November Author of the Month
1. What motivated you to write Textual Analysis Made Easy?
I suppose Textual Analysis Made Easy is the natural outgrowth of my experience meeting one on one with students in writing conferences. Imagine sitting down almost 9000 times with students to read their essays (and other writings) with them line by line. Year after year. Imagine the conversations. The discoveries. The heartache. The frustration. The patience. The laughter. The caverns of unexplored possibilities. I couldn’t begin to describe it. What I will say is that I am naturally inclined to keep to myself, but gradually what I learned began to build up inside me until it hurt. Thankfully someone gave this very simple teacher a chance to erupt.
2. What is your favorite tool in the book and why?
Honestly, I don’t have a favorite, only because they work together like parts of a body. For me it’s more like the Evidence Finder is my right arm, the 12 Tools my brain, and the Cue Cards my heart. If I can use evidence for strength, critical thinking tools for analysis, and literary devices taught with Cue Cards to feel and create, then I am truly happy. If I were forced to choose, I would probably have to say the Critical Thinking Map (for teachers)—the equivalent of my eyes—a lens through which I often view my educational experience. Privately I wish I could invite someone into the (more accurate) three-dimensional version I have on occasion glimpsed in my mind, and perhaps one day will create. What if all human thinking (the interconnected nature of all questions) could be mapped?
3. How can your tools work with various texts and genres that teachers are using in the classroom?
I’ve often watched my father use a tool to create something—a bench, a house, a concrete pad. He took pride in corners aligning and finished concrete. I have learned firsthand what it means to have the right tool for the job. Not all tools in my book need to be used at the same time, nor for the same genre or text; however, I hope tools are user-friendly and flexible. They are cross-textual, allowing for a fairly thorough exploration of a wide variety of texts and contexts. Just this last week I projected the Critical Thinking Map (student version) on the board, whereupon I asked students to play my version of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” only with laminated numbers that corresponded with questions I was asking each student. Students were to ignore the answer to the question and instead examine the question itself, placing their marker on the map where they thought it belonged in Bloom’s Taxonomy. Thinking, clearly, is not text-specific.
4. What's the Secret Recipe?
The Secret Recipe (despite its silly name) is a basic structure to help students learn the functions of an evidence-based paragraph. Recipes for writing scare purists, and rightly so. We don’t want our students’ paragraphs to sound formulaic. That said, my own experience with students’ writing struggles has taught me that students do need a structure until such time as they gradually grow beyond it. When used in tandem with the Evidence Finder, the Secret Recipe helps students (of almost all ages) create a baseline paragraph upon which they might elaborate.
5. What are the Bonus Tools and why did you include them?
Right now if you were inside my classroom, you would look up and see around 50 Cue Cards, small placards placed around the room featuring mnemonics to make learning literary devices easy. Think giant flashcards. Students move around the room quizzing each other until every student gets them all right. Inside the book you’ll find the miniature version that makes a great packet for students. Learning in this way is easier and more effective. Students love them (or at least the fact that they know them all, giving them a huge boost in confidence when analyzing literature).
6. How have you worked with school districts to implement your ideas?
When districts or individual schools inquire about my working with their staffs to implement ideas, honestly I try to listen first. I ask: In what areas do your students struggle? What are your teachers’ needs? What changes do you hope to see? I try to design a professional development plan based on their specific goals. The approach I usually recommend, if possible, is an all-staff training followed by in-class modeling with teachers’ actual students. I often go into their classes with their students (and their content) and demonstrate how techniques work. There’s something about seeing these methods with their own students that brings them to life. One thing’s for sure: laughter and learning go hand in hand.
7. Tell us one of your favorite stories about a student with whom you have worked.
Any teacher will have a bank of miracles. That’s why we teach. Here’s an example: A couple days ago, a student from another school—a student whom I’ve never met—came pensively through my classroom door after school. “Dr. Taylor,” her voice quivered, “may I have one of those things with the boxes?” When I held up an Evidence Finder, asking if that was what she meant, she responded, “Yeah, that. It helps me so much. It makes writing essays easier.” I thought for a second what it meant for her to find me—and to ask.
8. What or who inspired you to become an educator?
Early on I was inspired by a fictional teacher named John Keating in a movie called “Dead Poets Society” starring Robin Williams. I thought, if I could teach like he, inspire as I had been inspired, perhaps I might reach others—young people looking for a voice. Later I met an elderly gentleman, apparently an English teacher I didn’t know was in the profession until he saw me teach and suggested I become one. Now he ate his soup quietly. While we ate lunch together, he asked who had been called as the next apostle, a leader in our church. When I told him Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, he smiled ever so subtly, and continued to eat his soup with his head down. Intrigued by this, after a few moments, I finally asked if he knew the man. “Yes,” he replied quietly. “He was in my class. He was a good boy.” It made me think of the true and humble value of a teacher.
9. What has been one of the proudest moments of your education career so far?
Before I moved to a small town I taught at a large school near Phoenix, where one year I was given all of the students from our school who had not passed our state’s standardized test. Most of them had taken it multiple times to no avail. It was a large class, one comprised of students with various broken or challenging backgrounds. You can probably imagine. Hope had all but failed them. We worked for many weeks together and became this beautiful, if dysfunctional, family. They knew if they did not pass, they would not graduate. If you could only have seen the looks on their faces when I received their scores. I knew what I held in my hand would change their lives, more importantly, their self-perception. It was sacred quiet. “I am pleased to announce…” I began, “Every. Single. One of you passed—and half of you ‘Exceeded,’ the state’s highest score.” Rival gang members, junkies, girls who were expecting, ELL students, rebels, rejects, the scared, the lonely, the abandoned—they all jumped and hugged, cried and cheered. They were little children. Again. I will never forget it.
10. And finally, please tell us your favorite thing about being in Education in one word.