Student writing essay
Student writing essay
Mika Glasgow

Are essays on their way out?

The American school system is failing to teach their students writing effectively. Middle school students learn to write essays for high school. High school students learn to write essays for college. College students expand upon what they’ve learned throughout their academic career. But then what?

That’s the problem. With a recent decline in literacy skills, schools need to adjust accordingly to better support their students. Forcing students to write academic essays is unproductive and behind the times.

Some of the skills students are supposed to gain from essays are the ability to adopt a position with evidence, clearly explain ideas, and critical thinking. And they do … sometimes.

“I think a lot of times students aren’t really getting those skills … they get too bogged down in the format, or length, or like nitty gritty requirements of the essay, instead of actually practicing those skills,” said DP English teacher Hannah Krieshok. “There are better ways to isolate the skills that you’re actually looking for in an essay.”

“There are better ways to isolate the skills that you’re actually looking for in an essay.”

— Hannah Krieshok, DP English teacher

Essays would be most beneficial if reserved for higher level English classes. In lower level classes, students should first be given tools in their tool box like grammar, critical thinking, and literacy skills. With these tools, if students need to write an outstanding essay, they can, but curriculums shouldn’t be built around essays.

Essays themselves have no practical application in the “real world.” While the skills students are supposed to gain from them will certainly become relevant in the future, focusing on strict essay structure is slowing students down and holding them back.

“I loved English class and I always loved writing, but it would be super frustrating, especially with the five paragraph essay, to have the thoughts that I had, and then be limited to what I can write about,” said student teacher Jess Lechon. “I feel like academic essays are often super limited because you’re answering a prompt, in a certain amount of words, or a certain amount of paragraphs, and that’s not necessarily for everybody.”

Not only are students bored with strict essay structure, teachers are bored with grading them. The redundancy of reading 30 papers on the same topic naturally becomes uninteresting.

“Any English teacher that’s like, ‘I love assigning essays,’ and ‘I love grading them,’ they’re probably lying,” said English teacher Kelly Savio. “I mean we know it’s not exciting [for students], and it’s not exciting for us to grade them either.”

“Any English teacher that’s like, ‘I love assigning essays,’ and ‘I love grading them,’ they’re probably lying.”

— Kelly Savio, English teacher

A big emphasis of essays is on the writing process; the ability to draft and develop. However, a majority of this has gone out the window with the introduction of artificial intelligence. Because of this, there’s been a large shift recently from take-home essays to in-class essays as a means to combat plagiarism. However, the time constraints creates new anxiety surrounding the time limit and doesn’t allow for planning or polishing. Both forms of writing pose many issues and hassle, and it seems that the pros are outweighed by the cons.

At Dos Pueblos, students can expect to write two to six academic essays a year, depending on their class. Savio attributes part of DP’s reliance on essays to the block schedule.

“Before [when] we had students all year long, I think that there was more of that kind of non-essay kind of opportunity to share your thinking and to practice these skills, because you can do it outside of an essay,” Savio said. “There were a lot more creative projects or alternatives to essays in a year-long schedule, but because of the condensed time of the block, a lot of [teachers] have had to default to essays.”

The perhaps unfortunate reality is that essays are still relevant and aren’t going anywhere, for now. Especially in preparation for college, teachers have to continue to require essay writing in their curriculums.

“Teachers are struggling,” said Savio. “If we don’t prepare you for essays, then we haven’t prepared you for college. So by default, they sort of take this priority that I would say, is kind of like a social construct priority. It’s because of college that we’re making it a priority.”

Creating assessments comparable to essays is necessary, but finding alternatives that assess the same skills is tough. Creative alternatives like choice boards, podcasts, and more do exist, and could be a replacement to the traditional essay. However, these solutions would require a tremendous amount of time and effort. Teachers need paid time to come up with ideas and to perfect them, which they don’t have.

“I think that giving students the platform to be able to choose how they want to learn is really important because we all learn in different ways,” Lechon said. “All students are different, and we need to account for that.”

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  • R

    RileyApr 16, 2024 at 5:48 pm

    Love the article, never thought of it that way.