Papers. Essays. Research Papers. Compositions. These are an important part of any school education, but there is something missing here. Essays are almost unanimously hated by students, hard to work on and finish, and hard to take seriously except for the fact that they are attached to a large part of the student’s grade. The missing links here are sharing and caring.
The current essay-writing system looks like this: 1) Teacher assigns essay. 2) Student writes essay. 3) Teacher grades/comments on essay. And then what? You’re given an essay back with, let’s say, a “B-” on it. What do you do? Keep it in a folder? Frame it on your wall? Burn it? (To be fair, sometimes there are steps 6 and 7 which are respectively “Student revises essay” and “Teacher re-grades/re-comments on essay” but that doesn’t really change anything.) Because of this lack of completion of the essay-writing process, motivation to write a good essay is solely dependent on the reward/punishment feedback system of grades which, let me tell you, breaks down under a surprisingly small amount of intellectual pressure.
If we, taking more than a few pages from the Agile Learning process’ book, make the essay have inherent value it turns from an excuse for someone to either castigate you or pat you on the back into something much more powerful. Let’s say we implement a new system. Here’s how it works: 1) Teacher assigns essay. 2) Student writes essay. 3) Student and teacher work together to make the essay ready so that 4) Teacher and/or student shares essay in a relevant online community or another place where it would be of value or of use to others. Using this method, every essay-writer becomes accountable to other humans who value what the essay-writer has to say. The motivation problem is addressed, if not solved, and the system fosters the idea that children and teenagers can, and should, contribute in real ways to the larger community which is an idea that conventional schools entirely disregard and even deny.
As an add-on to this system, students should be writing about things that they are genuinely interested in. The tone of the writer can be heard through the writing and it affects how much the reader is engaged while reading. The reader will enjoy a piece of writing as much as the writer enjoyed writing it. A good essay never comes from apathy. It stems from enthusiasm for the subject at hand. Students must care about what they are writing about for anything valuable to unfold.
Interested students writing and sharing useful pieces that have intrinsic value will create the best work possible and will learn the most.