A New Spin on an Old Text: The Epilogue

“How do you know what you’re going to do until you do it?”

The Catcher in the Rye nearly concludes on that question as Holden Caulfield embarks on an uncertain, perhaps tentatively hopeful, future. In the classroom, we could adapt his question to ask: “How will we know how this turns out until we try it?” 

The Catcher personal analyses that I described in my last post are in, and they are thoughtful, spot-on in their understanding of Holden Caulfield and his story, and FRESH. 

Every year, an op-ed or study makes the rounds on eduTwitter (or maybe now it’s eduHive) about reading’s effect on our empathy and emotional wellbeing, and as English teachers, we want to put books in hands that make students feel, react, and understand new perspectives…but what might be understood as “traditional” analysis doesn’t always leave room for students to express that personal response or, rather, when it’s first being taught, it might not account for it. When I’ve taught this unit in the past, students have tracked symbols and motifs and identified literary devices at work. We’ve looked at mentor texts that demonstrate a personal response, but I’ve never actually baked that requirement into our Catcher assessment before. This feels like the missing link between early learning about literary analysis and the analyses my seniors deliver that must demonstrate personal response in order to receive the highest marks. I’m so grateful for my colleague’s reimagining of the unit that allowed for these new responses. Here are two gems from students’ responses that explored the novel’s discussion of failure (what’s highlighted in the screenshot connects to a comment I made on the student’s document):

So…we tried this, and…it worked out! And I think it will reframe how I structure novel studies and other literature units from now on. Today’s post is a bit short (and maybe too sweet), but it, like Holden’s last chapter, is a small, hopeful note in the midst of a tough month in the school calendar. I’m so proud of the learning moments my students were willing to share and the earnest, creative ways they either admonished or identified with their fictional peer. 

This success leaves me wondering…what’s next? How might I reframe our study of The Odyssey to prompt similarly insightful connections? And how might my older students benefit from this work? Could a blending of reflection and analysis (plus a strong emphasis on process rather than product) be the key to beating chatbots like OpenAI’s attempts at writing full essays? (One quick search on this will make you say “yikes!” )Tune in next time to find out!

What have been your best recent attempts at personal analysis? What hopeful moments are keeping your flame lit when the winds of winter and the sighs of semester exhaustion threaten to extinguish it? Please share your thoughts @MsJochman on Twitter or in the comments below. (And let me know if you’re moving to a new social platform!)

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