This was my original problem of practice: How could I create authentic literary analysis with voice and choice?
You can check out my earlier blog post here:
So here we are at the end of the semester and I find myself pursuing a policy of radical honesty. Radical honesty with myself and with my students.
While I had hoped that the varying of the analytical writing opportunities, might affect engagement and authentic connections to the text, what I found in reality is that the most important question to build authentic engagement still connects to text selection. Students who were passionate about a text engaged with the work passionately, regardless of the assignment; while students who did not feel a connection to the text resisted the writing and often “opted out” of the assignments, especially if they were more creative.
Somehow, many of my students felt that the creative/extension assignments were either optional or less desirable if they already didn’t like the writing.
But here is the win! If a student loved the text, the creative extension and analysis options allowed them to deepen and personalize their analysis in beautiful, exciting, and authentic ways. One student was so captivated by the voice of Amir from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner that she wrote passionately and effectively about Sohrab’s rehabilitation and restoration in her creative epilogue. Her writing showed that she accurately understood the voice, characterization, setting, symbolism, and themes of the text.
So here is my takeaway. Adding choice and the opportunity for voice is a great thing! It allowed my students to extend their analysis, engage with their creativity, and flex their own literary muscles. They wrote like they were the author and attempted to adjust some of the messages of the pre-existing text based on their own ideas.
But this opportunity is not a panacea. Helping a student to enter the world of a text and swim around inside that beautiful literary pool is our primary goal. Once a student has taken a swim and realized that they can stay afloat, then they can work on their path to the other side. But if the student feels like they are drowning, they are not interested in learning how to snorkel.
This may seem obvious but it was an important reminder to me that as literature teachers (this is how we proudly describe ourselves here) we have to be reading teachers first. You can teach the writing structures with small and super accessible texts, but the students still resist using those structures when they have disconnected from a text.
So in the pursuit of radical honesty. When we are asked, Do the students really have to read the book to do well in the class? Usually, not always, the answer is yes!