There were a couple moments in the two presentations today that stood out for me because they demonstrated that students are progressing in their understanding of rhetorical analysis, and deepening their close reading skills. In the discussion of “Celebrity Bodies” by Daniel Harris, one of the students explained how the author frequently established credibility by describing a particular pop culture persona or event in great detail before stating his argument about it; she said that these explanations had the effect of showing the reader how knowledgeable he is about the subject he’s commenting on so they are more likely to agree with the argument. The fact that this group addressed the effect of how information was flowing within a chunk of text was great, showing that they are reading more closely than a couple months ago.
In the second presentation analyzing “High-School Confidential: Notes on Teen Movies” by David Denby, one of the students noted that the author establishes authority in part through declarative sentences using relational verbs (“is” in particular), saying that the writer using these simple but definitive verbs in stating his observations (for example, “the most hated young woman in America is a blonde”) has the effect of showing confidence in his observations, which provides credibility for the reader. I was really pleased to see this, applying our function of verbs and clauses lesson of a couple weeks ago to their analysis. At the end of the presentation I added that his specific imagery on either side of the verb is also part of that equation, that his metaphors are subtle in their commentary (“she’s tall and slender, with a waist as supple as a willow, but she’s dressed in awful, spangled taste”), comparisons that illicit a smile because they are cloaked in truth, but they aren’t too offensive. So the declarative structure with the simple relational words strengthens our “buying” the observations.
So, these moments that connect to previous lessons are wonderful to see—that there is a clear progression in their learning. All three groups, however, are still keeping the different appeals too much at arm’s length from each other; this was the particular point I emphasized for the last few minutes of class, asking how a chunk of text one of the groups mentioned works to appeal in more than one way, that you don’t sprinkle ethos, logos, and pathos on an essay like seasoning, but expertly use language to blend ideas together that have a desired effect. This will also lead nicely into next week’s unit on writing argument, as students focus on more smoothly connecting ideas in a text.