Helping students with commentary

One of my online workshop teachers, Emily Monaghan, offered the following as a way to approach commentary.  I think people might find it useful, particularly for the kind of student for whom the commentary exercise is puzzling, at best.  She is working with SL students, but I think the process is quite adaptable for HL students as well.

“My students also find prose more challenging to approach, particularly when they try and consider the structure.  I have to wean them off ‘there are three paragraphs in this extract.  The first is six lines long, the second is three lines long…’  trap.  My approach to guiding them with this is similar to learning to ride a bike when small.

  1. I annotate the first one with them on the smart board as a whole class activity, including the actual commentary plan.
  2. The next one I let the students annotate alone but with a list of what to look for on the board, then we come together as a class and discuss our thoughts.
  3. The next one I do the same but no list on the board.  They need to approach the extract alone with just the SL guiding questions.
  4. The next extract I take the stabilizers off and ask the students to write a commentary alone.  They are quite insecure about this but I reassure them that they are not expected to be perfect at this from the start!
  5. After they have been marked against the criteria (I always attach a copy of the criteria to the back of their commentary with their level highlighted in each criterion with tips on how to improve) I give them a good exemplar answer for the same extract.  This is either written by me, or an old student, or from a resource I have gleaned over the years, it depends on what I have.  My students, who struggle a lot with this, really like to see ‘good examples’ so they know what is expected of them.  You see a light go on in their heads sometimes!

I then repeat the whole process again depending on the need of the students.  I usually find I have to work through this five step process all the way through the first year of the IB (with poetry too) then in Grade 12 I feel they can work alone/peer assess more effectively.”

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