Saturday, June 17, 2017

How to Use Character Charts to Ease Students into Literary Analysis

Okay - old fashioned teacher coming out again!! This time it is about character analysis!  I have noticed that in the past few years, analysis of literature is starting younger and younger. Unfortunately, many of my middle school students are not ready for literary analysis.  I have seen a variety of factors that play into this issue - students who don’t have basic reading skills mastered, immaturity, lack of motivation, confusion, etc.  Regardless of these factors, literary analysis is still expected.  So, I have developed a few strategies to help all students to be more successful with literary analysis.

To begin with, we need to have a working definition of literary analysis.  If you google “literary analysis,” the first definition is “Literary analysis focuses on how plot/structure, character, setting, and many other techniques are used by the author to create meaning”  (https://www.google.com/search?q=literary+analysis+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8).  This is really hard for middle school students because it is so abstract.  Also, many teachers and students approach literary analysis more of a scavenger hunt of trying to find figurative language instead of looking at the pieces of the puzzle that create the story.  

So if literary analysis is so difficult for students, why do we start doing this when students are so young?  According to “The Value of Literary Study” we do literary analysis because “literary study involves the four processes of reading, thinking, discussing, and writing, its practical pedagogical value lies in its tendency to stimulate these activities and thereby improve the student’s ability to perform them” (http://www.uwstout.edu/english/lit_study.cfm).  In other words, we do this because it teaches students how to think, how to see how pieces of information are put together, and how to understand the motivations and emotions of the characters.  

When I first use a character chart, I  provide everything for the students.  First we discuss the difference between thin and thick questions - for us old timers that is the new term for concrete and abstract questions.