many poorly prepared students are enrolled in Algebra I.  California recently abandoned its ill-advised experiment of requiring algebra for all eighth-graders after finding that aggressively pushing low achievers into higher-level middle school math courses hurt their likelihood of math success in high school.

In the end, the transition to college unmasks the charade….

Students graduate high school unprepared for college-level math.

… students are taking advanced, college-prep courses, passing them with good grades, and yet do not know the advanced subject matter signified by the titles of the courses they have taken….

The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) High School Transcript Study (HSTS) found that high school graduates in 2005 earned more mathematics credits, took higher level mathematics courses, and obtained higher grades in mathematics courses than in 1990. The report also noted that these improvements in students’ academic records were not reflected in twelfth-grade NAEP mathematics and science scores. Why are improvements in student coursetaking not reflected in academic performance, such as higher NAEP scores?

“Counterfeit” math courses hurt students and waste resources.

The researchers found that course titles often don’t mean what they say.  NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley summarized the study’s main finding in an interview with Education Week, “We found that there is very little truth in labeling for high school Algebra I and Geometry courses.”[iii]

As unprepared students flow through a series of counterfeit courses, the entire curricular system is corrupted.  Algebra II teachers are expected to teach mathematics to students who passed Algebra I with good grades but who, in reality, have not mastered elementary grade concepts that are fundamental to understanding algebra.  Parents get false signals about how well their sons and daughters are prepared for college.   Schools misallocate resources dedicated to remedial programs by assuming that students know material that they, in fact, do not know.

It is estimated that half of four-year college freshman take remedial classes.

In the end, the transition to college unmasks the charade.  In California, the California State University System draws students from the top one-third of graduating seniors.  In 2012, about 30% of entering freshmen taking the Entry Level Math test failed the exam and were placed in remedial math classes, despite earning a mean GPA of 3.15 in college prep high school programs.  That doesn’t make sense.  Good grades in tough courses, yet remediation was needed.

The problem is not confined to California.  Nor is it limited to mathematics.  A report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (NCPPHE) estimates that about half of all four-year college freshmen must take remedial classes….

More testing could help?  Loveless suggests that having high school students take Algebra I and II computerized adaptive tests, which permit “accurate assessments at varying levels while lessening test burden from excessive questions”, could be a way to begin to restore the “credentialing integrity” of these college prep courses.

Related:

October 18, 2013

Are anti-bullying programs just feel-good attempts to solve a serious problem?

by Grace

Anti-bullying programs don’t work.  In fact, they increase the odds of being a bullying victim.

Anti-bullying programs that are now commonplace in schools may be having the opposite of their intended effect, according to new research from the University of Texas, Arlington.

In a study published in the Journal of Criminology on Thursday, a team of researchers found that students at schools with anti-bullying initiatives are actually more likely to be victims of bullying than students who attend schools without such programs.

Speculation about the reasons anti-bullying programs don’t work:

  • Bullies are able to learn how better to escape detection.
  • Educational programs increase the reporting of incidents.
  • Knowledge simply does not translate to prevention, and more sophisticated programs are needed

Schools use many programs that “lack solid evidence about their effectiveness“.

Among many educators, ‘personal anecdote trumps data’.

… Too often, they are swayed by marketing or anecdotes or the latest fad. And “invariably,” he added, “folks trying to sell a program will say there is evidence behind it,” even though that evidence is far from rigorous.

While Rachel’s Challenge and DARE both engage students, they don’t reduce bullying and drug abuse.

I once challenged the use of Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying program, in our local schools.  When I questioned why the school was spending time and money on an anti-bullying program that could only offer “anecdotal” evidence of its efficacy, I was met with protests that it engaged many students and moved them to tears with its stories.

Another feel-good program is DARE, which aims to prevent drug abuse and violence,  Local teachers have acknowledged there is no data showing it works.  Again, their defense is that it engages students.

Related:  ‘Schools of education focus on fads, not knowledge and skills’ (Cost of College)

October 7, 2013

Earnings potential may be predicted by ‘knowledge of fractions in fifth grade’

by Grace

Math expertise correlates with lower unemployment rates among recent college graduates.

Recent college graduates who majored in math or general engineering had an unemployment rate of 5.9% and 7%, respectively, according to 2010-2011 data of college graduates analyzed by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce that was released earlier this year. That was below the overall unemployment rate for recent graduates, which averaged 7.9% in spring 2011 and double-digit unemployment rates for some social science and arts majors.

Math skills also correlate with higher earnings.

The economists examine the large differences in labor-market outcomes across college majors in several ways. In one section of their paper, they look at data on wages by college major obtained through the Census Bureau‘s 2009 American Community Survey. They find that among other things, math skills are correlated to higher earnings. “Wages tend to be high for engineers and low for elementary education majors, suggesting that perhaps much of the wage differences between majors are due to differences in mathematical ability and high school course work,” the authors write.

Higher-level math skills depend on a “child’s knowledge of fractions in fifth grade”.  Proficiency with fractions is “foundational for algebra”.  Unfortunately, American students are not doing very well in this area.

National tests show nearly half of eighth-graders aren’t able to put three fractions in order by size.

The introduction of Common Core Standards and more research on effective instructional methods may improve math achievement levels, but we’ll have to wait and see.  In the meantime, parents may be able to enhance their children’s future earning potential by making sure they understand and know how to manipulate fractions before they leave middle school.

September 5, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – More on DETAILS and A CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS

by Grace

A follow-up to the topic of THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS along with an introduction to A CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS are covered in this post.  (This is the 18th post about my project to study and learn William Kerrigan’s Writing to the Point (WTTP) Six-Step method of writing an expository essay, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)


THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS AND AN INTRODUCTION TO A CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS

DETAILS

My previous WTTP post revisited the IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS, giving the background information about a new assignment.  This is worth repeating:

“Three-fourths of all good writing consists of details and plenty of them.”


CHECKLIST FOR REVISIONS

In his book Kerrigan offers an 11-step checklist for revising an essay, a tool that is consistent with his approach of writing instruction that offers direct and precise guidance incorporated into a systematic process.  Here are the first few items from the checklist.

1.  Does the theme make a point?  (Step 1, Chapter 1.)  Does that point follow the ten rules for Sentence X?  (Chapter 2, page 28.)
2.  Do the paragraphs and their sentences keep to the point?  (Steps 2 and 3.  Chapters 2 and 3.)
3.  Do the paragraphs support the point with specific details?  (Step 4, Chapter 4.)
4.  Do the paragraphs support the point with examples?  (Step 4, Chapter 4.)


THE ASSIGNMENT

Write an essay on a subject of your own choice   As you write, be very critical of your use of sufficient detail.  When you have finished your draft, refer to the checklist in Appendix II, focusing on items 3 and 4, details and specific example….

This is the essay I wrote for the assignment:

X  Traveling is an excellent way to spend summer break.
1.  Traveling is enjoyable.
2.  Traveling is educational.
3.  Traveling strengthens relationships.

————————————————————————————————————————–

X  Traveling is an excellent way to spend summer break.

1.  Traveling is enjoyable.  Most people enjoy going to new locations as a way to get a break from their routines.  Although some choose extreme excursions and others prefer tamer travels, the opportunity to give the mind and body a taste of something different is agreeable to almost everyone.  Ascending to the top of Kilimanjaro gives the outdoor enthusiast a thrill not matched by the more familiar climbing that he does on weekends.  On the other hand, a relaxing week at a resort is just the kind of indulgent pleasure that appeals to other types of travelers.

2.  Traveling is educational.  A simple change in environment always teaches a traveler something new.  Perhaps a traveler will learn something as basic as the fact that he does not like a humid climate and too much free time.  Traveling to Paris, he may learn about French street fashion and the appeal of having a café au lait with brioche for breakfast.  A visit to Washington D.C. presents the perfect opportunity to learn more about American history and government.  Travel offers abundant learning opportunities of many different types.

3.  Traveling strengthens relationships.  Anyone who has traveled with family or friends knows that shared experiences in distant locales create unique bonding opportunities.  Whether it’s sharing a breath-taking view of the Grand Canyon or waiting in a long line for lost luggage, traveling companions often get to know and appreciate new aspects of each other’s personality.  That is one reason mother-daughter or father-son trips are highly recommended as a way to strengthen family relationships.

The benefits of summer travel include enjoyment, education, and enhanced personal relationships.


WHAT I LEARNED

A writer should always be thinking about including abundant detail.  With practice this will become an automatic part of the writing process.  Using a checklist in the revision process makes it easier to cover all bases while ensuring that the correct habits are being reinforced.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 30, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS

by Grace

Because it is such an important aspect of the Writing to the Point method, THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS is revisited as a topic for discussion.  (This is my 17th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF DETAILS

“Three-fourths of all good writing consists of details and plenty of them.”

The importance of including abundant details is revisited as a topic because Kerrigan saw a strong tendency among developing writers to be excessively abstract and general.  It may be because adding details can be hard work, and in a rush to get the composition done a student often neglects to go the extra length needed to add examples and concrete descriptions.  It is also the case that a writer usually holds in his head a clear understanding of the message and context of his topic, and sometimes forgets that the reader needs more details to achieve a similar understanding.

Being specific and concrete, as well as going into detail and using examples, add clarity and interest to writing.

Some examples:

She sat down.
or
She happily plopped into an overstuffed chair with a look of immense relief on her face.

He took a driving test.
or
Sam nervously clutched the steering wheel as he listened intently to the instructions, his hopes of getting a driver’s license fading with every turn.

He was eating food.
or
Mark was slowly munching on a baby carrot.

THE ASSIGNMENT
My next Kerrigan post will cover the assignment for this section, as well as the introduction of a fabulously helpful checklist for revising first drafts.  Stay tuned!

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 23, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT CONCEPTS

by Grace

SUMMARY OF SOME IMPORTANT CONCEPTS from Writing to the Point is presented in this post.  A few of the concepts are listed below.  (This is the 16th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

 

A SELECTED LIST OF SOME IMPORTANT WRITING TO THE POINT CONCEPTS

The rules must be followed.

Steps 1, 2,3, and 4 are not rules that someone has decided on, like the rules of a game.  They can’t be changed, as in the case of the elimination some years ago of the center jump in basketball.  No, they arise out the very nature of writing, and are as necessary for writing as heat is for cooking, cloth for clothing, fuel for an engine.

Sentences X-1-2-3 are at the core of a good essay.

No one can write an essay on a topic.  You must write a sentence about a topic, then write the essay strictly on that sentence.  Once that sentence is well written, the essay nearly writes itself, because that sentence dictates what must be said.

Be consistent in tone.

Always keep in mind your purpose of explaining something to somebody.  Make that somebody one real or imagined person.  Fit your tone to that person and try not to vary it.

The overriding goal is to stick to the point.

Do not let your thought be, “I must make this artistic,” “I must make this beautiful,” ” I must make this clever or amusing,” or “I must make this important-sounding,” but “I must make this real, clear, and convincing to a certain reader; and to do that I must follow Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4.”

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 16, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – INTRODUCTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT NECESSARY

by Grace

INTRODUCTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY, according to William Kerrigan’s method of Writing to the Point.  (This is my 15th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method of writing an expository essay, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)


INTRODUCTIONS AND CONCLUSIONS ARE NOT ALWAYS NECESSARY!

Kerrigan takes the unconventional view that essays do not require introductory paragraphs and concluding paragraphs.

… If an introduction is necessary, then of course have one.  But do not have an introduction just for the sake of having an introduction, any more than you would flap your arms up and down three times before putting on your coat — it’s pointless….

Kerrigan’s reasoning about introductions and conclusions:

  • They often take up too much word space, far out of proportion to the body of an essay.
  • An introduction can be distracting, leading the reader to a topic that is not the subject of the essay.  It’s better to get right to the point than to beat around the bush at the beginning.
  • If introductions and conclusions are used, they should be as succinct as possible.

Obviously, this approach is very different from conventional teaching in American schools.  But it still makes sense to learn Kerrigan’s method, for it teaches the value of concise expression and the skills useful in getting to the point quickly.  Learning how to build effective introductory and concluding paragraphs can occur after learning how to organize and develop the body of a well-written essay.

In place of paragraphs, here is the Kerrigan way of starting and ending essays:

Instead of introductory paragraph:  Sentence X
Instead of concluding paragraph:  Short “rounding off” sentence

Short “rounding off” sentence

… can be an echo of Sentence X, or some short sentence in which you manage to drive the point of the them home.


THE ASSIGNMENT

Write short rounding off sentences for three of the essays you’ve already written.

Here are a couple of the sentences I wrote.

Rounding off sentence for the essay from this post:  Colorful foliage, crisp weather, and fun-filled activities all make autumn an exhilarating time of year.
Sentence X was:  Autumn is an exhilarating time of year.

Rounding off sentence for the essay from this post:  For all these reasons, a student must have a regular schedule of study.
Sentence X was:  A student must have a regular schedule of study.

WHAT I LEARNED

Less is more.  Unnecessary verbiage detracts from the point of the essay.  On the other hand, a catchy introductory paragraph should not be written until after the thesis statement (Sentence X) is written.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

August 8, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – STICK TO THE KERRIGAN RULES

by Grace

IT IS IMPORTANT TO STICK TO THE KERRIGAN RULES.  This is another topic that is discussed before moving past Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point(This is my 14th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

PURPOSE GOVERNS EVERYTHING, AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO STICK TO THE KERRIGAN RULES

Purpose can also be called “meaning” or the “point”, as in Kerrigan’s book title, Writing to the Point.

For the type of expository writing addressed by Kerrigan’s method, “the entirety of the essay should be devoted to making the writer’s point”.  But before he can write the essay, the writer must know what his point is.  The X-1-2-3 format helps the writer focus on formulating and expanding upon his point, as well as helping the reader comprehend the essay’s meaning.

Why should the writer stick to the Kerrigan rules?

Why can’t the writer be “creative”? For example, why does he have to put Sentence X at the beginning?

In fact, a writer can be creative and put Sentence X, which is the thesis sentence, in a different location within the essay.  It’s done frequently, with successful results.  However, the writer must think of the purpose. and consider three things.

First, your purpose cannot be just to be different  which is simply eccentricity, or sometimes a mask for laziness.  Second, your need to have Sentence X somewhere else must be very great indeed if it makes you sacrifice the marvelous advantage of letting your readers know at once what your point is.

Third, if you don’t state your point at once, you must still guide your readers toward that point through a mass of material in such a way as to convince them they are moving clearly toward a point, without their ever being wholly puzzled and without their getting the idea along the way that they see your point when actually they are mistaken.  To do that takes great skill.  Do you have that skill? . . . You may develop it; but if you are going to develop it, certainly the beginning of the development will be getting the idea of point deeply and clearly fixed in your mind.  And the best way I know to do that is to get lots of practice in writing essays based on the method in this book.

The Kerrigan method is an instructional approach for developing writers.  I think it’s particularly useful for struggling writers.  If I were a teacher with a few highly skilled writers in my class, it’s unlikely I would have them strictly follow the Kerrigan method.  They are ready to move beyond the strict format of the Kerrigan method.

Breaking the rules is fine, but it takes advanced skill. Usually, that skill is only developed after much practice writing following the rules.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

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