My classroom has a strong presentation element with students seeing and responding to the presentations of others. First I will give a brief summary of what the presentation consists of, and then I will show how a thematic or conceptual focus can be useful.

Firstly the presentation will consist of an overarching question 2-3 of the main themes/concepts contained within that text.

Then the students will give us any useful context that will give us greater noticing.

The students will then summarising the plot or denotation of the extract/text. This should be clear.

The students will then do 4 Cs:

1) Connections to real life or other texts: novel or engaging ways to make the text’s purpose come to life. This is a personal step intended to make the audience receptive.

2) Concepts: What 2-3 concepts will potentially guide your literary analysis. This is a key planning step that will later guide literary analysis.

3) Changes: What changes in society or the human condition are being suggested by the literary text? This emphasises how the literary text aims to be an intervention in the world, not merely a mirror. This is part of the analysis of the authorial purpose, considering the relationship between author and reader via the text.

4) Challenges: What challenges do you have with the message of the author? Usually this acts as evaluation where the student considers the effectiveness of suggested changes. It can of course become a ‘I don’t agree with their politics’ but that is a poor reduction of what literature is capable of doing.

Another way of summarising steps 3 and 4 is this: students want to engage with the perspective of the characters/narrator BEFORE they critique it. It is easy for us, with our privilege to have the time and space to consider literary texts, to consider all rounded antagonists as simply evil. Far better to attempt to understand someone by their perspective, by their values, by their culture first before we introduce our own (obviously more righteous…) perspective to judge them.

Another interesting way of doing this is for students to consider what a character will perceive about them. Once we have moved past class, gender and race, the judgement of us from a character is likely to be to notice how we are NOT like that character. This, in turn, gives us a rich insight into what the character really perceives about ourselves.

For example, Gatsby would recognise my inauspicious background, but also would likely decry my lack of material wealth, my antipathy for mansion-parties, and my caution in engaging with organised crime. In turn, I might realise that Gatsby celebrates his vivacious socialising, and potentially revels in his connections to organised crime, not seeking more substantial and quietly-spoken methods of seeking love and meaning.

How would this make its way into literary analysis? It is no good, I think, to see simplying criticising the character of Gatsby as evaluation, saying ‘if only Gatsby was able to seek excitement or success in a legal fashion then he would have…’.

Instead, we are trying to engage with the PERSPECTIVE of Gatsby as we perceive it, perhaps suggesting: Gatsby’s manic actions at this point perhaps reflect his inability to extricate himself from his fantastical ambitions to seduce Daisy. His teeming parties and ongoing connections to organised crime are not hidden from Tom as excess and dubious indulgences but instead are celebrated as examples of vitality and success.

More on this later…