Earlier in the semester I set out to explore whether nonfiction could adequately create opportunities for analysis in the same way I know that fiction can. If you didn’t read my earlier blog post on this, you can check it out here.
The problem of practice I started with was How might our students create more authentic and diverse forms of literary analysis ?
I used the nonfiction No Choirboy by Susan Kuklin as the grounding mentor text with my 9th and 10th graders, and students used this teacher-created “3 Ways Of Thinking” bookmark to annotate the text as they read. I taught them the difference between the 3 types of thinking and I encouraged them to start with making more literal annotations, but to work towards inferential and critical annotations as they got more comfortable with the text. We did activities where students categorized their annotations by “type of thinking” and we discussed the value in critical thinking and building inferences.
Students then used their annotations to create weekly “long writes” in which they took an annotation they had generated to write more analysis to “build on their thinking”.
They found that the more inferential or critical their initial thinking was on the post it, the easier it was to do deep thinking and writing through analysis later. This encouraged them to do more analytical thinking as they were reading, and it also improved their writing in both low and high stakes writing assignments.
As a project for this unit, students applied the analysis skills they had acquired and practiced through annotations and long writes and they took it to the next level through creating their own arguments for a persuasive essay. Each student crafted their own thesis statement, based on 3 controversial questions posed on the essay task sheet.
What I found was that students eloquently wove facts and statistics into their analysis in a way that is not possible with literary analysis. They included historical, psychology and sociology content from mini-lessons, web research and other supplemental materials I provided throughout the unit to back up their assertions.
So what was the result? The writing they produced in this nonfiction unit had more voice and more of my students’ own ideas, connections and opinions in them. It was also great to see that students were grappling with real social justice issues in society and they were creating informed opinions on these topics as a result of reading this text.
They liked having so many different tools to use for analysis, and the fact that this nonfiction text was based on true stories of teenagers like themselves built empathy and helped the work feel more authentic and engaging.
Moving forward, I will definitely use nonfiction in my classroom in the future to help students access and refine their analysis skills. I found teaching this book really fun (although the subject matter itself is serious), because the engagement and connection students felt to the boys’ stories helped to create an environment where students were more motivated to take risks and work hard, in participation and in their writing. It is important that we include all genres of texts in our english classrooms, from poetry to memoir to nonfiction. We should not get so caught up in the world of fiction that we miss out on the opportunities other genres bring for fresh and authentic analysis.