Literary analysis has traditionally been considered by most people as something only for students working in their own language, or those who have reached the higher levels of ESL/EFL. Although I would agree in part with this, I firmly believe that if we approach it by using scaffolding methods with our students, more people can have the pleasure of really understanding what a piece of literature actually means.
In order for students to get to grips with the thematic considerations of any text for analytical purposes, they have to be able to see what the author had intended for the proficient reader. THAT is very difficult, even for many native speakers in any language, trying to decipher the (dense) prose in order to find meaning. However, I have been using a method of deconstructing texts that has the potential to unlock the door for more lower level students (and the more proficient of course) to enjoy reading more as it has a firmer purpose for the reader.
The quirky acronym stands for:
Setting Character(s) Action Style Idea
By using these prompts students can much more easily identify:
Where/ Who What How Why
The use of the 5Ws and 1H is a standard way by most teachers to get their students to understand a text via T/F, Multi-choice, Open-ended and Comprehension Questions. So, WHY? I hear you ask should we introduce yet another set-type of questions, and yet another acronym to our students, isn't this just more meta-language?
Well, I would say NOT! This slight tweeking of the widely used comprehension question paradigm can cause a huge shift in students' comprehension and ultimately lead to them being able to successfully analyze literary texts. In addition, by introducing this scaffold of deconstructing texts in chunks, students will get used to it for when they do reach a proficient level, and are expected to do this type of literary analysis as seniors and university students. It also shows them that by breaking down texts, they can definitely grasp meaning much sooner autonomously, rather than waiting on the teacher's 'correct' answer. It will also build confidence in them to tackle bigger and more complex texts.
The text below is taken from a stage two Oxford reader
A typical SCASI scaffold would look like this:
I have given the SCASI above as what one would expect from a more advanced student, but I want to show how such a simple text can produce a lengthy literary analysis for even lower level students to accomplish. In addition, perhaps an analysis towards the end of a chapter could provide more understanding of themes within for those learners.
The bottom line for me is trying to get students to read past the surface questions they generally tend to have at lower levels. By extrapolating more information and the way it is presented helps to give them more of a sense of purpose to reading in school. It starts off as a chore, but soon becomes pleasurable for them as they are then able to ask questions of their own reading and share with confidence their findings.
Following on from this students would then be able to write a commentary based solely on this extract. I feel that this offers much more scope than typical comprehension-type questions. They are still the primary focus for me, but it is good to also mix it up when there is a decent text for students to get their analytical teeth into.