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Don't Just Summarize, Add Your Thoughts and Analyze

It is a natural inclination to restate when writing an essay or a blog post.

We're taught at an early age that the summary is the "go-to" to show that we have read adequately and understood.

There is nothing wrong with a summary.

But a plot summary on its own is not enough when moving into higher-level academic writing. True depth of meaning comes when the writer starts to trust his or her understanding, going further than a summary by focusing on ideas and adding value to what is there already.

Analysis is all about digging deeper. Summary is about breadth not depth.

So how can we help students first understand the difference between summary and analysis and then how to artfully analyze without redundancy adding depth to the communication of their ideas?

It can start with a curiosity? What do students want to know more about in the text (any kind of text: a novel, primary source, art, film, etc) they are "reading"?

First, we need to get kids to question the text they are approaching. Start asking questions and the analysis is at the heart of the answers to those questions.

Analysis wants us to keep digging. Every time we trim another layer, we find more worth exploring, actually excavating the text until we uncover the secrets the author left behind coupled with the context we bring to "the read."

But we may be getting ahead of ourselves. There are many ways through which a reader can choose to see a text depending on the lens he/she is looking through. Much like sunglasses in the summer, the color of the lens changes what we see. Readers wear different lenses based on their life experiences, specific theories, and ideas that they can apply to understanding, or they can strip it all away and look at the naked text, just the words or the forms and determine a meaning based on the understanding of that.

What's most important is that the student understands that analysis is about something small, a part of the whole that is expected to be explored more deeply.

Once a thesis statement has been written and revised appropriately, each supporting idea must come equipped with evidence that is then interpreted and connected to the thesis to help prove the point. This intricate interpretation and connection is the analysis.

Teaching students to find excellent evidence in the text and then showing them how to take it apart and see how it works only to put it back together as something new that is manipulated to work in their favor.

Children do things like this naturally when they want something. They've thoroughly thought about what needs to be done to get their way and then they break it down in a way their parents will understand it. They're making an argument and hoping to persuade them using the carefully chosen facts after they analyzed the situation.

This process just needs to be applied to their learning.

Here are some tips to help students analyze with skill:

  • Make sure students know what points they want to make. They can figure this out in an outline before they start writing.

  • Ensure they have good textual support for each point they are trying to make

  • For each piece of evidence, teach them to look closely at the words and use them to craft ideas that connect them directly to the thesis.

  • To scaffold the analysis process, consider giving sentence starters that help the student add value to what the author is saying

  • Tell them to assert their ideas with authority avoiding words like "seems" or "tries" - tell them to believe what they are saying about the text and so will the reader.

  • Make sure the leaps that are taken are substantiated by the text, which can be artfully manipulated to work the way they need it to. This is something that takes a good deal of practice. Perhaps have students read excerpts and practice with one idea at a time before trying to conquer a full essay.

  • Show them the difference between summary and analysis and let them elicit a list that they notice in the differences.

  • Allows make sure that there are more of the student's original words than the cited text.

Truly artful analysis takes a good deal of practice to master. Offer students many steps to show they know how to do it. Start with a visual. Ask them what they notice. Then ask them to write about it. Move to a movie and do the same or an advertisement of a primary document or mathematical equation. The more practice students get, the more adept they will become at doing it.

How do you teach analysis to your students? What challenges do you experience? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Ed Week Teacher blog in December of 2015.


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