Frustrating adventures in literature

Here’s something I’m struggling with right now:

In my grade 12 online English course, the students are at the stage in their independent studies where they are developing thesis statements.

Problem: All the thesis statements read something like:

In the novel the author shows that history repeats itself.

or

Life experience is more valuable than formal education.

or

Love will conquer any obstacle.

Here’s how I’ve prepared them:

  1. They’ve prepared an annotated bibliography of  a variety of secondary sources connected to their novel so they can get a sense of how scholars write about literature.
  2. They’ve written a series of blog posts about their novels on specific topics: character development, symbols and imagery, themes, and finally potential thesis statements.
  3. I’ve given them a How to Generate a Good Thesis Statement handout.

If they were in a face to face class I would have done more modelling of developing a thesis statement but that’s a bit tough to do online.

Some of my students seemed confused, and downright angry that I was expecting them to consider literary devices in their thesis statements. So I created this little video that comes complete with a science analogy:

The problem as I see it is this: My students read literature without being conscious of the fact that novels are constructions. That all media are constructions (Save that for another post)! It’s like they think of the novel as something that just spontaneously came into being. They don’t consider that someone wrote their novel and that he or she made conscious choices about how to convey their ideas using a variety of techniques.

So what do you think? Have you encountered similar problems. Do you have any tricks or tips to share?

2 thoughts on “Frustrating adventures in literature

  1. Hey – I think you’re doing great if they’re all getting to theme. I had one student last year (after COPIOUS amounts of explicit teaching, modelling, two one-on-one conferences, blah blah blah) who created this masterpiece: “In _____ and ____ (I can’t remember which Austen novels she used), there are many similarities but also many differences.” So I don’t know if I even deserve to be in this conversation – I just need to learn from you!!
    Anyway….
    I love the video. I think that makes it so clear WHY it’s important to talk about the building blocks. I’m going to use that analogy with my kids too. What else to do?
    What about a little concept attainment? Maybe that’s too simplistic – or giving them several thesis statements for them to assess using your “How to make a good thesis statement” handout (kind of like a bump it up wall of sorts?! not to make it too cheesy) – when Shawn and I did our learning cycle on incorporating quotations effectively last year with our 4Us, I did that with samples of their work and they had to give it a level using my rubric (I don’t know if your kids would have to do this part) and then make two suggestions to improve it one level. Maybe?!?
    And I miss you, dawg.

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