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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Diagnosing Essays

            I’ve been watching a lot of House, M.D. of late. An entire marathon of all 8 seasons, actually. And one of the things that I love about the show is how integrated everything is. Certain diseases (and yes I’m aware that not all of the medicine is 100% accurate) that are explored on the show are not responsible for all the symptoms a particular patient has. The disease will cause the failure of a certain organ or system, and then that failing organ or system causes other problems, so it’s important to know that not all of the symptoms have a single cause.
            Essays are somewhat like this. Everything in an essay affects everything else. Very rarely is there only one thing wrong with an essay. I have yet to encounter an essay that has excellent support, but no claims. Nor is there one with excellent argumentation, but bad organization. There cannot be an essay with excellent argumentation and indecipherable grammar, either. So many components of an essay are integrated into a whole system that if one thing fails completely, the rest of it will fail as well. The failure of one organ affects another, and so on.
            This is one of the difficulties with teaching essay writing. It’s all connected like the human body, but one failure causes multiple failures. Only when all the components are working well does the essay work.
            Of course, getting there is trickier than it seems, and there’s no one way to teach students how to get there.
            And of course, because everything is connected, diagnosing the true problem is often difficult. Problems in logic hide behind organization. Problems with grammar can mask problems with argumentation. Lack of support can be caused by lack of logic. And so on.
            Unfortunately, much like House, a lot of what I do is experiment and test until I hit upon what a particular student’s condition is, then try and apply the correct prescription.
            It was a lot more fun on House.
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