Overview: Teaching Formalist Criticism in a Multilingual Classroom
New Criticism literary theory views the text as a unit of meaning, independent of its historical contexts, as well as the biographical information and “intention” of its author (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018). New critics examine how the words, phrases, and structure of a text contribute to its themes and meaning. Below, I describe how I incorporate SLA principals into a lesson with a content objective that students can describe how the diction (choice and use of words and phrases) of the text characterizes the narrator, establishes a tone, and communicates an overall meaning. To introduce close reading to emergent bilingual and multilingual students, I will begin with Heineke and McTighe’s (2018) culturally and linguistically responsive instructional framework, which promotes the idea that “to engage in disciplinary learning…students use cultural lenses to conceptualize ideas and solve problems and linguistic abilities to process and communicate results” (Heineke and McTighe, 2018, p. 55). To assist my students in meeting the content objectives, my instruction must respond “to students’ unique backgrounds, strengths, and needs” across cognitive, academic, linguistic, and sociocultural dimensions (Heineke and McTighe, 2018, p. 65). The lesson’s primary texts will be songs (in any language) that the students bring to class to share with their peers and analyze (in English). These texts align the lesson activity with “Principal 3D” in the TESOL’s (2018) The 6 Principles for Exemplary Teaching of English Learners, as the content they will analyze will be relevant and meaningful to their lives.
Lesson Planning & SLA Principals
To guide me in understanding the backgrounds, needs, and strengths of my students so that I know where to scaffold the lesson for comprehensibility, I will work through some strategies described in the TESOL’s (2018) “Principal 1: know your learners.” First, I will review the linguistic and educational backgrounds of all of my students that my district’s Home Language Survey (HLS) collected, as well as their proficiency levels in the receptive (listening and reading) and productive (speaking and writing) language domains from the WIDA screener (TESOL 2018; Heineke and McTighe 2018). Once I understand the English language proficiency levels of my students, I will utilize the WIDA’s (2016) “Can Do Descriptors” to define language objectives that fit with their strengths. Likewise, I will use their educational background information to identify content objectives that align (or can be scaffolded to align) with the educational backgrounds and ages of my students. Defining the language and content objectives of a lesson is part of the “Lesson Preparation” factor in the SIOP model (“Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners”, 2002). As part of TESOL’s “Principal 3A”, I will begin the lesson by writing these content and language objectives on the board, so that “the teachers and students are both aware of the important outcomes of the learning experience” (TESOL, 2018, p. 44). For instance, they might look like:
- Content objective: Students will close read the lyrics of a song to identify its meaning, tone, or speaker’s characterization.
- Language objective: Students will use textual evidence to argue how the songwriter develops the meaning, tone, or characterization through their lyrics.
I will introduce the objectives by building background, which is “Factor 2” of the SIOP model, through connecting the lesson to previous ones. For instance, I will say, “Remember how we defined and identified the parts of speech (like noun and verb) and figurative language (like similes and metaphors) in the last class? Now we are going to consider how they help form a text’s meaning.” To further align with TESOL “Principal 3A”, I will provide a personal example of how one might fulfill these objectives. For instance, I will play the music video Sara Bareilles’s Love Song and then write on the board:
- “ Evidence: Barellies’ speaker addresses the ambiguous pronouns “you” and “they” instead of specific proper nouns (like the name of her partner or her record company) so that it is unclear whether she is speaking to a romantic partner, and therefore, writing a love song or talking to her record company, and therefore, refusing to write them a love song.”
- Ambiguous: unclear, not specific
- “Argument: This ambiguous language characterizes the speaker as cunning because if she is speaking to her record company, she is refusing to write them a love song (getting what she wants) while also appearing to have written a love song (through misleading others).”
The explanation on the board breaks the objective into two tasks (present evidence and make an argument) to provide comprehensible input to the students, which is the third factor in the SIOP model (“Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners”, 2002). Likewise, the written example also contains definitions and examples of words that may not currently be included in the students’ vocabularies. The music video serves as a visual explanatory device, which TESOL (2018) notes can scaffold the lesson explanation for higher comprehensibility. Before beginning the activity, the students and I can participate in a large-group discussion to update a classroom Content Word Wall (“Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners”, 2002) with key terms from the previous lesson (like simile, metaphor, pronoun, etc.), which the students might look for to analyze their songs. This is another tactic that the SIOP model indicates builds the background to the lesson (“Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners,”2002). I will note to the class that they can turn the Word Wall into a checklist of terms that they can look for examples of when they are close-reading texts. This is an example of a learning strategy, like those discussed in “Factor 4” of the SIOP model, which helps to make the academic language more accessible (Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners”, 2002). The Word Wall generation will also serve as an opportunity for me to check that the students remember and understand key concepts from the previous lesson. Following TESOL (2018) “Principal 4,” I can adapt the lesson to review these key terms if the activity indicates some students have not mastered them.
As “learning is more effective when students have an opportunity to participate fully—discussing ideas and information,” I will structure the song analysis as an interactive, think-pair-share activity (Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners”, 2002, p. 6). Students will work individually to create an “evidence” and “argument” statement, then pair with two other students to share their song and analysis. I will assign students who had various levels of understanding of the key concepts (parts of speech, figurative language) of the last lesson to a group so that the students can ask questions and assist each other. I will allow students to revise their statements after speaking with their peers and then will collect them as a formative (ungraded) assessment of their language development, on which I can provide summative feedback. This monitoring and assessing is part of TESOL’s (2018) “Principal 5” and SIOP’s “Review and Assessment” factor.
Finally, I will ask students to further practice close-reading as part of the SIOP model’s “Practice and Application” factor by having each group of three choose a song from another group and analyzing it as a team. Students will have social supports (TESOL, 2018) throughout this analysis process and emergent bilingual or multilingual students can model their language after their peers if they should need additional support in forming their argument.
We will wrap up the lesson with a large-group discussion where we work together to define New Criticism. In “Making content comprehensible for English language learners,” the Bilingual and Compensatory Education Resource Team recommends teachers use at least two different types of interaction formats (for instance, this lesson uses small and large group discussions). I will ask questions that build off of the students’ background knowledge (SIOP factor 2) of literary lenses to facilitate the discussion. For instance, I might ask, “last week we practiced using the events that occurred around the time a text was written to think about its meaning through a historical lens, what strategies did we use to determine meaning today?” And, “did we have to know anything about the songwriter or their reasoning for writing the song to do the activity?” This discussion serves as a form of assessment that the students understand the term “New Criticism,” which aligns with TESOL’s (2018) “Principal 5” and SIOP’s “Review and Assessment” factor. I will ask one student to write our definition on the board and all the other students to copy it in their personal dictionaries next to the other literary lenses. I will suggest the students draw a picture to help them remember the definition. This activity is a demonstration of a learning strategy that students can use to form definitions from background knowledge and critical questioning, aligning with the “strategies” factor of the SIOP model (Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners”, 2002).
Heineke, A. J. and McTighe, J. (2018). Starting with students: Preplanning for language development. Using understanding by design in the culturally and linguistically diverse classroom. ASCD.
“Making content comprehensible for English language learners-SIOP model of sheltered instruction-for academic achievement” [Complied by the Bilingual and Compensatory Education Resource Team] (2002). Dearborn Public Schools.
TESOL International Association (TESOL). (2018). The 6 principals for exemplary teaching of English learners: Grades k-12. Alexandria, VA: Author.
WIDA (2016). Can do descriptors: Key uses edition grades 9-12. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin.