3.07 – Evaluating the Selected Text (English Lesson)

Now that the literature circles are at an end, there are no more roundtables to be had, and all novels are completed read (or as completely read as they are likely to be) it’s time for students to step back and think “was all that worth my time, anyway?”. Don’t worry – don’t be afraid – this is going to be valuable for you too.

You may love a text. You may think that it’s the greatest novel of all times. However, the lens through which you view the world (be it your current lens, or the one you used in high school) is not the same as the one they view things through.

In order to know which books are worth keeping in rotation, and which ones are worth phasing out, students will be providing real – actionable – information for you. And, it’s amazing how much they put forward when they know what they are saying now, will impact students for years to come.

So, put away that sense of fear, and transfer responsibility to the students. They’re charting the future… as it should be.

English Course Pack: Unit Three – Literature Circles

This assignment is part of the The Full English Course Park. This piece is part of Unit Three: Literature Circles, which focuses on reading a selected text in small groups. Student engagement with the text will revolve around topic journals, roundtable discussions, and the application of literacy skills.

If you would like to say thanks, consider buying me a coffee. But that is neither required, nor expected.

3.07 – Evaluating the Selected Text

Step One: Explaining the Process

Before beginning, make sure that students have a strong understanding of the process they are about to undertake. You want them to feel comfortable in presenting their honest ideas, insights, and opinions.

Remember, that this task can be challenging, as students often feel that while teachers ask for honest opinions, they don’t actually respect them. Some students feel that teachers are looking for specific responses, but – especially in this case – going forward with the end already in mind will be a disaster.

Let students know that you are providing them a chance to:

  • Record basic information
  • Present a summary of the text
  • Discuss representation in the text
  • Highlight any textual connections that stand out
  • Focus on some key lines
  • Recommend the text… or not

Step 2: Recording Basic Information

This activity is most student driven. They have a sheet of paper, and some ideas. They’re going to transfer those ideas onto the paper (or digital file) in whatever way best suits their needs. The only time they might need to look something up is at the start. the basic information asks students to record:

  • The Title of the book
  • The author
  • The publication year
  • The Lexile level

Most of this information can be quickly gathered from the cover, or inside cover. However, one piece stands out. The Lexile Level.

Lexile levels rate a book’s reading level. There are other metrics, but Lexile is quickly becoming the most used. If you are unfamiliar with it, you can use the links below to learn more.

Step Three: Summaries and Representation

Writing a summary of the text should be pretty straight forward, but looking at representation in a text can be a bit more challenging. It should be noted that a text’s worth does not rest on the level of representation, however, understanding how different groups are presented within a text – or ignored by a text – can go a long way towards the judgement of whether a text should be recommended or not.

When looking at representation there are a number of different things to consider. Personally, I like to draw attention to groups protected by Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Those groups are identified as:

  • citizenship
  • race
  • place of origin
  • ethnic origin
  • colour
  • ancestry
  • disability
  • age
  • creed
  • sex/pregnancy
  • family status
  • marital status
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • gender expression
  • receipt of public assistance (in housing)
  • record of offences (in employment).

This is the one section that most students will want to pay attention to. Why? Because they can use the lines that stood out to others to build their own collection of lines that stood out! As they grow their list, organically, though these discussions students will find themselves more and more prepared for the eventual essay that is in their near future! When looking to embed quotations, they’ll need look no further than this section right now.

If you prepare students engage with this section with meaning, they will be far more likely to listen to their peers and share their own ideas, as the discussion isn’t just occurring for discussion’s sake – no – it’s occurring for their sake, as they will directly benefit from the group-constructed list of key quotations.

During these discussions, it is important that students share their full explanation of why the lines stood out to them.

Step Four: Connections and Key Lines

Students who have been keeping up with the coursework will have no problem in this area. The hardest part will be selecting which of their key lines from The Lines that Stand Out they will record on this sheet. Then, their connection can come straight from their literature circle prep sheet!

In this section they will be highlighting the pieces they feel have the highest impact on their understanding of the text, and the highest impact on those who would be wondering if they should engage with the text, themselves.

Step Five: The Recommendation… or Not

Based on everything the students have recorded, this is the part where they get to say whether they liked the text or not. Ultimately there was something that drew them to it, over all the others, during the selection process. But, did that stick with them until the very end?

A quick “I recommend it” or “Nope…” is good enough here, but some insight into why they feel that way will only serve to enhance this section. And then, just like that, they’ve completed this task. And their literature circle. They’re ready for the next big thing!

The Impact

What really makes this a valuable experience is that these recommendations can be made available to other students who were in the class, to other students who will be in the class in the future, or to educators looking to spend their budget on effective texts.

It’s so important that we honour student voice and understand that if a student says they didn’t like a text, then there’s a chance that other students may not like it either. The best selling book from 2016 – 2021 may no longer be on that connections with today’s students. And we need to be ok from that.

We need to allow our students to help our future students. And, if you’re honouring their work, that’s exactly what you’ve done right here.

Next up? Creative Writing and Choose Our Way Tales (COWtales)

English – Unit Three: Literature Circles

English Course Packs: Full Units

Unit One: Literacy Skills
Unit Two: Poetry
Unit Three: Literature Circles
Unit Four: Creative Writing & Choose Our Way Tales (In Progress)
Unit Five: Essay Writing (In Progress)
Unit Six: Culminating Tasks (In Progress)

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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