My 7th graders are wrapping up our short poetry unit with a poetry analysis paper over a poem of their choosing. This is their first time writing a formal analysis textual support and citations. They were allowed to pick a poem from the poetry foundation.org website and we worked on annotating for close reading. I tell my students to consider five main things when annotating (although all thoughts during a piece can/should be annotated): questions they have, words they don't know, parts that are confusing, connections to their lives, and parts that they love for some reason.
We annotate "The Road Not Taken" together. I project it from the document camera, and we take it slow. I "reveal" a line at a time, and students "question bomb" EVERYTHING while I try to keep up by marking the annotations on the text. I don't guide the questions or add my own. This is hard sometimes, but I really have to evaluate when I'm unintentionally leading my students in a certain direction instead of giving them control over their own learning. It's not making a discovery if I'm the one forcing it on them, so I keep my mouth shut. The only comments I really make during this process are to ask clarification questions to make sure I'm writing what they want me to write. As always, it's fun to see where classes cross over and where they don't.
I always tell them that when we're analyzing poetry (or any text, for that matter) that they're not looking for the one, true right answer, but instead looking for what it means to them. If they can back it up with proof from the text, then the analysis is valid. This really confuses kids sometimes, because they're used to everything having a right answer, especially in the world of standardized reading tests.
It's fun to see their annotations and what stands out to them, even just looking through these examples from each class. There are so many times when a student's analysis of a poem is something I never dreamed of or noticed, and I love that aspect of it. It's one of the ways they keep teaching me. I love to see the process of their questions over a piece of literature turning into creating answers for themselves based on the text in front of them.
It's hard not to turn into a control freak, and tell them, "No! This is what the poem means!" I have to restrain myself. I think in my earlier years of teaching I did a lot of that without even thinking. I would point out the important parts for them, not realizing that it's the reader who decides what is important, and that it's not something I should dictate as a teacher. If I forced them to annotate certain parts of the poem because I viewed them as important, I would be taking the learning away from them. They decide what's important; they make meaning for themselves. My role is to help them see if they've successfully supported their reasoning with the quotes they've chosen and explained work to support their analysis, or not.
Student annotation example:
After they've annotated and decided what the poem is telling them, then they start to put it in analysis format. This is the beginning of my student's first draft. In 7th grade, quotes and citing are new, so I really work a lot with combating "quote-dropping." They tend to think they've done their job just by adding the quote, and most don't want to have to explain the quote and show how it supports their thesis. It's a battle every time, but it only gets easier the more they encounter it.
These drafts will all be rough, and I tend to think of 7th grade as a practice year for many different writing skills and genres. Since I have all the same students again in 8th grade, that's where we refine and build on skills (isn't that what we do for every year of school?). I have to remind myself not to get too frustrated with my 7th graders, especially at this time of year. Writing more frequently makes better writers, and it's a waste of time and energy to dwell on what they don't know or can't do. The more they encounter chances to quote and cite, the better they'll be able to do it in each subsequent paper.
Beginning of analysis:
For now, my role is to try my hardest to not interfere too much with their learning. It's their analysis, not mine, and I'm here to support them. More learning always happens when I give up control. I need to ask honest questions, drawing attention to where they might need to direct more focus, and see what they can do without taking over.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.