Rationale Paper for Assignment 3:
My third and final assignment involves a literary analysis paragraph over theme. I designed the assignment to be a reflection of a universal theme and a personal connection to a short story from the unit we would have just studied. The assignment is based for freshman in high school to get a glimpse of literary analysis so that they can develop the skills over the course of high school and be prepared when they get to college. The research I completed for this assignment dealt with the issues surrounding college readiness that so many students face when they make the transition from high school to college. This paper will explore the elements of literary analysis taught in college, the transition from secondary to post-secondary writing, the need or lack thereof when it comes to rubrics, and the challenges of teaching English to unprepared students.
My research this week started with an article by Ronald Coulthard involving the art of teaching literary analysis compositions to college freshman. Coulthard mentions very early on in his article the need to be very clear with students what you expect them to do. “One of the English teacher’s duties, therefore, is to make crystal clear to the student just what is expected of him in a critical essay” (Coulthard 154). As I was considering Coulthard’s words I began to think of the idea of modeling in the classroom which is just a best practice for teachers. I decided that if my students were going to successfully write a paragraph about theme at the freshman level, than they were going to have to have an example to follow. I decided that since one of the issues that Coulthard discussed at length in his article was plot summary in place of analysis that I would offer my students an example of both so that they would know both what they should do and what they should not do. I have seen students do this before when asked to show examples of something from a story and instead they give you a summary of what happens. Coulthard says, “Help them whet their critical faculties by forcing them to view plot as subservient to meaning” (156). Students have to be taught that the theme of story can be discussed in a paragraph without giving a summary of the plot itself.
The need for my assignment rises when you consider the research I found by Sarah Beck over the transition from secondary to post-secondary compositions. “The transition from high school to college-level writing has become a topic of special interest among literacy educators in the US ……..” (Beck 312). As a high school educator it makes me sad that there has become such a divide between high school and college level writing. Texas has specifically changed so many of their programs and raised the stakes every year trying to narrow that gap. Unfortunately I see the students in my classroom and I also realize that they probably aren’t graduating from high school as prepared for college as I was at their age. I am hoping that by interesting a more complex type of essay to my students at a much younger stage of high school that I will successfully help bridge that gap with my own students. “While K-12 (ages 5-18) schools historically have served to develop basic competencies in their graduates, higher education institutions aim to qualify students in a specific discipline” (Beck 313). This particular article is nine years old so I feel like this is changing somewhat with the implementation of endorsements in the high school curriculum. Although I can understand where Beck is coming from because, we don’t delve as deeply into topics at the high school level as they do in college. Another reason I have designed my assignment to be just a paragraph is so that I would be able to provide more significant feedback to my students about their writing. “Whether helping students to think through or think about their compositions, teachers need to be aware that thinking skills cannot be taken for granted, but must be made visible and explicit to students” (Beck 316). This quote reinforces the idea that students need clear examples of their expectations which is why I am including sample paragraphs in my assignment. “Thus, in order to accomplish successfully the transition from secondary to post-secondary composition, students in K-12 education must be taught the conventions of different discourses in ways that acknowledge the social contexts of these discourses, and how the appropriateness of a discourse varies depending on contexts” (Beck 323). This quote really resonates with me because the STAAR testing has really limited student interaction with the various forms of written discourse and we need to make sure we don’t continue to leave them out of our classrooms.
My next area of research involved the use of rubrics when grading compositions. I read an article by Maya Wilson that definitely calls the continual use of rubrics into questions. She discusses how students can be successful within a rubric and not grow as a writer. This article caused me to change my perspective on how I would go about evaluating my third assignment. After reading the article I decided it would be more appropriate to include a part of the assignment where the students would conference with me about their paragraphs so that I could potentially help them grow in their writing. “The idea that we can standardize our responses to students’ papers deserves serious examination, because language itself resists all but the most basic attempts at standardization” (Wilson 63). I limited my students to writing a paragraph so that I could effectively offer feedback on their thoughts. I have my assignment set us with a detailed peer editing sheet that leaves room for teacher feedback. I’m hoping that I will be able to help clearly organize my students’ ideas by conferencing with them.
My last article deals with the challenges of teaching students that make it to college unprepared. Cheryl Smith’s article deals with students that are taking remedial classes in order to bridge the gaps that exist in colleges. She argues that just because students are in remedial classes doesn’t mean they aren’t writing at a college level. “Those who say that students in basic writing classes aren’t performing at the college level have probably never taught a basic writing course and consequently have no notion of the levels of thinking basic writing must do” (“Botched Performances” 211). Smith argues that just because someone has numerous errors in their work doesn’t necessarily mean they are hopeless at grammar but could mean they have a few rules that they consistently break. Another thought that Smith brings to light is the idea that critical thinking is important to high level and lower level students. “We recognize that high-level students can benefit from critical thinking instruction, while we overlook that basic writers need it even more” (“Botched Performances” 214). I created my assignment to illicit critical thoughts from all my students, not just my high-level students.
Literary analysis has always been the most beneficial type of writing to teach high school kids to help them transition to college but we usually wait until their junior year to even start introducing them to it. We have to do better which is why I designed my assignment to work with freshman at a low enough level that they are able to get a feel for the concept and still achieve success. Students need to think and if I’ve learned anything from my research this week, it’s that if students are thinking than they are more successful at writing. Although a paragraph is only a sort analysis, it is more than appropriate for a freshman in high school. Theme in itself is a difficult concept which is why I am offering my students themes to start their thinking process but even with the difficulty of the concept, they should be able to show evidence and relate it to their own experiences. Students will rise to the expectations we set for them and it is our responsibility that we raise the expectations of our secondary students so that they will be prepared for post-secondary education.
Beck, Sarah W. “Composition across Secondary and Post-Secondary Contexts: Cognitive, Textual and Social Dimensions.” Cambridge Journal of Education, vol. 39, no. 3, Sept. 2009, pp. 311-327. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/03057640903103710.
“‘Botched Performances’: Rising to the Challenge of Teaching Our Unprepared Students.”What Is “College-Level Writing”?. Assignments, Readings, and Student Writing Samples, by Patrick Sullivan et al., National Council of Teachers of English, 2010, pp. 209–232.
Coulthard, Ronald. “Teaching Literary Analysis to College Freshmen.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 20, no. 2, May 1969, pp. 153-56. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.shsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=0000874655&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Wilson, Maja. “Why I Won’t Be Using Rubrics to Respond to Students’ Writing.” The English Journal, vol. 96, no. 4, 2007, pp. 62–66. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30047167.