December 18, 2019
The Elements of Style
Middle School students are engaged in a deep reading of Lord of the Flies by William Golding, a difficult text that portrays proper English boys’ descent into savagery while marooned on an island.
Middle School teacher Anastasia Quinn acknowledged that the students may be frustrated when they need to concentrate both on the storyline and their annotation. “I want to reassure you that that is all part of the learning curve. That’s part of the process of learning how to annotate and that’s why we are all trying to find out a system that works for us. The point of annotation is to slow you down so you can practice your critical thinking. Maybe it’s not entirely about enjoying the story for the story’s sake. We have to learn to do both,” she said.
The students worked on various strategies for annotating and categorized and labeled the types of commentatory they made. Did the students make any connections with Orwell’s Animal Farm? Could they make predictions through the use of foreshadowing? What is a recurring theme? Have they analyzed a particular character? Are they circling language or imagery? Have they followed symbols, particularly the conch, and does the conch support the idea of civilization?
Following a small group discussion with their peers regarding their analysis, Quinn tasked the students to read one of two poems: “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar regarding people hiding their true feelings behind a false expression and Steven Crane’s “I Stood Upon a High Place,” a poem that considers everyone’s capacity for evil. The students were to draw connections between these poems to the novel. After the small groups discussed the poems’ significance to the book, they met with another team to share the parallels with the novel. Taking to the halls and the atrium, the students cogently debated the significance of the works.
In the last thirty minutes of the class, Quinn assigned the students to write what they discussed in their groups. She displayed on the whiteboard a “sloppy copy” of what a well-constructed essay could like so that the students could model their work using a strong topic sentence, pulling specific quotations from the text, summarizing the excerpt, adding commentary, and finishing with a well-articulated conclusion.
All this classwork will lead the students to write a final analysis of Lord of the Flies. By discussing the book with their peers, constructing smaller essays about the work, and deeply engaging with the text, producing the end product is manageable and systematic. The heavy lifting of reflection, analysis, and criticism is already done; they need to put their pen to paper, or their fingers on a keyboard these days.