A Close Look at Why We Teach Analysis

Ask any student what analysis is and why we do it, and the responses are pretty telling. I know this because I’ve been doing just that lately. Asking kids.

Kids seem to think that analysis is just a school thing that we have to be able to do on the state testing, but outside of school, it’s not important. My conversations with kids have been makeing me wonder. We complain that kids don’t see value in the state testing, but do we take the time to communicate what analysis is, why it’s important, and what can be analyzed?

I think these are questions we need to ask ourselves and get state testing out of the forefront. State testing is a reality, and sadly is used to determine teacher effectiveness, but it should not be the primary reason we approach this work with kids.

I do not believe analysis is something we hurry up and teach kids before a test. In my mind, it’s a spiraling concept that helps us to understand something deeply. It takes us from getting the gist of something to breaking it down and looking at all the pieces to see how all of the moving parts create a new and deeper understanding.

That was pretty heavy! But think about it…anything could be analyzed and it’s all around us.

When people talk on social media or in the faculty room about the current season of say Game of Thrones. They are breaking it down and coming to new and deeper understandings. They talk about how the writers use things like symbolism and foreshadowing that encourages them to go back and re-watch previous seasons for a closer look. That’s analysis.

When all of America was shocked when the Eagles won the Super Bowl, viewers looked back to figure out how the coaching staff’s decisions and the plays that were used brought the underdogs to victory. That’s analysis.

When we look at our students or even our own children and ask ourselves, why is she behaving this way? What is the root cause? What patterns are we seeing that lead to this behavior or outcome? That’s analysis.

When the latest installment of Star Wars was released in theaters, blogs and articles were immediately shared about how this movie was written and if it lived up to the story originally created by George Lucas.

When I watch reality tv and especially my guilty pleasure, The Real Housewives, which my husband refers to as “The Screaming Show” I immediately go on social media after to see how others have analyzed and interpreted the big dramatic moment and how editing is used to twist and confuse perspectives.

A few things stand out to me in all of my thinking recently about analysis.

  1. Analysis is not easy — It’s is not cut and dry. It can’t be taught in a quick activity or in one essay nor can it be a weekly essay assigned, which is what my own daughter experienced last year. It’s something that should be constantly spiraling in what we do.
  2. Analysis is social — In real life we talk out our thinking whether it be after watching a sporting event, movie, or a decision that was made at work, we often talk about our thinking and dive deeper with people.
  3. Analysis is not about what happened so much as it’s about how and why it did — It’s about looking closely and coming to a new conclusion or a deeper understanding. It’s the act of not accepting something at face value.
  4. Analysis needs to be modeled and modeled and modeled some more — The more you model, the more you put in the work, because it is work, the more you will see how you can scaffold the work for kids and determine what they need and next steps. Kids also need to see that it is a struggle for you too. Analysis doesn’t just magically happen. It takes time and a lot of thinking!
  5. There is not one answer when it comes to analysis — What I love so much that continues to prove why it is a social act is how much I learn and notice when hearing other perspectives. On more than one occasion I have been blown away by what others notice that I did not see myself. Just last week Mrs. Barats’s fourth grade class at Rush noticed how a text we were looking closely at was structured. My mind was blown. It was a brilliant way to look at what the text was really about that I did not see myself!

I will be sharing some work I’ve been doing recently with teachers around analysis and look forward to learning from my own work as well as the work of some really awesome students and teachers! But if you have not taken the time to really look at why analysis is important aside from state testing, I encourage you to analyze the way you go about this work with kids and how your work does or does not grow deep thinkers who have solid understandings…because, in my honest opinion, that is what is most important.

The Mirror Challenge…Who’s In?

Let me start with a quick flashback and confession. When I came back to teaching after having my kids, I was slightly out of touch. I had kids that ranged from two to seven and I was busy. My reading was limited to what I had to read for continuing education classes, self-help books like how to help my child with ADHD, and children’s bedtime stories. So when my students were asking if I liked Hunger Games or Twilight, two big series at the time, I was at a loss. I noticed that everything kids asked me about, I had the same response, “I haven’t read that yet.” And I’m going to be honest with you, I was not going to read it because I was too busy. And that’s what I hear so often from so many teachers, “I just don’t have time to read.” And I get it.

What I noticed was my students were reading less and less as I was less and less in touch. And let’s be real…why would kids read when even their reading teacher isn’t reading? The older kids get, and especially in grades sixth through eighth, the more they despise the do–as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do-approach. So if the adults around them are not reading, why should they? It’s clearly not important, right?

Fast forward a few years and my oldest, a very strong reader, was starting fourth grade. He was also starting to read books that were on my middle school classroom library shelves. I wanted to be able to talk about books with him, so we started reading one series after the other at the same time. It started with Among the Hidden, then The Hunger Games (our favorite) before moving on to Divergent and then The Fifth Wave. But while my son and I read each series and talked about them, I noticed that I was having more and more conversations with kids at school about these same books and we were all excited about it. I was having trouble keeping those books on the shelves and started adding more and more because my students were reading more and more, and before I knew it, I was reading their recommendations too.

Without even realizing it at first, I had so many readers who were devouring books, and it was because I was reading. No incentive nor connection to grade motivated students to read more than having a teacher who was a reader, and I think there are several reasons why.

  • By just reading I had a common ground to talk to kids. If I was reading something like The Cellar I would talk about how much this book hooked me because it was similar to an episode I might see on the television show Criminal Minds, which is a series I love. It was a dark, twisted, fast-paced psychological thriller. Kids were then starting to talk to me about the type of television show or movie that was similar to their books, so when I came across kids who didn’t read because let’s face it, they just had not found the right book yet, I could ask, “So what types of movies and television shows do you watch?” and go from there.
  • By just reading I was experiencing the same struggles as kids. You think grown ups are busy? Kids are busy too! They have school, after school activities, family obligations, distractions, and disruptions in the home too. I started paying attention to those struggles and simply talking to kids about it. I would tell them for example, “Last night I was so sucked into scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, and I just didn’t feel like reading my book. I tried anyway, but I’d read a page and then turn on my phone to scroll again, and I was just not getting my reading in. I noticed this is happening to me a lot…I’m just procrastinating. So I set my timer for 20 minutes and told myself I am not allowed to touch my phone until the timer goes off and I read. It worked. I think when I notice I’m procrastinating and wasting time on social media, I need to remind myself to set a timer and keep increasing the time to get back to my reading goals.” You know what I found out? Kids respect that. They respect the honesty about real struggles because it’s not always easy to read, but I would share my struggles and become a model for coming up with strategies for those struggles. Kids think reading just comes easy to some. It doesn’t. We all face struggles and have to use strategies to overcome them. Pay attention to the struggles and talk about them!
  • By just reading I became a mirror for what I expect. We can’t tell kids how important it is to read and then not read ourselves. Yes, there are a ton of benefits that our kids need academically including the development of vocabulary, background knowledge, inferring and analysis skills, but they also need the development of empathy that we we get from reading about characters who live different lives with different struggles that we may not experience ourselves but others in our community may. And guess what? Grown ups need that too! But so long as kids see that reading is a chore they have to do and the grown ups can say they are too busy or they don’t like it, then we will never be able to get more than a small population to be readers.

Forgive me while I stand on my soapbox a bit longer.

So where am I going with this? Well, I am proposing, as educators, we become the mirror. Not just reading teachers…all of us. We put our excuses away and we read. We know that consistent, independent reading is a HUGE factor in academic success. But to make real change, we need to start with ourselves and let it grow from there.

I’ve been thinking of some starting ideas. What if every teacher advertised what they are reading. Let the kids call you out when you are spending too long with that same book! Actually sometimes when I just don’t feel like it, I remember that I share my reading with kids. They know what I am reading, and I can’t stay stuck in a book too long. That alone gets my butt moving. So what does that look like?

What if we all posted our current reads. I’m currently reading two books. One I listen to in the car on Audible while I drive my kids here, there, and everywhere. And the other I read most nights (I’m not perfect) before I go to bed.

What if we shared great reads with kids in person or even through Twitter?

Imagine being able to just type in a hashtag like #Snyderowlsread or #Shafersharksread and getting book recommendations. This is something kids can do too!

I challenge all of us to take the challenge and become the mirror. I know from experience that the more we read, advertise, and share, the more we hook students. So imagine if this was bigger than just a few teachers. Imagine what could happen if as a staff we all took the challenge.

It all starts with us. We are teachers. We teach, we inspire, we motivate, we encourage, and we are so much more effective when we are the models for what we expect.

So, I will step down off my soapbox, but I have one question…

Who’s with me?

Active Reading Beyond ELA

This year the fourth through eighth grade ELA teachers went through three days of training in text dependent analysis. The general idea is that students read through lenses in order to notice patterns and come to a new understanding.

In the reading workshop, students choose the lenses they are using to notice and note while reading their independent reading novels and book club books. As a result of the training, we have begun to put together menus of lenses and types of understandings that best work with each of the units.

Here is an example of a basic menu of lenses and understandings for one particular unit. As teachers model additional lenses, these too are added as options.

In content areas such as social studies, students can read historical fiction through some of these same lenses in order to get to a new understanding such as theme to determine our takeaways as readers– what we now know, think, feel, or believe as a result of what we notice in historical fiction.

Students choose two lenses to actively read.

For example, what do I notice about the psychological setting (lens #1) and the actions (lens #2) of the characters.

Students jot what they notice while reading or at the end of reading depending on preference.

Students use their notes to look for patterns within the lenses they are noting. Maybe a character acts differently in different settings depending on who is there or the mood the setting creates.

By looking at what they’ve noticed and the patterns they are seeing in their observations, students can use that to come to a new understanding such as theme by asking themselves, what does the author want me to know, think, feel, or believe about that?

The same work can be done with nonfiction text using lenses that are specific to that genre. Below are examples of the lenses and types of understanding that can be used with nonfiction text.

Below is an example of my notes while looking through the lens of word choice while reading an article.

Specific lenses and understandings can be used for historical fiction reading in the social studies classroom. See some examples below.

Below is a short story annotated using the lenses of character actions and speech.

When students cannot write directly on the text, they can stop and jot in their notebook as seen below.

Much like discussions, noting is driven in student choice. Students in one book club can each choose two from a menu. There may be some overlap, and that it okay. After a few days to a week, students can switch out and read through new lenses, too.

By actively reading through lenses in order to notice patterns that lead to a new understanding, students are thinking deeply about what they are reading, able to have better discussions, and have the evidence to cite in writing.