The Personal, Philosophical, and Political Response to Literature
It’s spring, which means it’s time to get creative. At this point in the year, students should be close to meeting our expectations for writing, so now is a great time to make meaning of literature, where students spend more time thinking about the relevance of fiction. Before the creative projects that end the year like podcasts and presentations on art and culture, I’ll simply ask my students to write about what I call the three P’s of relevance: the personal, philosophical, and political. I will give my students the option of writing on a topic of choice in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: place, family, faith, or memory. I ask them to write a paragraph that talks about how one of these topics can impact a person’s identity. And then, for the second paragraph, I give them another option: write about what the topic means to you. Here are the three P’s of meaning and relevance:
A student who chooses the personal option tells a story about their life that relates to the plot and characters of the story. They compare their own story to the story of the main character. Most students have stories they could tell about a place: a country, town, a street, even a room. In The Kite Runner, both Afghanistan and California function as symbols of Amir’s identity. Every student has a story about family, thoughts about faith, and of course, the influence of memory.
For high schoolers, philosophy means musings on ideas and life. This is an option that allows students to write freely about a topic without worry about citing evidence. They can write about their understanding of the psyche, their understanding of spirituality and what it means to be connected to other people, what the word family means, or the emotional impact a place can have on a person. Philosophy is the exploration of ideas.
Politics can mean anything, not just the function of government. Students can write about power, class, status, race, history, culture, nationality, ethnicity, religion, money, rhetoric, art, memoir, statistics, videos, essays, television, economics, sociology, war … you get the point, anything. It could be something in the news, or a television series that connects to the plot or characters in some way.
Students might forget about their interpretation of literature, but they won’t forget when they wrote down what it really meant, how it relates to their world and their experiences. This kind of assignment encourages students to write about the same things in life that we have conversations about.
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers