“For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Yes, yes, I know the title of this blog is exploits a fatuous link but I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough this evening and giddiness -or exhaustion- has clouded my judgement. I can be slow of study sometimes and it takes me a while to define a hunch, then longer to work out how to respond, then still longer to decide on the strategy needed to convey my take on it all. One look at that last interminably long sentence is proof enough.
So it is with this PEE/PEA/PEAL bloody ubiquitous toxic paragraph rule. I spend half my time teaching them the habit and the other half trying to break them of it. The pull and push of it all has me in some kind of pedagogic Stockholm Syndrome. I know the next step is to write more flexibly but you try telling a stressed exam class to be ‘flexible’ and see how far you get. Bonne chance (á l’hopital)
What they want are approaches that free them up without cutting them loose. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that simply hammering home the need to lean on the A in PEA wasn’t good enough. It took most students at least three sentences to say anything worth reading and my feedback was largely focused on getting them to use the last sentence of the paragraph as the opening statement and then develop from there. This they could mostly do until they had to write under exam conditions and then they couldn’t, again.
So the cogs turned at a glacial pace* and eventually I realised that my focus needed to shift from the middle of the paragraph to the opening. This moment of clarity happened to coincide with someone saying something similar at a conference too, which made me think that since we had both come to the same conclusion, I should probably crack on and do something about it. So I started banging on about argument statements to anyone who I could corner and then I observed a lesson last term that used @headofenglish’s rainbow analysis, which was a pleasure to see in action. I like the elegance of the colour metaphor for building layers of argument or analysis and the ‘pot of gold’ plenary appeals to the same sense of joy as the smiley face sticker. These two separate streams of consciousness collided this afternoon and I made a rainbow argument statement resource. A bit of it looks like this
Having bragged to my own kids about my excellent lesson planning, I suddenly found myself delivering a mini-lesson to a 9 year old, a 13 year old and my husband who is old enough to know better. Naturally, we chose a text we all knew.
By the end, all three had outdone my exemplar sentence (the speaker uses rhyme to emphasise his dislike so that Sam-I-Am understands that there isn’t “anywhere” he would like them). My 9 year old was exploring the use of the first person to address the frustrating way in which Sam refuses to see any viewpoint but his own. My husband got carried away trying to explain his thesis on ‘escalation’ and my son learned that a sentence containing ‘this shows’ is almost certainly going to be a bit average in comparison to one with a really precise analytical verb. Then we all realised it was way past dinner time and a school night.
Having subsequently taken the version I made for The Crucible to my Y11 revision session, I am very happy with the approach. Here’s a couple of examples that one student emailed me afterwards
Miller depicts the couple’s relationship as distant in Act 2, with John being “not open with” Elizabeth, to create a contrast with the unity and closeness of the same couple at the end of the play.
It’s very clear where this paragraph is heading. Likewise this next one.
Miller first introduces Proctor as “respected and even feared”, to illustrate through Proctors death later in the play, just how hysterical the town of Salem has become
This has definitely been a high-impact strategy that I can adapt for a range of ages and stages.
Try it, try it and you may.
*if you dislike mixed metaphors, best to pop off now.