Let's begin with the 5 paragraph essay. There has been some discussion lately on Facebook about research and the effectiveness of the 5 paragraph essay. Here is a link to one of the articles that spurred discussion: https://writerswhocare.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/what-do-students-think-about-the-five-paragraph-essay/. While some see the form as giving kids scaffolding, I tend to think it is more limiting and narrowing than helpful structure. Of course, with the emphasis by some with "college and career ready," the 5 paragraph essay seems to be the logical form for instruction. I wonder, though, if careers use this form? And I know that colleges, including my own, have moved from this narrow structure to broaden how students address a topic or present an argument.
I think back to all the writing instruction I received prior to the 1980s when I became a writing project fellow. I recall rules like this:
1. Paragraphs have 5 sentences: topic, 3 details, conclusion.
2. Never start a sentence with a conjunction of any kind.
3. Do not end a sentence with a preposition.
4. Use third person, not first or second person.
I break every one of those rules every time I write. I have left the 5 paragraph essay in the dust, deep in the dust, buried in the dust. When I found my voice and style, I left these rules where they belong: behind me.
I remember the residents of the back bedroom heading off to college with the admonitions of their AP ELA teachers about how to write. And I recall when they took rhetoric and composition and discovered that those admonitions, those endless hours of crafting tortuously structured essays were now something they could leave behind as well. Suddenly it was their voice that counted more than the formulaic forms and rules. Let's honor voice and choice and discard the formula-ache.