Thursday, April 9, 2015

PARCC Prep: Literary Analysis Task

Students living in PARCC-testing states have probably heard a lot about "Literary Analyses." For those of you that do not know, PARCC, or "Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers," is a new standardized test for those states teaching under Common Core. In such states, the PARCC has replaced Benchmark and other similar exams in key areas like English and Math, and grades kindergarten through 11th are required* to take the PARCC.

Many people have strong opinions about Common Core, PARCC, and standardized testing in general, so I am not even going to attempt to touch the foundations of those topics here.

Arkansas is a PARCC state, and as an Arkansas teacher, I had to prepare my students for the three major writing tasks: Literary Analysis, Research-Simulation, and Narrative. This preparation was no easy feat, let me tell you.

Not only was I a first year teacher, but also many of my students -- 7th and 8th graders -- struggled with even rudimentary concepts like verbs, subjects, complete sentences, etc. In addition, almost none of my students even knew what an analysis was. Sure, they had written small summaries in the past, and they could maybe tell you the gist of a poem, but analyze? Nope. Couldn't do it.

I was so overwhelmed; it felt like I was Sisyphus and my students were a boulder the size of the moon.

But we got there, and not without a few tears, screams, and fits.

My students found analyzing to be particularly difficult. They were very timid readers, always afraid of getting something wrong. I finally had to establish the following rule: There is no "wrong" in literature, as long as you can support it.

Now, I know many of my English friends are squirming, thinking "Of course there are 'wrongs!' You can't just guess and be right!" However, this is the exact reason I had the qualifier "as long as you can support it" on the end of my rule.

Once students understood that there was some freedom to be had in analyzing the written word, they were much more willing to make educated guesses and extrapolations. And the best part? Because I had included the "as long as you can support it" qualifier in my rule, students were already learning how to pull relevant evidence from the text to support their claims.

So we were already off to a decent start in analyzing. We still had to work on comprehension (another gray area for some of my students), but comprehension discussions in conjunction with defending their own opinions with quotations from the text really helped my students establish what a "literary analysis" is.

The hard part? Actually writing the analysis.

At the beginning of the year, my students could not function without some degree of "hand-holding:" I had to confirm almost every opinion, constantly congratulate their efforts, guide them through the process of inquiry, all with the hope of attaining modest comprehension and engagement. To top it all off, they were so used to writing summaries and "open response" answers that they found the notion of writing not only an essay but an analytical essay to be beyond daunting.

I devised the following sentence-by-sentence layout to help guide my students through the process of writing a literary analysis. I understand that the layout is very basic and is not the strongest way to write an analysis. However, for students who struggle with basic comprehension issues and who are afraid of branching out on their own, the layout was extremely beneficial and helped students meet the PARCC requirements for literary analyses (on assignments for class; we haven't gotten PBA scores back yet).

Go here for a more detailed explanation of the layout.

Though not comprehensive and perhaps not too beneficial for someone writing at the college level, the above layout helped my students gain confidence in their own abilities and tackle the literary analysis task on PARCC.

Comments? Concerns? Opinions? Leave them below :)

*Some states allow an opt-out option.

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