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I’m an English teacher and as an English teacher I have one of the best jobs in the

universe. On a daily basis, I get to have interesting discussions about Shakespeare, Jane
Austen, Walt Whitman, and Battlestar Gallactica. What could be better than that?
Footage of teachers, 60s teachers rapping, Stills of Will, Jane, Walt, and Vipers
blowing up stuff…
Knitting students:
Film Teacher:
Old class:

Still, in my capacity as an English teacher, I’m also obliged to give every student—
regardless of race, creed, or national origin—the 5-paragraph essay.

Jail scenes? Bored kids in a classroom

Now the essay dates back to Michel Montaigne—a really rich French dude who decided
there was really nothing more fascinating in the world than whatever weird thing
happened to be rattling around in his brain. Of course, the fact that the dude could write
like a hell on a moped meant that even when he was going on about cannibals or Solitude
or the resemblance of children to their fathers it was still interesting.

Film of a French dude writing? Paintings? Hell on a moped? Writing fast?
Cannibals, Solitude, Dads and Sons…
French dude writing…
Father and Sons:

When we fast-forward to 2007, we find that the meandering, brilliant, slightly-insane
musings of a quirky French guy have morphed into the 5 paragraph essay. Everyone,
everyone, everyone must learn how to construct a thesis, cobble together three body
paragraphs, and then, well, say the thesis again. You have to learn how to use specific
examples but not too much. You have to learn how to give your personal interpretation
but not too much. And in the end you leave school and you find out that no-one ever
writes 5-paragraph essays. Which I always imagine is disillusioning, next to learning
about Santa Claus, the 2nd most disillusioning thing we ever find out about the real world.

Fast forward transition…crazy guy…Shoe cobbler…Teacher waving her finger…
Child looking disillusioned…Santa Claus – Crying kid…
Dead Santa:

Now there are real reasons why we don’t ask everyone to write like Montaigne. We want
to help students order their thoughts into a form that other people can understand. We
don’t want writing that just goes on and on and on. So, we invented the 5 paragraph essay
to tidy up this messy writing business and sometimes we forget that it’s meant to be
training wheels. This is practice. We’re meant to take them off and go careening off into
traffic, crash around a little bit, and then fly.

Order…Marching…Lines…Some crowd shots…Cleaning…Traffic…Crashing
(bumper cars)…and then soaring…

Which brings us to the Internet. Today’s technology allows us to email Fuji, skype
Guatemala, and play Pong with Panamanians. And it also allows us to find a way to ditch
the 5-paragraph essay.

Old computers…World Map…Skype…Ping Ping…Throwing something away…

Trash can:

The Digital Essay is ready to be born. With the ability to marry words, video, sounds, and
even images of rampaging rhinocerocii, the Internet can quickly change how we thing
about the expository essay. .

Kid born…Marry…Rhinoceri…


Imagine a world where the No Child Left Behind Act asks every kid to be proficient in
digital essays. Every student would be able to express themselves in the most powerful
media ever invented. Students in Des Moines, Iowa can trade videos of their daily life
with students in Kilgari or Bonn or Inchon or Carachi or Venice. Instead of just thesis-
topic sentence-evidence-interpretation, (which is important) we can be asking students to
be literate in design theory, visual literacy, story creation, and film. Students will be
motivated because not only does the Digital Essay just look cool but it can be quickly
shared, tagged, cut and remixed, responded to, and expanded on. Our world is more and
more visual but—and this is crucial—our world is also more and more democratic. We
are not content to just passive absorb media; we want to make our own.

NCLB vid, kids w/ video cameras, Cities…Words thesis, etc…Examples of cool
video (rocketboom, Ask a Ninja, Dr Z) Democratic. Passive clip…Active clip…

Ask a Ninja:
Watching TV:


With the Digital Essay we tap into that. We give students a chance to have their voice
heard with multiple opportunities to make that voice unique, exciting, challenging, and as
awesome as humanly possible.

Voting…Student examples of work…

I know I can’t wait.

Ending w/ text…

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