On Tuesday students handed in a draft of their Rhetorical Analysis essay, and I’ve been reading them and meeting with students individually before they write their final to provide them individualized feedback. Since this is the first time I’ve taught an AP Rhetorical Analysis essay, this gave me a chance to evaluate my own teaching before scoring them. In doing this, I recognized a major issue in almost all of their papers that I want to re-teach before they go into the weekend completing their final.
Essentially, almost all of the students wrote the essay as they would a literary analysis, explaining how the main idea was developed, but not focusing on the rhetorical writing strategies used to influence the audience. This latter part is clearly a major shift for the students, given how they have approached this essay, and clearly I have not done enough to emphasize this. So, before continuing with our education unit, I will revisit the model essay from the Language of Composition that we used last week, but this time focusing specifically on the body paragraphs. I will have my digital version on the Smart Board and start with the topic sentence, highlighting the specific words and phrases that state the writer’s interpretation of how Groucho Marx appeals to the audience (for example, the sentence says Marx starts the letter with an “intentional misunderstanding, the first way he highlights the absurdity. . . “—the word ‘intentional’ speaks to Marx’s purpose in how he structures the letter, and the word ‘absurdity’ alludes to tone choices and effect; this is also explained in this video: Rhetorical Analysis Essay Review.mp4). I will continue to focus on specific words and passages as I walk through the body of the essay, emphasizing the focus on rhetorical strategies and explaining how Marx builds his argument in the letter. I will also show how Marx, or some other reference to him, tend to be a dominant subject of clauses, further showing how to structure their sentences to explain appeals. Finally, I will encourage students to have the model with them when writing to learn the process.
A number of students weren’t in class yesterday to read "The Case Against High School Sports" by Amanda Ripley published in the Atlantic Monthly, so to get them caught up while still having the rest of the students engaged in meaningful activities, I will have the absent students read last night’s article and fill out their reading sheet while the rest of the class reads a rebuttal to the article called “High-School Sports Aren’t Killing Academics” by Daniel H. Bowen and Collin Hitt posted October 2, 2013 on Atlantic Monthly on-line. While reading, they will annotate, noting rhetorical strategies, with their goal being to decide which article has the better rhetoric in presenting their argument.
By asking students to compare rhetorical impact, it forces them to interact with the piece differently—looking not only at the strategies the writer uses, but also to consider what isn’t there, how relevant the evidence is, how logical the arguments are, etc. Recognizing what is not in the text as part of their analysis in particular is a new skill emphasized in the Common Core for eleventh and twelfth grade, so comparing texts is one way to teach students how to utilize this analysis strategy (since that is the essence of that skill--we compare what we are reading to other things we've read on the topic as well as our own knowledge of the topic; the trick is to make this process conscious). Evaluating the texts at this level will also help them learn how to enter the conversation of academic discourse, a skill we will build toward this unit as part of the AP English Language and Composition requirements. This rebuttal will be particularly helpful for looking at rhetorical strategies because most of the students were not in favor of Amanda Ripley's assertion that we should get rid of high school sports. However, she makes a stronger logical argument than the rebuttal.
If there is time, I hope to spend a few minutes at the end of class addressing the original piece by sharing data from their reading sheets (I also want to model the rigor they should put into the reading sheets going forward). I suspect that we’ll have 10 or 15 minutes to start this conversation, but this will likely be where we pick up in the next class.
Next Steps: We will pick up with the reading sheets next class; we will jointly create a model of what a good analysis using this tool should look like.