This post will be brief since I feel like if I tried to write about everything from this article, I might never stop. Wiley makes some interesting points about writing instruction in his article. While most are quick to harangue the five paragraph format, there are some inherent benefits of the structure that cannot be denied. It helps make writing less intimidating at the onset by requiring outlines, it provides structure, and it is a good stepping stone into the door of writing. As Wiley points out, the problem isn’t the format itself, it’s what the format leads to or how it’s used that is troubling.
Schaffer intended this approach of hers to remain an elementary step for postsecondary composition, not as the endpoint for all writing instruction. Her workshop recommends implementing it in schools but also calls for abandoning it by 11th grade. This is not always the case, and as Wiley points out, teachers who are attracted to this formulaic approach are likely the ones uncomfortable with stepping outside routine or knowing how to build on the method to increase student exploration in writing. As a result, students come to regard this format as writing and thus come to hate it. But the true pitfall is that students begin to see this as the way to write all essays, when the method is merely one small beginner tool in a much larger box of strategies. The format has no utility in most college writing classes, or more importantly provides no assistance when it comes to time for students to write their college entrance essay. I wrote an inquiry for Chris Fosen a year or so ago about this topic and one of my favorite articles said that there is as much wrong with Schaffer’s method as there is with training wheels or a junior tennis racket — absolutely nothing as long as its purpose is understood from the get-go.