Whether we are teaching poetry or memoir or literary analysis, the requirements for mentor texts are the same: they must be accessible and relevant for students, and they should be richly crafted. And while poetry and memoir texts are ubiquitous, many of us struggle to find literary analysis mentor texts that are developmentally appropriate and engaging for our students. In this post, Rebekah gives two ways of thinking about the mentor text search for literary analysis that will leave you eager to get your hands on some of the great analytical writing out there.
When we are choosing genres to teach in workshop, one consideration is always at the forefront: is this real writing? Is this writing real writers do? Can I find authentic examples of it out in the world? Generally, if the answer is “no”, we don’t teach it.
With one notable exception: literary analysis.
In our mentor text explorations, we have yet to find an example of pure, academic literary analysis roaming around the real world. And yet, we acknowledge the need for students to work in this genre.
In many — maybe most — high school English classrooms, literary analysis is the primary mode of writing. It’s the whole shebang. There are many reasons for this, but I think the most potent one is simply this: it’s tradition. It’s what you and I did when we were high school English students. And we enjoyed it. And we were good at it. And that’s why we became English majors. And then English teachers.
But literary analysis is one star in a vast universe of analytical writing. The traditional high school English classroom makes it the sun.
While you won’t find a literary analysis feature article in The New Yorker, analytical writing is everywhere. Political analysis of the 2018 Presidential election. Personal analysis in essays and memoirs. Sports analysis. Analysis of Furious 7 and Mad Men. And, yes, in its way, analysis of literature in book reviews. Analysis is everywhere.
So, in our view, students should be writing analysis — lots of it — but analysis of all kinds, not just literary analysis. The skills are the same. And if students can skillfully analyze their favorite movie and the effectiveness of the new iPhone and the significance of an important event on their life and the theme of a poem, they will be fantastic, well-rounded analytical writers who are much more prepared to enter the real world of writing than those students who have only written essays about literature.
Where does this leave us on the mentor text issue?
Like all genre studies, we give students real-world, hot-off-the-press examples of analysis — showing them that the skills they are learning to make a claim about a piece of literature are the same skills that professional writers are using to analyze all sorts of things in the world around them.
Our requirements remain the same — our mentor texts should be accessible and relevant for students, they should be well-written, they should be rich with craft. Continue reading