I remember when my daughter was in second grade. She
got mad once and kicked a classmate. As punishment, her
karate teacher assigned her to write an essay on the
incident. When I saw the title, I had to laugh. She
had written "SA" at the top.
do you think when you hear the word "essay"? You might,
like my daughter, think the letters "SA." More likely,
you think, with that twist in your gut, "Oh, no, I've
gotta write X number of paragraphs about something."
Many students get no farther than that "write ABOUT
something." And this idea leads them to wander around,
not sure exactly where they're going with their
writing. Sometimes, they use other people's information
and throw in a few quotes, and I get a report, rather
than an essay.
word essay comes from the French, where the word
means "to try, to test, to prove." Now, don't take
those definitions as three different things -- it's all
the same thing in French. Think of it. When you want
to buy a car, first you have to drive it. What are you
doing? A test drive. You are trying it out. You are
proving certain things to yourself: that this car is
the right car for you, or that it's the wrong car.
English, we got the word "assay" as a derivative of
essay. Do you know what "assay" means? Ever see a
movie about the '49ers, those prospectors in the
California gold rush? Old guy's yelling "Gold! Gold!
I found gold!" and waving this chunk of rock around.
Then he looks at the chunk and says, "At least I think
it's gold." His next move is to go to the assayer's
office. The assayer assays the chunk of rock.
He puts the chunk into a kiln, and melts it under
extreme temperatures, which separates the minerals and
metals. Then he is able to isolate the gold, weigh it
and tell the old man the value of the gold. By putting
the chunk into a kiln, he's testing it out,
proving the value.
That's what you should be doing with an essay. You have
an idea. It may be gold. How do you know it's gold?
You melt it down. Try it out. Test it. Prove it.
Prove to the world it's gold.
Another slight problem students have with essays is
ownership. The idea needs to be yours. You aren't
taking someone else's chunk of gold to the assayer's
office; it's yours.
find I sometimes have to persuade my students of their
authority. They are so used to taking other people's
ideas and information, chewing on them, then spitting
them out, slightly malformed. That's a report. Or some
kind of gum.
with your opinion. If you've arrived at that opinion
through good, logical thinking, your proof should be
clear. You should have some good gold there. Own it.
daughter wrote in her essay some good points about what
she should have done and why she did what she did. For
a second grader, it was a fine SA.