Margin Notes

Beyond Literary Analysis


In Beyond Literary Analysis: Teaching Students to Write With Passion and Authority on Any Text, Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell present an exciting and fresh vision for student writing and creating an environment where this can thrive.

According to the authors, “authentic analysis is a piece of writing that explores a text.” Their expanded definition of text includes “anything that has a beginning, middle, and an end that can be broken down into smaller parts and studied.” They encourage us to move beyond the traditional literary analysis, often formulaic and limiting for writers, that exists only in academia and instead consider how we can invite students to write the kinds of analysis they find in the world outside the classroom.

Marchetti and O’Dell identify four essential tools of analysis: passion, ideas, structure, and authority. They devote a chapter to each of these tools sharing activities for exploration and discovery along with crafting techniques.  The exploration and discovery activities are exactly that-they are designed to help students discover how the tools work in mentor texts and in their own writing.  They are hands-on, inquiry-based, and flexible.  Particularly helpful are the “If You See This in Student Writing…” charts that organize the activities according to common obstacles that students face.  The crafting techniques highlight common moves used by writers of analysis and are supported by literally dozens of examples from professional and student writers.  In my opinion, this is one of the most valuable aspects of this resource.  The descriptions of the craft moves and the corresponding examples not only provide me with a toolkit of craft lessons, they have sharpened my lens for reading like a teacher of writing and now I find myself highlighting examples in the texts I’m reading.

The final section of the book introduces five types of authentic analysis: movie and television, music, sports, video games, and literary.  Each chapter identifies the areas of focus writers explore when writing this kind of analysis, places to find this kind of writing, a list of key mentors (including their Twitter handles), and ideas for student writing.

Just as the activities in Beyond Literary Analysis are designed to scaffold writers toward independently writing authentic analysis, this resource provides exactly what a writing teacher will need to get started in their classroom right away. Also, it creates a model for establishing our own writing environments where students are surrounded by high-quality engaging mentor texts that inspire them to create the kind of writing they see in the world outside school on topics they are passionate about.

I loved Beyond Literary Analysis just as much as I did Marchetti and O’Dell’s previous book, Writing with Mentors. Reading their books is like chatting with two colleagues who love writing, read voraciously, believe that student writers can do amazing things, and who generously share ideas, resources, and anecdotes from their classrooms.

This is a book that I highly recommend for anyone teaching writing.  We have two copies to giveaway to our local ASD-W colleagues.  Share a favourite mentor text or writing tip in the comments before April 11th and we’ll put your name in the draw!

4 Responses to Beyond Literary Analysis

  1. One of my new favourite mentor texts is After the Fall by Dan Santat. Sooo many uses (use of imagery, word choice, interesting beginning, lines to borrow to springboard own writing). I plan on using it again on Friday to “read” illustrations and add thought bubbles for Humpty. As always, use students’ own work as mentor text using document camera. Would love this resource!

  2. Jay Nickerson

    Anytime we’re doing analysis, I try really hard to make sure we’re open about our purpose, using that purpose to focus our efforts. I think, alas, we often tell kids to analyze, but don’t guide them. I like to subdivide the elements they’re analyzing, having them outline each aspect on a separate note card. This also lets them easily manipulate the flow of their analysis.

  3. Lusinda Frost

    Dan Gemeinhart’s Some Kind of Courage is one of my new favourites, I appreciate Joseph’s narrative and use of figurative language. Students can replicate the technique to slow down a moment while reinforcing the characters emotions or the intensity of a situation.

  4. Memory D'Agostino

    As a 7th grade ELA teacher, finding ways to encourage students to give their best efforts when it comes to writing is certainly a challenge. Topics students are passionate about oftentimes lend themselves to better involvement in the writing process, but they don’t always know how to put their ideas together coherently. Having multiple mentor texts available for them to read, interact with, and serve as models for their writing is key. I hope to continue to challenge ands encourage my students to look beyond just the literary analysis we have had to focus on for years. I’m excited to see what my students write about next!

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