So my eight year-old daughter came home today with some information about T-charts. A t-chart is a kind of graphic organizer (imagine a list where you write "should I get a cat?" at the top and then list pros and cons in two columns and you’ll get the idea of what a t-chart might look like).
In this t-chart, the student writes the question that has been asked at the top. In the left column, the student writes the "answer" to the question: the sheet notes that "filling in this box really makes you think." OK, if you say so… Anyway, in the right column, the student lists the "details that prove your Answer." The t-chart my daughter receives comes with three bullets already put in. Elsewhere, we are given the essay structure with an "Introduction" where you "Tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em," the "Body" where you "Tell ’em the details!" (and we have previously learned that the optimal number of details is 3), and finally the
"Conclusion" where you "Tell ’em what you told ’em."
Yes, my daughter is being taught the five-paragraph theme. Keep in mind that the person teaching this crap has a graduate degree in Education and received that degree from my own college. So I wonder how you go through all those classes and come out thinking that this is a way to teach writing. What are we doing?
The thing is that the problem isn’t really with the concept of the graphic organizer or even the T-chart as a graphic organizer.
One might create purposeful and/or wildly experimental t-charts. You could even take the old rhetorical triangle and turn it into a t-chart. No, the problem here lies in the assumptions about writing that inform the chart, and there are so many detrimental attributes to this. Where to start?
- It assumes that writing is about answering specific, given questions. How often does that occur outside of a testing environment?
- It assumes that writing (and the world) is composed of answers.
- It foreshortens the process of invention by turning it into answers + proof.
- It makes for very dull writing.
- It teaches students to dislike writing.
How do I know those last two things? Because I see the products of this "teaching" walk into first-year composition courses and professional writing courses. I know because I’ve made a career out of trying to undo the damage of K-12 writing instruction (as has every rhet/comp instructor).