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The teacher understands how learners grow and develop, recognizing that patterns of learning and development vary individually within and across the cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical areas, and designs and implements developmentally appropriate and challenging learning experiences.

Identifying Motifs & Modeling Thesis Construction in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

As I worked with the seniors in AP Literature and Composition, one of my main focuses was making sure the students left with a toolkit to be successful writers in college. For this reason, in class, we would often undergo exercises mirroring successful argument construction. I will use an example: While reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, a student makes a comment saying that "Rasheed doesn't care about his children." I respond with, "What made you think that?" challenging her to point to specific instances in the text that informs her argument. I will often say, "Let's go to that point in the text," in order to critically analyze the language the author uses. In this case, Rasheed's disdainful tone as he labels his children as "annoyances," suggests his overall distaste. This point a student makes in class can then easily transfer into a strong claim in their writing. In their participation, students began to mirror the oral framework in their participation: pointing to a specific moment in the text, and explaining how this informs their greater understanding of the work. The use of argument frameworks within the classroom makes way for strong argument construction in writing. 

For this class, the assignment allowed the students to explore the process of constructing an argument surrounding motifs or images in a written work. The students had often expressed that they were nervous to make bold claims surrounding what an object means, without getting reassurance from an instructor or outside source first. The following activity facilitated students making connections between an item's traditional association and the role it plays within Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

I broke students into four groups. Each group was assigned to a different symbol, motif, or recurring image in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: Dreams, clothing, blood, and birds/flight. They continued to rotate according to the following prompts:

  • Rotation One: What are the traditional associations with this idea? What role can you predict this symbol plays in literature? (5 minutes) 

  • Rotation Two: Look at the previous group’s writings. Do you have anything to add? Where in last night’s reading of Balzac can you find these symbols? Paraphrase or quote and include page numbers. ~10 minutes

  • Rotation Three: Look at the previous group’s writings. Do you have anything to add? How do the traditional associations of these objects enlighten your understanding of their use in Balzac? What is the significance of the object in the greater context of the novel? ~10 minutes

  • Rotation Four: As a class, review the information. Do we have anything to add? Any questions for the previous groups? Prepare to present the symbol to the class. ~5 minutes

Each group had the opportunity to identify the meaning of an object, find specific instances in the novel, and make a claim about its greater meaning in the text in a low-stakes environment. Giving students a step-by-step framework to construct an argument surrounding different images in the text demystifies this type of argument construction, and offers students skills that can be transferred into their writing and analysis of future texts. Often, the only time for experimentation is in higher-stakes assessments, offering little opportunity for trial-and-error. Additionally, this analysis was almost completely student-generated, challenging the idea that only instructors and authors can establish an image's meaning within the work. 


Because students were actively engaged in their groups for the duration of the class, I wrote out their findings and connections in the document at the bottom of this page and shared it with them the following class. 


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