Teaching the Exploratory Essay

We want to know when essays first entered your life, which essays really speak to you, and how you as a teacher and a writer work with essays, for yourself and with your students. The essay–as you might know if you're interested in the form–is many things to many people. We (Ioanna Opidee and Sonya Huber) have been meeting for months to talk about the exploratory essay, which is what we're calling the Montaigne-influenced “wandering” mode in nonfiction writing. Wandering, yes, but also some pointed journeying. We believe the essay is a mutable form, maybe a mode more than a form, and we see “essaying” in many kinds of writing, and even in fiction and poetry. We have taught the traditional “persuasive” essay in our composition classes, and we have recently both been trying to teach the more “wandering” mode. At the same time, we think there's room in the essay for straight talk, and even for re-imagining and re-seeing what actually persuades or connects with a reader. We're especially interested in persuasion now, as the federal guidelines for teaching nonfiction in the Common Core State Standards Initiative will affect how so many students in K-12 public schools encounter the essay. Currently, we have a chapter on this topic appearing in a forthcoming anthology and an NCTE panel on the topic in November. Our larger project is a book in which we take on how we might teach the skills that lead to essaying, and how we might communicate the value of essaying in concrete terms, lined up with curriculum standards, for a wider audience, a way of bringing together essaying expertise in the literary community with the needs of public schools and everyone who teaches writing. We are interested in hearing from writers who love the essay form and teachers who teach the essay form. Take our survey to tell us all about it. Thank you!