Knowing the topic would engage the students in my room, I crafted two short persuasive paragraphs, one arguing that skating was more important than partying, the other making the case for partying over skating lessons. Both examples included a topic sentence, 3 relevant details, and a summary statement. Truly, they were works of paragraphical art!
Alas, as the students worked through the two examples together, deconstructing each paragraph by underlining topic sentence, details and concluding statement, and transferring each segment into a graphic organizer of their choice, it became very apparent to me that the vast majority of the students thought this was a lesson about what's more important, skating or birthday parties. The intended focus of paragraph structure was completely lost on them!
Daniel Willingham, in his book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, argues that students will learn what they focus on. Hence our desperation to keep me focused on task during a math class, rather than on chatting with a neighbor about what they're going to pay at recess, for example.
Whatever students think about is what they will remember. Memory is the residue of thought. [Therefore], to teach well, you should pay careful attention to what an assignment will actually make students think about (not what you hope they will think about), because that is what they will remember.” (Willingham, . 41)