Literary analysis through close reading of picture books and short films

A month or so ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Lester Laminack at the Georgia Association for Curriculum and Instruction Supervisors Fall Conference. He is brilliant and I could write about all I learned from him for many blogs. At the heart of Lester’s presentation and his new book, Writers ARE Readers, was the message that every reading lesson can be flipped into a writing opportunity. Brilliant, right? But also, so common sense…when he says it! 🙂

A few week ago, I attended our system ELA Vertical Team meeting, where the amazing Cheryl Daniels, our system’s 6-12 ELA Instructional Coach, presented on how to use picture books in centers for theme work. It was beautiful. The picture books were powerful and had layers of meaning. The task cards gave students enough scaffolding to help them do the work in groups, but also enough depth to encourage rigor in student thinking. Cheryl graciously agreed to let me share a sample of what a station task card might look like. You can see that here.

2015-11-09 12.01.22As my colleagues and I sat down to plan our literary analysis unit, these professional development opportunities were at the forefront of my mind. I knew I wanted to give students tools to help them learn to do the work of literary analysis independently. But to do that I knew I couldn’t start with hard, inaccessible text. I needed to teach the ways to analyze text. I needed to give students a reason to go back to the text. I needed to give them a protocol so they could learn to do it independently. (See my last posts on how anchor charts support independence.)

So here’s what we did:

  1. We started with an argument protocol from Teacher’s College. You can read more about that here (be sure to check the links at the bottom). Our last unit’s focus was argument, so this felt like a good way to introduce the new unit. We debated whether the theme of Margaret Wild’s Fox was more about loyalty or overcoming obstacles. (I’ve also used the short film Mr. Hublot and debated whether the theme is more about sacrifice or friendship.)
  2. This led into a discussion on how there are certain lenses we can look through to discover the theme of a text, and the closer we look through the lens the more we will understand about the text.
  3. Then, I introduced the close reading protocol from Christopher Lehman and 2015-11-03 15.20.36Kate Roberts’ Falling in Love with Close Reading.
  4. We decided to look through the following lenses in our unit of study (in no particular order): setting, symbolism, characterization, diction, mood, perspective, and figurative language.
  5. I did a mini-lesson on each lens, practicing with short videos and picture books. Cheryl Daniels was incredibly helpful in helping me find texts. The ones I used plus other options are listed below and on my Pinterest board.
  6. We are still working on lenses right now, but the next steps for us will be writing a literary analysis on a short story of their choice. They will do a little research on the author and context for the story, and then choose three lenses to 2015-11-10 13.17.58analyze their story. This will be the pre-work and thinking before beginning the writing process.

What I like about this is that the students are learning ways to analyze text on their own—they have tools. Then they will be able to choose which tools are best to analyze a story of their choice. They will be building independence instead of the teacher telling them what to write about and how to format their papers. They have ownership. And that ownership will help them far beyond the time in my classroom.

Lenses and Possible Texts(for links to all books & videos and other resourc2015-11-10 13.15.18es, see Pinterest)

Thank you, Cheryl Daniels, for providing picture book titles. 

Starred titles are what I used for mini-lessons. 

Setting

  • Jane Cutler’s The Cello of Mr. O
  • Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side
  • *Chipotle’s The Scarecrow

Symbols

  • Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt
  • Eve Bunting’s The Terrible Things
  • Sherry Garland’s The Lotus Seed
  • *PSA: The Bystander

Point of View/Perspective

  • *Donald Hall’s I am the Dog; I am the Cat
  • Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park
  • Cris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants

Characterization

  • Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum
  • Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge
  • Joan W. Blos’ Old Henry
  • Ellen Levine’s Henry’s Freedom Box
  • *Joseph Oxford’s Me + Her (short film)

Structure of Text

  • *Allan Ahlberg’s Previously
  • Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel
  • Christopher Myer’s Wings
  • Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey

Diction

  • Debra Frasier’s Miss Alanius
  • Graeme Base’s The Sign of the Seahorse
  • Julius Lester’s John Henry
  • *Christopher Myer’s Wings

Figurative Language

  • *Robert Burleigh’s Langston’s Train Ride
  • Julius Lester’s John Henry
  • Avery Wood’s Quick as a Cricket

Tone and Mood

  • Margie Palatini’s Piggie Pie
  • Judith Viorst’s Earrings
  • *Movie Trailers & Recuts – see Pinterest for examples

Bonus Read:  Friday our school received some test scores from a high-stakes, statewide test given last year.  The conversation about test scores and what they mean and don’t mean buzzed.  I was reminded of Amy’s post 7 Reasons to Stop Asking about AP Scores.  I loved what she said in this post about student learning and test scores.  This is a must read and reminder for all educators, not just AP teachers.

Advertisements

I have nothing to wear (aka Why anchor charts matter)

2015-11-03 15.20.36It was Sunday night. I was getting everything ready to start a new week at school—packing lunch, gathering papers, and finding an outfit. Laundry was done, and all my clothes were hanging in my closet. There were a lot of clothes, but I still stared at my closet thinking I need to go shopping because I have nothing to wear.

I finally decided to take out each pair of pants and each skirt, one at a time, and match it with a top. Turns out, I had plenty to wear. I just needed a system, a way to look at what I had, to find what I needed.

It made me think of my students. They learn a lot of skills and have lots of tools to access those skills. Sometimes this comes in a piece here and a piece there; sometimes we give several tools for the same skill. And then we, as teachers, ask them to use these tools and skills throughout the year again and again—using the tools or developing the skills with different text or different writing assignments (building different outfits each time).

I think students can often feel like I did standing in front of my closet. Overwhelmed. Having no clue where to look or what to look for. It’s not that they 2015-11-03 15.20.31don’t have lots of tools or lots of practice with the skills. It wasn’t that I didn’t have lots of clothes. They just need a system, a way to see what they have and access the tools when needed.

For me, this is the purpose of the anchor chart. It helps my students access the tools they need to do what they need to do.

I didn’t always use anchor charts. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea of anchor charts. I just thought they took too much time (It was easier to use PowerPoint); I thought they were too difficult to display (that chart paper never sticks to my painted brick wall); I thought I didn’t have room (I have to display all my pretty, colorful posters and sayings); I thought it was a little too elementary (I teach those very grown up 10th graders).

This year I’ve used them, but most importantly my students have used them. I see students pointing to the anchor chart that helps them when they are working in groups, or I hear students referring to it during discussion. I can direct them to anchor cha2015-11-04 15.42.20rts, and then they can do it themselves. It builds agency in the students.

All the reason I didn’t use them seem silly. Why wouldn’t I give my students a way to access the tools to use the skills I spend so much time helping them learn? Why wouldn’t I help them figure out that they have outfits they can wear, instead of leaving them overwhelmed thinking they have nothing to wear?

Someone once told me that my walls should be useful for my students or its wasted space. I think my walls are finally starting to talk the right talk.

I challenge you to try it, if you don’t already. Just do one or two and see how it works out. Maybe your students will be like mine and realize just how many tools they have at their disposal.

PS– These pictures of anchor charts are from my current literary analysis unit.  My next post will be on this unit, but the lens idea and structure is from Christopher Lehman and Kate RobertsFalling in Love with Close Reading.  A must have in your professional library!

Bonus Read:  Two Writing Teachers are doing this amazing blog series on Diving into Informational Writing.  Each post is incredibly helpful, and they provide lots of information, helps, and resources.  Two of my favorite from the series are Using Qualities of Informational Writing to Guide Students to Set Goals and Allowing Student Choice Within Informational Writing.

Giving students what they need to access text

2015-09-11 07.31.44I remember pretty vividly a lesson on annotation I did several years ago.

I was very excited. I had selected Kate Chopin’s Desiree’s Baby, a text I knew to be rich with lots of examples of, well, just about everything. There would be no end to what we could highlight and scribble notes about in the margin. Plus, there was the added bonus–this was a text I knew the students would love.

As I began to model, marking every craft move Chopin made, the students scrambled to keep up. I just knew their busyness was a sign of engagement. I would stop and ask questions about the text or ask students why they thought Chopin made this comparison or chose this word. Students would oblige and guess (and guess and guess) at the possible reason.

After I made a particularly brilliant comment about something great Chopin did in the text, a student asked, “How did you do that? I don’t see what you see at all!”

Once finished annotating Desiree’s Baby to death, I gave the students another Chopin text to do on their own and set them off. I’m sure you aren’t surprised that I didn’t amazing results. Students were frustrated when they couldn’t make sense of writer’s craft and their purpose (or even at time understand the text).2015-09-11 07.27.46

I mistakenly believed that my thinking was transparent to students and if I just talked about it, they would get it. I did not take into account that I was an English major in college and had even studied this text in one of those courses. What made me think that these sophomores were going to make that leap without learning skills to access the text? The truth is I didn’t really think about skills or access to text at all.

My mentor gave me Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Notice and Note. I thumbed through the pages, thinking it might be a little too childish for my sophisticated sophomores. But the cries of confusion from my students haunted me. I decided to give it a try, and my world was changed. Well, at the very least my teaching practice and student learning in my class.

Notice and Note gives six very specific “signposts” to help students notice important moments in a text. In other words, it gives students access to the text. It showed me how to teach skills that students can use in any texts they read, which they now do in their independent novels as well as text we use in class.

Notice and Note was the beginning of my change. Other books such as Kelly Gallagher’s Deeper Reading and Christopher Lehman and Kate RobertsFalling in Love with Close Reading are must have resources. There is also a Facebook group for Notice and Note that has so many resources you could spend days going through it.

In Write Like This, Kelly Gallagher says, “The Wizard of Oz would have been a lousy writing teacher.” He would be an equally lousy close read teacher.

Bonus Read: Zackary Kirk did a series of posts on doing high school differently. His last one, Teach Like a (Master) Teacher!, is a call to stop teaching like anything other than a really great teacher. He challenged me to be reflective while also giving lots of additional reading to keep me thinking.