“Formula” in Writing

The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist)

Jane Schaffer developed this 9 week writing formula to help secondary and higher education students with academic writing. She explains how each body paragraph must have at least eight to ten sentences, a concrete detail sentence that forms a specific detail such as facts, evidence, examples, proofs, quotations or paraphrase, or plot references, and two commentary sentences which is the writer’s analysis or personal reaction to the concrete detail sentence. Also, each paragraph must have a 1:2 ratio (1 concrete to 2 commentary) and needs to be a minimum of 100 words. However, when it comes to the introduction and conclusion paragraphs, they must be 40+ words, with the introduction containing at least three sentences and a thesis somewhere in the first paragraph, while conclusions must contain all commentary and provide a finished feeling to the essay (Schaffer, 62).

“Schaffer claims this format
replicates what is found in high
scoring essays on district-wide
tests and AP exams.”

Schaffer continues with explaining how teachers find her formula to be beneficial because it provides them with lesson plans each day. With each lesson, they are able to concentrate on one part of the paragraph and explain that detail into further instruction instead of giving them an outline and having the students ‘wing’ it.

Also, another benefit to students by using her formula is they would be able to identify between fact and opinion. They will also be able to directly take evidence from the text which will eventually become the concrete detail in their paragraph.

Afterwards, they would be able to explain that concrete detail in two sentences which will result in a composed full-bodied paragraph of at least eight or ten sentences.

Later on, she explains that the moment students learn how to properly use her writing formula, they might turn away from it. She explains,

“The formulaic nature of this unit does not bother us because students may leave it once they understand it. Some students leave the format early in the process; others choose not to leave it at all because they like the structure and say it helps them know what to do with a blank page” (Schaffer, 63 ).

As a writer myself, I find that her formula can be very beneficial in the education system especially in the lower secondary education grades (middle school age). As one of our classmates mentioned last night, her students (who are in eighth grade) took the PSATs this past week. At first I was taking back by that information because I remember taking them when I was in tenth grade. But after thinking about it, I feel that taking the PSATs as earlier as possible can only benefit the students more for their future education career.

By taking the PSATs at a younger age, they will be able to adapt easier to the standardized testing that is chosen for them in high school and beyond. Which goes back to my original point of teaching Jane Schaffer’s Formula as early as middle school age, so the students will be able to write proper and advanced papers before they even enter high school and this will also prepare them for the SATs, ACTs, HESPAs and even Accuplacer Tests when they apply for college.

High stakes and low stakes in assigning and responding to writing

Elbow jumps into explaining how writing courses need more high and low stakes assessments. However, he begins to list off the benefits on low stake writing assessments.

Low Stake Assessments

• Helps students grow as a writer and help them with more ideas in the subject matter of a particular course. It also helps them find their own voice and language in the course which will help create their own analogies and metaphors.

• When students write high stake writing assessments they often struggle in ways that aren’t productive. However, if they produce low stake writing, it will become more clear to the reader and you’ll be able to sense the passion behind the writing.

• Low stakes writing will improve the quality of the students’ on work by giving feedback which will ensure the students of their work and they will be ‘warmed up’ for higher stake writing.

• By having low stake writing assessments, it ill give the teacher a better view of how the students knows the course material and absorbing what the teacher is saying during class. This will also give the teacher a better understanding on how their mind works (Elbow, 7-8).

Elbow then begins to explain how to respond to a students writing. For my response to this topic, please refer back to the PowerPoint I presented with Nives about Writing Feedback on Students Papers.

Overall, I feel like that should be more low stake writing assignments in writing classes especially in the lower grades (higher elementary and middle school) to get these students used to the writing process and perfect their essay/paper structure before they enter high school so they don’t get overwhelmed.

However, in higher middle school grades they should introduce high stake writing assignments. The teacher should focus on paragraph by paragraph each week; like a portfolio and then within a month or two the students will have completed a 5-7 page paper depending on the teachers lesson plans.

In my Senior Seminar course during my Undergraduate degree, my professor had us work on our final paper in sections. First, we had to write a proposal that explained what we wanted to write for our final thesis with at least three sources. Two weeks later, our draft outline was due with an additional three sources.

Next, we needed to complete our introduction with our thesis statement and these needed to be at least 2 pages. Every week following that class, we needed to present him with 3-4 pages until met our page minimum of 15 pages or until we finished out entire paper.

Also, in between each class we would have conferences with him about our progress we were making and this is when he would give us any feedback that would better enhance our paper.

By having deadlines through out longer papers gives the writer a less stressed time when completing their work.