By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – While reading a passage from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” last month, Tupelo Middle School eighth-graders weren’t discerning its plot, something already familiar to many of them.
Instead, Tina Fitts’ pupils were delving into the classic English author’s purpose. Their specific task was to determine how Dickens used imagery, figurative language and specific details to characterize Scrooge as a greedy and cold-hearted man.
“They know Scrooge is greedy, but how does the author use language to give this information,” Fitts said. “They should be able to find evidence.”
The students sat in groups and held pens or pencils as they read the packet on their desks. They circled key words, researched unknown ones and wrote notes in the margins, using a technique referred to as “close reading.”
What is a grindstone, Fitts asked, and what would a “tight-fisted hand” represent?
They were to look for symbolism, specific details and implied details. Even Scrooge’s physical characteristics show something Dickens is trying to convey about his character, Fitts said.
“In the past, they might have been required to answer a few questions about key ideas,” Fitts said. “Common Core reading and close reading requires students to go further than that. They have to do second and third readings, and they are really analyzing the author’s craft and what literary devices were used and how they relay meaning.”
As she has begun introducing the new standards, Fitts said she has noticed an improved level of conversation from the students.
“They have some really good discussions,” Fitts said. “It is better than when we did the same novel two to three years ago. It is no longer what happened first and what happened next. It is much deeper.”
After completing the close-reading assignment, the students were to write a response to Fitts’ question.
“It is not just an opinion,” Fitts said. “They now have to give reasoned arguments and support their arguments with text-based evidence.”