Question Like a Four-Year-Old

A few years ago, I was trying to figure out how to get my AP Literature students to go beyond the surface in their analysis. Their essays mostly stayed in “safe” territory, rarely venturing beyond paraphrase and, when they dealt with theme at all, tentative stabs at topic: “Frankenstein’s monster shows the effect of society on personality.” or “Kafka’s Metamorphosis is about the meaninglessness of life.” The ideas in their essays weren’t necessarily wrong, but because they were so surface level, they never really dug into deeper, more focused meanings in the texts and led to similarly unfocused essays, not really sure what they were trying to say.KEEP READING

In Praise of the Pregnant Pause

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I sat before my AP Literature class and asked a question about the poem we had just read. It wasn’t a tough question: “What is the first thing you notice?”  I want students to react to a poem as an opening move. I don’t want to get weighed down in devices or the “deeper meaning” before we simply discuss what we notice first. I want them to consider their initial reactions before we dig deeper.

“What is the first thing you notice?” I asked, again.

My thirty students responded with collective silence. Some kids looked at me, some looked at their shoes, and some pretended to search for meaning on the ceiling.