Analysis – Does This Word Matter in Defining Expectations for Student Performance?

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Text-Dependent Analysis Educational Assessment Writing Instruction Assessment

Analysis – Does This Word Matter in Defining Expectations for Student Performance?

Understanding That Higher Expectations for Instruction and Student Performance are Necessary to Meet 21st Century Demands

Can we call “analysis” by another name and expect educators to teach students to analyze, and expect students to demonstrate analysis in a text-dependent analysis response? Is the word “analysis” interchangeable with other words, or does its meaning matter in defining expectations for student performance? 

In the famous line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says  “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  

In the case of analysis, however, yes, the word analysis  and its meaning matter! 

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (ELA) in grades 4-12 sets the expectation for students to “draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.” The text analysis expectations differ across grades, particularly in terms of the complexity of the literary and nonfiction reading elements. 

  • At grade 5, for example, the informational reading standard RI.5.6 states that students will “analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.” This standard expects students to identify the interrelationship between an event or topic and the points of view of different narrators, as well as noting how they are similar and different.
  • Whereas, in grade 8, the information reading standard RI.5.5 states that students will “analyze in detail the structure of a specific paragraph in a text, including the role of particular sentences in developing and refining a key concept.”

An analytic response to text is a key dimension of college and career readiness. Text analysis requires students to demonstrate an understanding of the author’s craft, choices, and presence in the text as it relates to the specified elements identified or alluded to in the prompt. Specifically, text analysis requires students to provide a “detailed examination of the elements or structure of text, by breaking it into its component parts to uncover interrelationships in order to draw a conclusion” (Thompson and Lyons, 2017, p. 4).  

Text analysis requires students (and educators) to engage in a distinct set of skills that go beyond simple recall and basic comprehension of text. To illustrate, consider the type of response students are expected to provide when asked to explain, and how it differs from when they are asked to analyze:

In the story “Oversleeping,” the author blends reality and fantasy. Write an essay explaining how the author uses this technique. Support your response with specific evidence from the story.

For example, a student might write: 

At the beginning of the story, we find Jake flying through the neighborhood like a superhero. That seems like lots of fun. But we quickly learn that he is only dreaming. Jake, like most fourteen-year-olds, lives at home with his dad and sister, he catches the school bus each morning and goes through “the pleasant routine of another typical day”. His routine seems monotonous and boring. We know this when the author writes “and so it went week after week and month after month”. Nothing sounds very exciting in the reality of life. 

Asking students to explain encourages them to recount the information from the passage using text evidence along with an explanation of its meaning. 

In the above response, the student provides several inferences about the text: “That seems like lots of fun;” and “Nothing sounds very exciting in the reality of life.” However, the response never moves to analyzing or showing an interrelationship of the technique (blending reality and fantasy) with another reading element, such as theme.

What if the students were asked to analyze instead? 

In the story “Oversleeping,” the author blends reality and fantasy. Write an essay analyzing how the author uses this technique. Support your response with specific evidence from the story.

A student response to an analysis task might include:

At the beginning of the story we find Jake flying through the neighborhood like a superhero. That seems like lots of fun. The author’s use of fantasy allows the reader to feel a sense of excitement about life in which anything is possible. But we quickly learn that he is only dreaming. Jake like most fourteen-year-olds lives at home with his dad and sister and he catches the school bus each morning and goes through “the pleasant routine of another typical day”. His routine seems monotonous and boring when the author writes “and so it went week after week and month after month”. This technique of blending fantasy and reality allows the reader to recognize the theme that life is filled with routine activities but that they are the essence of friendships and relationships.

Analyzing is a more complex way of communicating than explaining. In the example above, asking students to explain requires the students to only describe the author’s technique; however, when analyzing, students must demonstrate how the author’s technique leads to a deeper understanding of the story. Requiring analysis signals that teachers must provide students with multiple opportunities using multiple types of text to engage in these deeper responses to reading.

In this analysis, the student highlights the relationship between the author’s technique of blending reality and fantasy and a theme about life’s routines. The student states, “the author’s use of fantasy allows the reader to feel a sense of excitement about life in which anything is possible.” This statement lays the groundwork for understanding the author’s use of fantasy. The analysis can be seen when the student connects the technique with the theme, demonstrating their interrelationship. This is clearly in contrast to the student explaining or recounting the information from the passage.

The life and work demands of the 21st Century require citizens to develop critical relationships with different forms of text. Teaching students to move beyond simple retelling or low-level explanations is an important foundation for this critical literacy. Asking students to explain information is not the same as asking them to analyze. In this case, a rose by a different name is not a rose!

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