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10.04.18Emily’s ‘Sensitivity Analysis’ Questions Were So Good I Had To Share Them

Image result for number the stars

 

I’ve blogged about Sensitivity Analysis a couple of times before (here here and here).  It’s a Close Reading activity that involves asking students to read a very short passage from a text carefully and then compare it to a similar version in which the teacher has made small changes.

To understand those small changes and how they influence the nuance or mood of the passage is to understand how language choices create meaning, so as we write our Reading Curriculum it’s a tools we’re using frequently.

In fact I spent much of my morning reviewing lesson plans that one of our ace lesson developers, Emily Badillo, had written for the Lois Lowry novel ‘Number the Stars.’  One of the things that jumped out at me was how brilliant her Sensitivity Analysis questions were.  I thought I’d share a couple of my favorites so you could see how powerful they could be and observe some of the things that made these examples so strong.

The first example I want to share comes from Chapter 8. Helen Rosen, the protagonist, has escaped the Nazis in her native Copenhagen and is hiding in an idyllic Danish fishing village, which is strangely and incongruously beautiful, something Lowry emphasizes in a passage on page 69. Emily wanted students to notice the picturesque language Lowry uses to emphasize the contrast and incongruity.  Here’s her question:

3. Reread this moment from page 69:

 

Suddenly, here in this sunlit kitchen, with cream in a pitcher and a bird in the apple tree beside the door – and out in the Kattegat, where Uncle Henrick, surrounded by bright blue sky and water, pulled in his nets filled with shiny silver fish – suddenly the specter of guns and grim-faced soldiers seemed nothing more than a ghost story, a joke with which to frighten children in the dark.

 

How would the imagery be different if Lowry removed all the bolded words, as in the example below?

Suddenly, here in this kitchen, with cream in a pitcher and a bird in the apple tree beside the door – and out in the Kattegat, where Uncle Henrick pulled in his nets – suddenly the specter of guns and grim-faced soldiers seemed nothing more than a ghost story, a joke with which to frighten children.

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4. What contrast do you notice in this excerpt? Consider the writing you did yesterday.

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Two things I loved:

  • How her Sensitivity Analysis works by merely removing, not replacing words.
  • How she doesn’t remove ALL of the examples of Lowry’s idyllic language. This sets her up to ask, in follow-up: What other examples can you find of Lowry using idyllic descriptions to emphasize the contrast.

 

Now here’s another example of a Sensitivity Analysis Emily wrote that i thought was outstanding. It comes from slightly earlier in the book, Chapter 5 when Nazi storm troopers raid the apartment where Ellen is staying with her friend Annemarie.  Quick-thinking Annemarie convinces the soldiers that Ellen is her sister Lise (and therefore not Jewish).  Emily’s question focuses on the end of the scene:

 

Reread this moment from the end of the chapter:

 

Annemarie relaxed the clenched fingers of her right hand, which still clutched Ellen’s necklace. She looked down, and saw that she had imprinted the Star of David into her palm.

 

How would this line be different if the author made the changes in bold?

Annemarie relaxed the clenched fingers of her right hand, which still contained Ellen’s necklace. She looked down, and saw that she held the necklace in her palm.

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Imagine this action is symbolic. What might it symbolize?

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I love this example because it focuses on the power of the word ‘imprinted’ by removing it.  Suddenly with a lesser substitute the symbolism–the emblem of Ellen’s faith is embedded in Annemarie’s flesh. They have become paired in a deeper sense.  Lots of teachers might ask the second question–what’s symbolic here?–but the first question, the Close Reading, helps them to understand it–and the desperate fear of the scene–in an affective way.

 

Hope these examples are useful to all of you using Senstivity Analysis in your lessons. And I hope it piques your interest in our forthcoming Reading Curriculum.  Also I hope it makes you appreciate the power of a great lesson plan, written by a teacher of Emily’s insight and wisdom.

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