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Double Double, Toil and Trouble:
Engaging Urban High School Students in the Study of Shakespeare

Marsha R. Pincus
J.R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Whose English? Getting Students into the Language of Shakespeare Shakespeare's Blues: Making Personal Connections to Macbeth Interrogating Macbeth: Crafting a Literary Analysis

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Student Work





Interrogating Macbeth: Crafting a Literary Analysis

Analytic Essay Writing
Students crafted literary essays on Macbeth.
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When I was an English major, in 1970, The academy was so in the grip of new criticism that we didn’t know anything else.  It took me a really long time to understand the new criticism wasn’t the only way of looking at text.  It was the only way I had been taught to look at text; I hadn't been introduced to the idea of reader response, of feminist criticism, of Marxist criticism, of Freudian criticism, all the other ways of looking at text. Without beating kids up or hitting them over the head with really heavy theory, I invite them into the conversation about ways of looking at literature.

In crafting the lesson on analytic essay writing, one of the things I realized was that students needed very specific guidelines in writing analytic essays. They weren’t familiar with the genre, the purpose, the language, the conventions. In much the way that Lisa Delpit talks about teaching her students the specifics of the language of power, I realized that I needed to teach my students the specifics of this kind of academic discourse. They didn’t know it. Some of them could intuit it from reading other essays, but most of them couldn’t.  I analyzed the elements of a literary essay and in a very direct, explicit way shared it with the class. They weren’t going to figure it out on their own in the time frame that we had. Theoretically I could have them do the same kind of interpretation and analysis of literacy essays and figure it out but in the time frame it wasn’t going to happen.

Towards the end of the Macbeth unit I explicitly teach them how to write a literary paper.  When we were documenting the unit for this website, I had this young graduate student in my class for part of that time, and she was really upset with me that I was explicit and told them all the steps in how to write the paper. And I said, “why?” and she said, “well, nobody told me, you just have to figure it out!”

But they don’t figure it out. There are some students who will never intuit it.  A literary analysis is a particular way of writing with particular expectations, a form of academic literacy.  Writing about literature in a particular way is something I’ve found they need to be shown explicitly.  And in the process of my doing the analysis, I had to do the analysis.  In order for me to explain it to them explicitly, I had to think long and hard about what exactly is involved in that process – the text-search, and the chart, the interpretation of the quote, and the ordering of the quotes in some kind of logic or pattern. I didn’t just read that in a textbook, I figured it out by thinking about it really hard: What kinds of processes do I  have to go through to write this kind of paper? How can I invite them to see what some of those steps are?  

I was also very specific as well with the criteria for the paper. Students would be invited, not even permitted, but invited to re-write, because what’s the point of just giving them a C? There’s a whole assessment sheet with 10 very specific things they were supposed to do, and then they get their paper back with that sheet telling them which things they did well and which things they didn’t do at all, and they get to re-write.  I believe that in terms of assessment, what’s the purpose of grading?   Is it just to sort and rank, or to offer some sort of insights that the students can use to get better? 






Site last updated January 3, 2006