Thursday, 7 May 2015

The AP Challenge: Close Text Analysis of Hamlet

Close text analysis, or close reading of a text, is one of the core skills developed in English classes. It forms the basis for much for the AP English Literature and Composition exam, and requires critical thinking about how texts create meaning, both in terms of structure and content. In Grade 12, we apply this skill to a challenging text: Hamlet.

In the regular Grade 12 English course, the focus of close text analysis is a critical reading of the text and how it functions in the play as a whole. Assessments are chunked to help students differentiate between the importance of the information in the scene and the importance of how it is said. For example, how does word choice reveal character? How does a recurring image recall a larger theme? The goal is to be a critical reader, a skill that students can apply in any discipline and later in life.

Students in the AP course also hone their critical reading skills but have the increased challenge of deciding how to organize their findings in an essay. This essay is written in class over about thirty minutes, emulating the format of the AP exam. While this task may seem grueling, it enables students to make their own decisions about how to prioritize what they notice in terms of both its importance and how their ideas should be grouped within paragraphs. Students in both classes are taught to notice the same things; the difference is the depth to which students explain what they have noticed.

Close text analysis is a great example of how AP courses can increase academic challenge for students. Looking forward to applications to Greenwood's future flexible classrooms, the fact that both skills are taught during the same unit and can be done with the same readings also means that students can choose to challenge themselves with the AP model of the skill even if they are in the regular course. This way, students are given more opportunity for "challenge by choice," as they expand their critical reading skills.

Stephanie Martino
English Teacher

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