What I Ask My Students to Write

In my first year of developing and implementing a problem-based learning approach in my ethics courses, I spotted and moved to correct any number of design flaws, small and large. By the end of that year, though, I realized that a well established feature of my courses would have to change.

I had to do something about essays.

At their very best, essays are an excellent form in which to explore and develop ideas. When I used to assign essays, I would hope that students would catch on to the spirit of the enterprise and really try things out, consider possibilities, and generally learn something in the process of writing.

For my students, though, the essay form was too often based on the old five-paragraph plug-and-chug they’d learn in high school, a form that has established itself as one of the most effective thinking-avoidance tools available. Continue reading