2 min read.
Developing analytical skills in students is best achieved by providing them short scaffolded tasks, tasks that do not necessarily look like summative assessment. These will serve to strengthen their capacity to think quickly about a text, write as much as you want them to in a limited time, and see patterns in writing.
The scaffolding aims to reduce the cognitive load, and looks like this: 7 minute time frame; mini-extracts; language technique prompts; vocabulary definitions.
Initially, students were given 7 minutes to analyse as much of the text as they could. Most would spend 3 minutes trying to get their heads into the right space, then a couple of minutes reading, and then I’d say times up as they were half way through their first response, much to their shock, and indeed amazement that time had gone so quickly. This process truly helped them get a better understanding of time management, and after a few attempts, the initial wasted time was eliminated, and more energy given towards responding. I do this every lesson, sometimes twice, and have been for several months, and student progress is really evident. The majority of students who were only producing one response to the text are now producing 3 or 4, which is quite good going for a 7-minute piece of writing, and they are all really thriving in the context.
The bonus for the students is that they are seeing patterns in the use of techniques. This is particularly true for the Shakespeare analyses, with caesura, word choice, plosives and imagery featuring repeatedly. The next stage is increasing the length of extract and time to respond, which will all serve to take the students into the next level of strength in answering analysis questions. The final stage before true summative assessment style practice is to remove the language technique scaffold.
What about marking?
In terms of marking, initially I will complete a response myself in the given time, and students can read my response on the board and self-mark their response, adding additional comments in a different coloured pen to indicate gaps. This process is useful in two ways: if gaps in knowledge are evident, the student knows what to focus on when revising, and if errors in thinking become apparent, the hypercorrection effect described by Fazio and Marsh helps to increase the chance of remembering the content. Contributing to class discussions and the overall answer if they have something different to my interpretation also serves to strengthen the depth of understanding and thus the memory of the content. Lately, I have simply been talking the students through the analysis, with them marking as they identify something mentioned in their own writing, or again, adding new information if necessary.