Dear Dr. D’,

In the past, as 7th grade teachers we have stuck with the one, two, or three-chunk JS single paragraphs.  Last year as our students completed the SBAC, they were confused with questions that required them to compose a two-paragraph, or multi-paragraph essay.  You mentioned in your last email to talk to them about “chunking,” but how does chunking look when you are adding more than one paragraph.  About half of us in our English Department have never been formally trained in JS, so we are sort of piecing it together along the way.  

Dear Carrie:

“Chunking” is specifically used with regard to paragraph development. Each paragraph in a multiparagraph essay may have one or more chunks (typically, any more than three chunks would beg for a new paragraph, so I like it that you are writing one to three chunks per paragraph). “Chunking” is a term used within a body paragraph. So, let’s say that a prompt asks the student to write a multiparagraph essay about the main character in a novel:

  •  Introduction
  • Body Paragraph 1 (1 chunk)*:
  • TS – Gives an attribute about the character (e.g. generous)
  • CD – Evidence from the text (that shows his generosity – could be a paraphrase, but I train teachers to train their kids to embed quotes – higher scores)
  • CM – How his generosity plays a major part in that part of the story
  • CM – How his generosity relates to a theme in the piece, or maybe a statement of universal truth about generosity
  • CS – tie the character’s attribute of generosity to the story, to the universal theme, and to the author’s purpose
  • Body Paragraph 2 (2-chunk)
  • TS – Another attribute about that character (gets taken advantage of)
  • Evidence from the text (illustrates a situation in which he gets taken advantage of)
  • CM
  • CM+
  • More evidence from the text (another situation in which he gets taken advantage of)
  • CM
  • CM+
  • Concluding Sentence
  • Body Paragraph 3 (another attribute)
  • Body Paragraph 4 (another attribute)
  • Conclusion

*Now, Carrie. I want to talk to you about the above listing of sentences, and I’m going to deal formally with this CONTROVERSY next week. Remember, Jane started this program to help kids no longer have to stare at a blank page or look up to us with that helpless look that we all hate to see in their little faces. We teach them that “Writing is Thinking.” We train them at first to separate CDs from CMs (like above). We do that so that we can test their cognitive understanding of the difference between evidence (CD) and commentary (CM). We teach them to build upon each sentence, and as each student gains confidence, we’ll say to that student, “Some sentences provide Concrete Details (CDs), some sentences provide Commentary (CMs), and some sentences (when we understand what we are doing and we have intention), contain both CDs and CMs (what Jane called WEAVING). You are ready to weave, young man or lady!”

Therefore, what you are seeing above is where we begin — where we are separating CDs from CMs to help the students understand that in a Response to Literature “chunk,” the ratio that gets highest grades is 1:2+ (CD:CM). Translated, the 1:2+ ratio means, “Student, for every piece of evidence you give me, either as a paraphrase or an embedded quotation, I want at least two or more sentences of commentary.”

Once the students get comfortable with understanding the difference between CDs and CMs (and this can happen in middle school or high school, depending on the student), then we teach individual students to start combining their thoughts, and this can happen in all sorts of different ways:

  • they might want to start with a CM idea and integrate a CD into that sentence;
  • they might want to have several sentences of CM ideas first before they provide their evidence (CDs).

But with Response to Literature essay, a Literary Analysis, or a Rhetorical Analysis, we want more CMs. When we first start teaching, we require students to give us those CMs in sentences. When they are ready, we talk about WEAVING their thoughts and their evidence together. WEAVING goes beyond the strict, foundational structure. So a CHUNK helps students understand the ratio of combining their evidence with their opinions.

I’ll talk more about this next week when I talk about the misconception about Jane Schaffer being formulaic. Then, the following week, I’ll talk about the various modes of discourse, and how those ratios change. In the meantime,

Keep Writing (and Reading),

Dr. D’


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