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The Relationship Between Analaysis and Reading as Rehearsal for Real Life (Reading Modes Series Part 4)

July 6, 2015

At this point in the series I hope it is clear that all three the modes of reading I have discussed actually work together to increase students’ depth of understanding about a text. In this post I will discuss the final relationship between analysis and “big idea*” reading.

As I discussed in post 2 of this series, having students investigate the meaning of various literary devices can actually help illuminate a deeper understanding of characters and plot. Similarly, a close analysis of literary devices (or “writer’s moves“) in text can also illuminate theme or personal connections to the text for students. A close study of the lines where Iago compares jealousy to a “green-eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feeds on” gives students opportunities to think about how jealousy can take them over at points in their life. This will lead to a nuanced understanding of jealousy than simply asking the to write about a time they “felt” jealousy independent of this complex metaphor.

I have also found that focusing on a “big idea” in the text that is related to students’ own lives gives them a real purpose for investigating literary devices. Using this same example, students are for more interested and invested in figuring out the meaning of Iago’s metaphor when the point is to compare his meaning to the meaning of jealousy in their own lives. Just deciphering the metaphor for the sake of deciphering a metaphor simply does not hold the same power as when they can see the process as part of their rehearsal for their real lives.

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Using short passages of text for analysis has been a powerful tool in my classroom for many reasons and this relationship between analysis and “big idea” reading is one of them. When I have students just analyze short passages from larger texts that we read, there were always some kids who were purely interested in the puzzle of it, the search for the literary devices or the untangling of metaphorical meaning. However, when I started to tie this puzzle to their own lives I found much more engagement. One of example of this is the story The Lottery which we start the year with, mostly because our Essential Question is partially focused on the influences of society in our lives. The Lottery really makes a point about why societies do what they do, and why some problematic practices persist under the guise of “tradition.” One part of the text where this message is readily apparent is in the first description of the lottery box.

The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box. There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without anything’s being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original wood color, and in some places faded or stained.

I could have students simply analyze this text and explain what literary devices are at play here (especially the description in the last sentence). They could probably identify a literary device or two. But without explaining the point of the literary device, the exercise seems to be mostly a waste. When I am able to have them make a connection between the use of description and the idea of traditions, a theme about traditions is illuminated. When they start by writing about traditions in their own life, and then use this passage as a mentor text in order to write a description about a traditional object  in their lives, suddenly the start to think more deeply about the role of tradition in society. This, of course, is ultimately the point of “Reading as Rehearsal for Real Life.” When students make connections between the big ideas in the text and how they live and understand their own lives, we are fulfilling the promise of literature to not only entertain, but to make us think and ultimately be empathetic and thoughtful people

*“Big Idea” reading is another term I use when speaking about “reading as rehearsal for real life


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