Building to a Literary Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird

I watched Tim Starkey teach this Extended Looking lesson with his freshmen, leading to writing a literary analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird.

We had taught the lesson, which uses art by Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison to explore the process of gathering evidence to create meaning, a few weeks previous in his AP classes.  Starkey saw applications to writing a literary analysis essay, so we used the same lesson to scaffold students toward gathering evidence in text sources to reach thematic conclusions in his ninth grade classes.

To build a theme statement, he asked his students to write down a single word that captured what they thought the picture “meant.”

The next day, Starkey and his students further analyzed the image by going back and gathering evidence related to the “meaning word” (or topic) they had found the previous day.  Then, he had them go back and write a complete sentence (theme statement) describing what the artist/piece was saying about that topic.

This lead directly into the students literary analysis.  Starkey first brainstormed one-word “meanings” for To Kill and Mockingbird with students.  Then, they had to go back to the text and find evidence and passages that pertained to that theme.  Afterward, they used the evidence to turn the one-word meaning into a thesis for their paper.

To write a thesis and literary analysis without a prompt is a very high-level thinking activity, especially for freshmen.  This will be the first time that Starkey has tried such an open-ended assignment with freshmen, and we will be looking at his students’ work next week to see how they performed with the task.  However, anecdotal evidence suggests that students were better able to “see the connections” in the analysis process because they had already practiced with the image according to Starkey.  In addition, the students’ theme statements and evidence for the image were quite impressive in their level of sophistication.

I think Starkey’s strategic change from having students write a thesis statement then trying to “justify” it with evidence, to instead having students examine the evidence to build a theme is more authentic and will lead to more logical thinking by students when practicing analysis.

Here is the resource used to scaffold students to independent literary analysis:

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