Wednesday, December 16, 2015

In Literacy, Close Reading & Passage Analysis is Key

How does the author use language to ...

This question would seem to be the foundation of English and language arts classes, as it is the most critical and requires the most attuned close reading skills. Whether students are looking at a poem or a novel or an essay or a speech or a news feature, they should be studying, analyzing, and commenting on the way the writer uses the conventions of English to achieve his purpose. Focusing on a writer's choices with diction, syntax, tone, and other rhetorical strategies is the essence of analysis. It is also one of the keys to confirming student learning and comprehension. If students are truly being meta-cognitive, if they are truly comprehending the words, if they are really affected by the literature, they should be able to comment on the "ways" by which the author makes that happen.

Certainly, class discussions will address the elements of the novel in terms of character, setting, plot, and theme. But those areas are the most basic of levels in analyzing literature, and they don't address multiple genres outside the novel, play, and short story. Thus, I believe one of the keys to weak English performance and low literacy skills results from English teachers lacking the ability to teach language. Far too often the English classroom is focused on the theme because so many of us are in love with the stories and simply want the students to share our passion for the coming of age of Scout and Holden or the American tragedy of Gatsby or the whimsical fun of the Jabberwocky.

So, in an effective English classroom, you won't only be asking the students about what happened, but instead about how the author made it happen. It's not all about content - it's also about technique.

That is the true study of English.

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