Subtext is Engaging

Twice today I was captured in a classroom conversation about very different texts – one a short story, the other a persuasive essay on language, culture, and identity. In both cases, students began the discussion with their own ideas from a short exercise focusing on small sections of texts followed by small group discussions. Observing their small group discussions, I found they were all on track, sharing ideas revolving around important literal ideas and meanings. When we brought it back to the entire class for a conversation, ears pricked up when we began to circle ideas and meanings existing in the subtext, created through subtle mechanisms from a single word choice, to elusive concepts like tone.

As a few glassy expressions caught glints of interest, I was reminded of why I have so much fun with critical literacy. Students know something is going on here, and they want to dig in and uncover the dirty truth, or tricks, girding so much of communication. Always, a student or two discovers a funky bit jutting out of the surface of a text and, with a little focusing from me or from a peer, they start excavating until they uncover a critical piece of the subtext. You know they’ve grabbed something essential when vehement opposition springs up in a small group; there is always a naysayer. Once we get into an entire class setting, if I manage to ask the right questions and not blow the whole thing open, ruining the fun, it’s an amazing sight to see heads start nodding and kids start rushing to ask questions, or share an idea as the layers peel away.

Subtext – everywhere and nowhere. Man, it’s fun when they get after it.

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