Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ask Why, Not How - Part 1

Building a better literary analysis? With 10th graders?! Yes, indeedy. My number one goal last year was to get my students to really write literary analyses. It was my goal to have them ask "why" not "how" about literary devices, moving towards seeing how a literary device contributes to the whole work.

To my discredit, I don't think I really hit this full force until the second semester; then I began to truly see lightbulbs not only flicker but burn brightly. I was sorry I didn't start it earlier, but I do believe that by the end of the year, they had the critical thinking skills to send them into 11th grade with exceptional momentum. This year, then, I resolved to introduce the idea at the beginning of the year so that even if they weren't totally ready for it, it was something that we could continually hit upon. It is my hope, then, by the end of the school year, ALL of them have a full capability and are even further along than my kids last year (a girl can dream, can't she?).

One tool from the summer AP Conference I have definitely utilized is a formula for writing thesis statements, provided by John R. Williamson (our amazing presenter). The formula is awesome --challenging, but it works.

I introduce the formula via powerpoint presentation, and we've worked with the formula since August. I printed the formula on a poster and had it laminated. It is on the wall and will remain there all year long - yes, even during tests - as a constant reminder. I want them to use it and look at it. The more reinforcement, the better!
Note on the powerpoint's lesson - We had read "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker for homework and came to class ready to talk about it. I had a short sample AP test reading taken from an article about trains & style/functionality. They read it then followed the directions in the powerpoint. When we discussed which train is a more accurate representation of each character, I kept saying "Tell me how you know from the text. Read it to me" I continually made them go back to the text and pull out passages to reinforce their point. They gave me strange looks at first ((What do you mean, Mrs.P? Are my vague qualifiers not good enough?)) but began to "get it" and even help one another find the support s/he needed. Once they got the hang of that, we moved on to the thesis statement steps.

I have also recently given them this "Thesis Manual" I will let them use on future tests (wishing I had done that at the beginning of the year). Some of the weaker students were forgetting what acceptable "directions" were. I continually use the term "literary devices" and I even have a poster in my room that lists your basic literary devices (conflict/setting/characterization/etc). But somehow they were still just pulling non-literary devices as directions (ex: in Animal Farm, they were using "Communism", "bravery", "power" as directions).

I'm starting you like I did my students...first lesson on creating thesis statements. Practice that for homework and when we come back, we'll learn how to develop a literary analysis from that thesis.

Extra Notes
  • The formula I present here is amended for 10th graders, per John's recommendation. If you have 9th graders, he recommends just getting them to steps 1, 2, 3. If you have 11th or 12th grade, there is an additional step - 5. a Qualifier (in order to...).
  • John also warned us: do NOT show them an example of a thesis statement from this formula. Give them the steps, give them the pieces, but do NOT model it. They get intimidated and think they can't do it. They can. Will their first attempts be poor? Absolutely. That's why I wanted to do this at the beginning of the year -- we now have all year to practice. We spent a few days bringing in practice thesis statements, looking at fellow classmates' statements and editing/revising as a class.
  • To start, I make them write the formula IN ORDER. Once they have that down, they can play around with the order. But if they try to play with the order too early, they confuse themselves and lose parts of the formula.
  • I recommend teaching this after you've talked about determining theme. Theme is usually Step 4 - Universal Idea.
  • This is also a good time to talk about talking about literature in the present tense - remember "Claim" (step 3) needs to be in present tense!
source: John R. Williamson; photo source: Netream

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this on your site. I've looked everywhere for it! I attended John's AP training as well. He is awesome. This works great with students.