The 6 Skills part 4: Multiple Interpretations

The 6 Skills part 4: Multiple Interpretations

Analytical Progression Model

  1. Tentative Language
  2. 3 Part Explanation:
  3. Zoom In/Technique
  4. Multiple Interpretations
  5. Evidence in Explanation
  6. Link Across Text

Why Teach it?

Developing more than one interpretation about a specific textual reference or piece of evidence demonstrates a critical perspective: in depth analysis considers and explores multiple viewpoints, building an argument and resulting in detailed, exploratory responses.

What to teach?

Perhaps the simplest way that students can produce multiple interpretations is by producing analysis that has consecutive interpretations within it. Novice students often produce writing that offers only one interpretation for each textual reference and the initial job of the teacher may be to prompt them to produce additional ideas for each piece of evidence, helping students to make their writing more developed and ensuring that each textual reference is examined and discussed in sufficient detail. Restrictive practice drills, the benefits of which I explain in this post, can help prompt students to add further interpretations to their initial idea.

Let’s have a look at an example:

The teacher writes this example on the board:

  1. Candy tells George that Curley’s wife ‘got the eye’ because he thinks that she is promiscuous. His comment could also demonstrates his misogyny because he sees women as a threat and something to distrust.

The teacher can then present a second completion problem, this time with prompts about what to include:

2. Candy calls Curley’s wife ‘a tart’ because…

  • Include flirtatious
  • Include derogatory
  • Include patriarchy

The bullet pointed prompts can help students to understand what their next steps are and the worked example in number 1 can be used by students as an analogy so that they understand what is required.

Once students become proficient at changing the prompts into short pieces of analytical writing, the teacher can then ask the students to generate the ideas themselves. Usually, before attempting analytical drills, students will have read, discussed and annotated a vocabulary table as well as discussing and annotating an extract, providing them-should they need it-with plenty of ideas to use, critique, reject or develop. This post explains this process in more detail.The explicit teaching of possible interpretations and vocabulary that could be applied within their writing helps students with weaker background knowledge, ensuring that they are not precluded from producing multiple interpretations or more developed analysis.

After students are able to create analysis that contains a number of successive interpretations, they can be taught to apply some specific sentence structures like these:

  • Not only………but
  • Even though/Despite

‘Not Only…..But’ How to teach it?

This instructional sequence assumes that students are secure with embedded evidence and are already able to write in response to texts. Teaching the ‘not only…but’ construction allows students to refine their ability to express complimentary perspectives when responding to texts. Additionally, this construction lends itself well to rhetorical or transactional writing. Although there are many ways of expressing multiple interpretations or complimentary ideas, choosing to teach a construction that has high utility  (in this case one that is able to be used across types of writing) ensures that instructional time is made as efficient as possible. Like with vocabulary, some things are more useful to students than others and as curriculum designers, we should always be thinking about the utility of what we choose to teach.

While the instructional sequence below could be seen as overly detailed, it was written to help the lowest performers in year 7; more able classes could probably cope with less practice at each stage. The sequence broadly follows the I-WE-YOU continuum. Apart from the first lesson in the sequence, each lesson below is not an entire lesson of instruction (we have 50 minute lessons) and the rest of the lesson would be taken up with other instructional sequences, application of previous content and other teaching. This approach aims to emulate the ‘track system’ that DI schemes use.

Lesson 1 Stage 1

Teacher writes an example (The ‘I’ Stage):

not only but lesson1 stage 1

The teacher can then label the example, drawing attention to the ‘not only……but’ construction. It is important to draw attention to the reversal of the subject and auxiliary verb here which has the form of a question (Not only has he decided).

Here are some possible questions that the teacher could ask about the worked example:

  • Read out the first interpretation
  • Read out the second one
  • Which words from the quotation are explained by the first interpretation?
  • What does the word ‘deep’ mean? What are the connotations of the word ‘black’ here?
  • Which words from the quotation are explained by the second interpretation?

When exploring processes and model answers, initial questions are often asked in order to focus student attention to the salient parts of what is being taught.

Whenever a teacher asks a question with only one desired answer (this describes most of the bullet points above), choral responses can be really useful. Choral responses massively increases student response rate, providing the teacher with the ability to make more valid inferences about the understanding of the class as a whole. With choral responses, everyone responds and everyone is expected to take part; with individual responses, most students are let off the hook and, notwithstanding the fact that many others may be paying attention, many may not be concentrating at all!

The teacher can then ask the students to precisely copy the example into their books. Students will then be able to use this initial worked example as an analogy when completing the next stage.

Lesson 1 Stage 2

The teacher writes half an answer. This is a completion problem (The ‘We’ stage)

not only but lesson 1 stage 2.png

The teacher should write until ‘Not Only’ and then stop. Stopping just before the reversal of the subject and auxiliary (Not only does this…) is important as it allows students to practice this potentially confusing aspect of the construction when they give oral responses, which, unlike written responses, can be immediately corrected if necessary. Students can be asked for ideas and interpretations regarding the chosen quotation and the teacher can then ask a range of students to orally complete the half written example. With really weak classes, the teacher may want to give a number of oral examples themselves before asking for student responses. When students give oral examples, it can be helpful to get them to narrate their punctuation, allowing the teacher to give instant corrective feedback regarding accuracy. After a number of students have orally completed the completion problem, all students can be asked to complete it in writing. The teacher can then circulate and find a perfect piece of work to show under the visualiser, using the student model to give feedback to all students: this example has a reversed verb form, check that yours does. This example has a comma before ‘but’, check that yours does. If it is clear that success rate is really high, then students can be asked to do independent massed practice.

Lesson 1 Stage 3:

Independent Massed Practice (The ‘You’ Stage)

In the initial stages of massed practice, students can be given ‘problems’ with prompts, ensuring that they know what to write about. Yes, student responses here will be very similar, but the purpose of these initial restrictive practice activities are to practice the form of the ‘Not only….but’ construction. In the absence of prompts, many students may stumble over their lack of ideas, precluding them from ever practising the desired construction. Later practice activities in later lessons would see these prompts removed, following Engelmann’s shift from prompted to unprompted formats.

lesson 1 stage 3

With this initial prompted practice activity, the teacher should give an oral example that demonstrates how to turn the notes (‘strength of man’/’witches’) into proper analytical sentences:

LM says ‘come you spirits unsex me here’. Not only does she want the strength of a man because she lives in a patriarchal society and was expected to be subservient, but she also uses the language of the witches, making her seem sinister.

The teacher can then ask for students to give oral responses. The notes (‘strength of man’/’witches’) are deliberately short so that there are a number of ways to complete the activity. If the notes were more detailed, there would be fewer possible responses and students would do less cognitive processing when converting them into proper analysis. All students can then be asked to complete the activity in writing in their books.

After this initial walk through of a restrictive practice activity, students can then be asked to complete a number of similar activities themselves:

not only but stage 3 second pic

Again, feedback can be given through showing a perfect student response and giving comments like:

  • My/Student X’s work starts with a Capital…check that yours does
  • My work has quotation marks around the evidence…………….check that yours does
  • My sentence makes sense….check that yours does
  • My interpretations fit the evidence and comment on it….check that yours does.
  • My ‘Not only…..but’ has a comma before ‘but’….check that yours does
  • My sentence ends with a full stop…..check that yours does.

Giving feedback like this is much more efficient than written marking. It is also immediate, following Engelmann’s idea that initial feedback should be instantaneous, thereby preventing errors from being learnt and misconception going unchallenged.

Later Lessons

While the first lesson was entirely dedicated to teaching ‘Not only…but’, subsequent lessons would probably involve many other foci and the suggestions below would only take up a small part of the lessons.

Lesson 2, 3 and 4

Students should be given more practice using models that contain the steps needed, like in ‘Lesson 1 Stage 3’.

Lesson 5, 6 and 7

The utility of the ‘Not Only…But’ construction can be broadened to include examples that fit ‘rhetoric’ and other texts. These examples should also demonstrate that the expression can be used without evidence or textual references. We should present the widest range of possible examples to students so that their understanding of what is being taught is made as broad as possible. Limited examples will result in limited understanding!

The teacher should present a broader range of examples, perhaps like these:

  • Not only is regicide a heinous crime, it was sacrilegious too, offending God himself.
  • Not only did Priestley believe that the upper classes were selfish, but he also wanted society to change and become more equal.
  • Not only was King James interested in the supernatural, but he also wrote a book about witches called ‘Demonology.’
  • Not only do school uniforms look terrible, but they stifle our individuality.

Using the examples above as analogies, students can then complete examples like these:

  • Not only does Sheila regret her actions, but….
  • As a lower class woman, not only is Eva destitute, but she…
  • Not only does Lady Macbeth subvert the conventions of femininity, but she…
  • Not only do phones provide a faster way to study, but they often make learning more enjoyable.

Lesson 8, 9 and 10

While lessons 1-4 involved students using prompts to help them know what to write about, at this point these prompts can be removed. Students could be given quotations that they know well- a good choice, at GCSE at least, are the quotations that they are expected to memorise and apply in their essays-so that they can then produce independent examples without support.

While lessons 5-7 involved students completing ‘not only…but’ sentences that can be applied in persuasive writing, in these later lessons, they can be given broad topic headings instead. The teacher can then ask them to produce two or three ‘not only…but’ constructions for each one.


Topic 1: Parents are overprotective

Not only do parents patronise teenagers by refusing to allow them sufficient freedom, but this results in resentment, causing teenagers to rebel further.

Later Lessons

Ask them to include ‘Not only But’ in their wider writing

General Points:

  • Do not expect them to use ‘Not Only…But’ in paragraphs or more extended writing until they are able to do it accurately and independently at a sentence level.
  • Success rate should be continually high at each stage (70-80% correct for all students)
  • If it is lower: maybe you need to provide more scaffolding, give more examples or move back a stage on the I-WE-YOU continuum

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