Some wise advice about commentary?

At least from my point of view, what Robert Scholes had to say about close reading contains some good reminders. I think we all recognize the New Critical roots of the these IB assessments, both oral and written. And though I suspect not too many of us deliver ‘the’ reading of texts, the temptation does exist and we can actualize that in various ways. I especially like his reminder about ‘codification.’**

Scholes speaks of the kind of textual study I am advocating. I have identified three aspects of such study: reading, interpretation, and criticism. Each of these can be defined by the textual activity it engenders. In reading we produce text within text; in interpreting we produce text upon text; and in criticizing we produce text against text.

As teachers of literary texts, we have two major responsibilities. One is a way for our students to perform these productive activities as fruitfully as possible: to produce oral and written texts themselves in all three of these modes of textualization: within, upon, against.

‘It is to show them the codes upon which all textual production depends, and to encourage their own textual production.’
Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English (Yale, 1985)

** I can’t recall whether I have cited this bit by Joan Didion before, but it’s especially relevant here:

‘The text doesn’t reveal its secrets just by being stared at. It reveals its secrets to those who already pretty much know what secrets they expect to find. Texts are always packed, by the reader’s prior knowledge and expectations, before they are unpacked.’
–From a review by Louis Menand of a biography of Didion

I suggest that this view or this reality, even, speaks to how challenged and even discouraged some of our students are when confronted with the demand to produce ‘commentary.’ These students, especially, are in need of practice that produces confidence through straightforward, practical strategies.

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