Students are learning this block how to interpret a piece of literature and explore its complexity with curiosity rather than judgement.

By making observations, looking for patterns, and asking questions, students are learning to read and analyze like a detective.

One of the first skills we practice in this course is active reading: thinking about what we're reading as we read it and writing down our ideas on the text itself. This process of annotation helps students learn to root all of their ideas in the words of the text. In class discussion these past weeks, each time a student has shared an idea, I've asked, “Where do you see that in the text?” By now, students are beginning their comments by citing a passage in the story, waiting as we all turn to that page, and then explaining their idea with reference to that passage.

Practicing citing evidence for one's ideas helps students in a number of ways. It teaches critical thinking and sets them up to write an analytical essay in block 2, in which they'll prove an argument using textual evidence. It helps them to explore the world of the text on its own terms rather than speculating based on their own assumptions or judging the characters according to their own beliefs. It teaches open-mindedness, because students must set aside their own assumptions about the world, and also because they must be willing to change their ideas when new evidence points in a different direction.

They're learning to read and think like a detective: they're treating the text as a body of clues, tracing patterns, grouping and re-grouping their evidence, and holding off on any final conclusions. Here, the topic of our readings—mysteries and codes—connects with the writing and thinking skills that the course aims to teach.

In their writing this block, students have been working on identifying and interpreting elements of style: how the text says what it says. They’re paying attention to things like syntax, word choice, point of view, paragraph length, and tone. Last week they each wrote a pastiche of the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in which they wrote a narrative with content from their own life but in the style of the story.

As we’ll do with all writing this year, we practiced different aspects of this assignment in class together, and students turned in brainstorming and got individual feedback during class before turning in their final piece. In this class, the process of writing—brainstorming ideas, pre-writing, and revising our work—is even more important than the final written product, since it’s in the process of writing that we have opportunities to learn and to push ourselves to think and use language in new ways.

We’re also practicing discussion skills: listening to one another, articulating our ideas clearly, and treating each other respectfully even when we disagree. As students come to see that the meaning of a text is always complex, multiple, and shifting according to the perspective we take as readers, they likewise come to appreciate the viewpoints and perspectives of their classmates. They’re learning that discussion, unlike some forms of debate, isn’t about winning or about getting the right answer; it’s an opportunity to work together as a team and build ideas collectively.

-- Sydney Cochran