Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Relevance Rainbow

When commenting in the margins of student papers, I often underline the sentences after a quotation and ask ‘what does this mean - why does this matter?’ Unfortunately, my questions weren’t having an impact - students either re-phrased the quotation, provided analysis that didn’t align with their point, or simply moved on. I needed a way to help students clearly and effectively articulate the ‘take away’ from their chosen quotation.

Inference Wheel
One graphic organizer we use in my classroom is the Quote Sandwich, which helps gives structure to the elements of a paragraph. However, I wanted a graphic organizer that stripped the weight of the paragraph away so students could focus on the immediate post-quotation analysis.

I turned to the Inference Wheel, a graphic organizer where students choose multiple quotations and write them on the inner ring, explaining what they mean in the outer ring. This structure is especially helpful for analyzing multiple quotations in a night’s reading. But it was still bulky; I wanted students to focus on breaking down one quotation and building layers of its implications.

So, I tilted one ‘pie slice’ of the Quotation Wheel, and made it into a half-circle, drawing arcs above it. I labeled the levels ‘relevance to characters, relevance to book, relevance to life’ so students could scaffold their own analysis from specific to general.

Relevance Rainbow
I gave students either lined paper or plain paper and drew my own rainbow on the board. I like it when students create their own graphic organizers - not only do they consistently giggle while drawing - you’d be surprised at the rainbow variations - but they develop a sense of ownership over constructing their own diagram. Also, I don’t have to make photocopies. Students who like to keep their work in their notebook or on hole-punched paper can do so neatly. One drawback is that some students don’t like writing along a curve - they end up tilting the paper and doing ‘Relevance Art Deco’ with straight lines. The intellectual work of extending implications of one quotation is the same, no matter what visual variation they choose.

Once the Rainbow is on the board and on their papers, we complete one together. I choose a significant quotation from the reading the day before and start to fill out the first level, modeling why I think this line is important to the characters involved. There is space for multiple sentences of analysis, so I also ask for contributions. We move on to why the quotation matters to the book as a whole, and if it serves as a turning point, milestone, or predict how it could have an impact later on. This conversation can drift into author’s purpose as we discuss why this event happened when it did. Finally, we talk about the broader connections to life that the quotation could have, commentaries on individuals, society, etc. At the end of our discussion, I ask students to highlight the most important analysis they wrote down, which effectively annotates their own work for easy review.

When students fill out a Relevance Rainbow by themselves, there are many variations to the whole-class model that draw upon previous knowledge, collaboration, and even scaffolding towards essays.

  • The first two levels could serve as a reading quiz, and then launch class discussion. 
  • You can use it as a closing activity for students to synthesize that day’s conversation. 
  • As a stand-alone activity, you could choose a specific page or section, have students re-read it and pull one quotation from to analyze. For example, when reading Lord of the Flies, during the three pages when Simon dies, there are many quotations worth pulling for deeper consideration. 
  • In addition, students could use the graphic organizer as a form of ‘Give one, Get one’ where they choose a quotation and go around to ask what other students would say to analyze it. 
Any of these variations encourage students to compile multiple iterations of analysis on the same quotation.

If the final assessment is an analytical essay, completing multiple Relevance Rainbows through the unit will help students scaffold their analysis. When the essay comes, I have offered that they can choose any level and trace either a character, moments that were crucial to a plot trend, or craft a thesis about what the book says about humanity, life, etc. They can now go back through their multiple organizers, see what they wrote and what they highlighted, and construct their paper accordingly.

Giving students an accessible graphic organizer that scaffolds their analysis helps them meaningfully build levels of meaning, gives them a resource during a unit and cumulative project, and provides an effective formative assessment for teacher use.