Introduction to “Damn the Five-Paragraph Format to Hell”: Student and Faculty Perspectives of Writing

During my freshman year of high school, my history teacher gave the class our first writing assignment in preparation for the Advanced Placement World History exam. The prompt required students to analyze a small series of historical documents and evaluate Roman attitudes toward nomadic tribes (the “barbarians”) prior to the fall of the Empire. I wrote feverishly throughout our 42-minute class period, opening the essay with the invasion of Odoacer in 476 C.E., writing a thesis about Roman xenophobia, analyzing the historical evidence from the documents, and concluding the essay with the claim that based on their violence and prejudice against outsiders, the Romans, not the nomads, were in fact the “barbarians.” I finished the essay, flushed with freshman pride at how well I thought I had done. My teacher handed back the assignments at the end of the week with the AP rubric attached. Much to my surprise, my essay received only 5 out of 9.

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