23 October 2014

The Horror! Independent Reading for Literary Analysis

Sometimes I do very academic, very Englishy things with my students. Overall, I want to engage students in the work of the real world, tasks with immediate relevance. Sometimes, though, I want to to make sure they are prepared for the academics-for-their-own-sake literary style of analysis that will be required of them in college level courses.

And, you know, critical thinking is good for their brains, and in theory, the same skills they use for literary analysis will be applicable in other nonliterary contexts.

So what if it's with horror stories they're analyzing?

My kids get their assignments from Google Classroom,
but Blendspace could work too.

My Film & Literature class is all seniors, so I get a little leeway with their text selection--though permission forms did go home for R-rated selections. In another English class, movie ratings probably wouldn't have factored in, and there are any number of routes you could go with the types of text selected: genre, thematic, time period, regional.

Whatever types of books you want to have students read, these steps could help you.

Pre-selected book list
Now I am not a fan of horror--fiction or film. But I know it gets my kids going, and, well, 'tis the season. So of the 32 books on the list that I offered them, I have only read 4; I've only seen 3 of the movies. I had to rely on Sr. Sexton to help rule out books that were even less appropriate than their movies (don't ask what happens at the end of It), and I made sure there were at least 5 PG13/TV14 on the list in case not everyone could get parent approval to check out an R movie for class. Either way, it gave students a starting point.

Book reviews
I had students peruse Amazon reviews and IMDB for at least 3 different novel/film combinations. They had to find the ratings and pick out quotes from at least one review for each that either made them want to read the book and watch the movie or not want to read or watch either as well as the year they came out. In the future I'd add page number and movie length if only to help students make an educated selection (and really, don't we judge a book by its volume when we're pleasure reading too?)

Shared Google Calendars
We made a trip to the library (and made alternative arrangements where necessary) to pick up our books. Books in hand, students sat down and create a Google Calendar they shared with me and then set a page number goal for each day until the book was to be completed. They looked for natural page breaks and took into account days they knew they would be free or busy. This was a handy way to also set up individualized reminders to be sent out to each student daily.

Google Form quote collecting
The county's description for Film & Literature emphasizes exploration of setting, narration, characterization, plot, and theme, and we have been breaking those down one or two at a time in the previous 3 essays: now we put them all together. I created a Google Form and posted it in the About section of their Google Classroom page for students to return to each day. Instead taking of a reading quiz, students entered quotes from what they'd read the night before for each of 4 literary concepts (we'd later take those all to form a cohesive picture of the 5th: theme).

I shared the response spreadsheet with them all, and we looked at collected quotes as a class first and then in small groups where each zeroed in on a specific literary concept and gave each classmate feedback on whether or not they should use the quotes in their essay. The groups also tried to express what conclusions could be gathered from each quote in their column as well.

Daily check-ins and calculations
I don't grade students' progress on their reading. While they're entering their quotes for the day, I consult my calendar for each and see where each is. I know they know if they're behind, but they also know that I know. This factor plus planning specifically where and when reading is going to happen to catch up has worked pretty well. It also helps to have students recalculate how many pages they need to read each night now to finish the book in time.

Weekly blog posts
We've also been doing what I call "concept blogs" all along this semester, where students pick one of the Big 5 and analyze its application to the text at hand. Through their blog posts, they analyze 3 before even getting to the essays--and yes, they can use the blog posts on their essays (they generally have to clean them up quite a bit, though, as the blogs are pretty low-stakes writing). This gives me insight before it's too late into 1) how well they understand what they're reading and 2) how well they understand the concepts.

I've got to tell you: their understanding has doubled since we started this project!

Essays will be submitted in about a week. Some students are finished with their books and have begun composing their essays. Some students are halfway through their books but picking up speed.

They may never have to discuss the literary qualities of a Stephen King novel after they leave my class, but they will be able to find evidence, explain it, and manage tasks.

1 comment:

  1. How did you set up student blogs in the classroom? I'm curious about trying this but am not sure what program would be best for easily accessing and organizing all students' blogs.