These writing workshops have been dreams come true.
Our whole-class writing and editing model has produced the best writing I’ve ever seen from students. I don’t dread grading anymore. I’ve genuinely loved reading their pieces, because with choice, comes different topics and a true author’s voice.
Most of the writing that we’ve done up to this point has been fairly enjoyable to my students. We’ve moved beyond the five-paragraph essay. They’ve been able to have their own voices, opinions and experiences (even in research-based tasks).
So when they saw that our next stop was analytical writing, they groaned. Loudly.
They’re not looking forward to analysis.
I understand why: they’ve practiced it a lot in response to difficult literary and informational text throughout their school careers. It’s hard for them, and they view critical analysis as totally boring.
This week, we talked about how when you watch the same movie again, you notice new things. And when you listen to the same song again, you hear new things. That’s why we need to reread text to increase our understanding.
When I told them that analyzing text wasn’t always boring, they rolled their eyes, inwardly and outwardly. So I showed them a painting of weird naked people.I love Bosch’s painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” It’s one of my faves from my art history courses in college because of its complexity, total weirdness, and opportunities for multiple interpretations.
Too often, when my students read text, they rush through their assignment looking for the correct answer. But analysis isn’t about the right answer. It’s about close-reading. Rereading. Contemplation.
They’re used to text being only the printed word. But text isn’t just the printed word.
We examined Bosch’s painting three times and took notes during each examination, only commenting on what we saw and keeping our interpretations to ourselves.
We maintained total quiet during our first five-minute study. It was very difficult for them, since there’s a LOT that they wanted to talk about when they saw this painting. They wrote down quick notes on what they saw. I covered the painting, and we shared out.
Then, I zoomed in on the lower-left. Again, we quietly studied the painting and wrote down what we saw, sharing out afterwards. This time, I left the painting up and let my students point out the strange things they saw.
We quietly studied once more, this time looking at the lower-right side of the painting. We talked through what we saw one last time, and finally, they had to decide what the heck this painting was about.
This is always the hardest part.
My students are always terrified to come up with the “wrong” answer in their analytical writing, and no matter how many times I assure them that analysis is all about their own thoughts and their own supporting evidence from the text, they‘re always scared to take a risk and make an educated guess.
Since we’d already shared out what we saw, most students weren’t afraid to share their interpretations of the text. (But first, I made them hide their erasers from themselves. They always self-doubt after they hear the first share!)
One student thought the artist was showing the progression of drug-use: first things are normal, then they’re crazy, and then you die. (Whoa.) I’ve never thought of that interpretation, and I loved it.
Some thought the painting was a warning of times to come. Others leaned more towards a more religious analysis of this painting: the first panel shows the beginning of life, then everyone sins their brains out and we all end up in Hell.
I never told them what I learned about the meaning of the painting in my art history courses .
Despite the fact that almost all of my students’ analytical pieces of writing strayed from what many historians feel is the meaning of Bosch’s painting, their answers were correct because they supported them with evidence from the text.