The Dialectical Journal: THE SCARLET LETTER
Effective students have a habit of taking notes as they read. This note-taking can several forms: annotation, post it notes, character lists, idea clusters, and many others. One of the most effective strategies is called a dialectical journal. The word “dialectical” has numerous meanings, but the one most pertinent is the “art of critical examination into the truth of an opinion” or reworded “The art or practice of arriving at the truth by using conversation involving question and answer.” As you read, you are forming an opinion about what you are reading (or at least you are SUPPOSED to be forming an opinion). That opinion, however, needs to be based on the text – not just a feeling. Therefore, all of your opinions need to be based on the text.
The procedure is as follows:
1. Purchase a dedicated spiral notebook and draw a line down the center of each page of the notebook. NOTE: I expect you to publish these journal entries on your blogs nightly and number them as you go.
2. As you read, pay close attention to the text.
3. Whenever you encounter something of interest (this could be anything from an interesting turn of phrase to a character note), write down the word/phrase in the LEFT HAND COLUMN making sure that you NOTE THE PAGE NUMBER. If the phrase is especially long just write the first few words, use an ellipsis, then write the last few words.
4. In the RIGHT HAND COLUMN, WRITE YOUR OBSEVRATIONS ABOUT THE TEXT you noted in the left-hand column. This is where you need to interact in detail with the text. Make sure that your observations are THOROUGH, INSIGHTFUL, and FOCUSED CLEARLY ON THE TEXT.
1) For each novel we read you will need to complete a MINIMUM of 55 entries if you wish to be eligible for an “A”. 35 is the minimum for a passing grade. Make sure you number your entries.
2) A completed dialectical journal should be brought to class each day a reading assignment is due.
3) On some short fiction and poetry reading assignments I may ask you to keep a dialectic journal on the reading (usually I’ll ask for 5-10 entries for shorter works).
4) Dialectic journals will be used as part of class discussion and will be randomly collected and graded for homework.
When should you write things down?
• When certain details seem important to you
• When you have an epiphany
• When you learn something significant about a character
• When you recognize a pattern (overlapping images, repetitions of idea, details, etc.)
• When you agree or disagree with something a character says
• When you find an interesting or potentially significant quote.
• When you notice something important or relevant about the writer’s style.
• When you notice effective uses of literary devices.
• When you notice something that makes you think of a question
That is all there is to it. This way, once you have read your text you will already have a great set of notes on which to draw when you write your paper. You also should have gained a great deal of insight about your particular text.
Note: Should you rather type this, just use the COLUMN function in your tool bar and complete steps two-four electronically.
Grading (based on 55 entries, if you have 45 entries an A= B, B= C, 35 entries A=C)
A—Detailed, meaningful passages, plot and quote selections; thoughtful interpretation and commentary about the text; includes comments about literary elements (like theme, diction, imagery, syntax, symbolism, etc.) and how these elements contribute to the meaning of the text; asks thought-provoking, insightful questions; coverage of text is complete and thorough; journal is neat, organized, numbered and readable.
B—Less detailed, but good selections; some intelligent commentary about the text; includes some comments about literary elements (like theme, diction, imagery, syntax, symbolism, etc.) but less than how these elements contribute to the meaning of the text; asks some thought-provoking, insightful questions; coverage of the text is complete and thorough; journal is neat, organized, numbered and readable.
C—A few good details about the text; most of the commentary is vague, unsupported or plot summary/paraphrase; some listing of literary elements, but perhaps inadequate discussion, but not very thoroughly; journal is relatively neat.
D—Hardly any good or meaningful details from the story; notes are plot summary or paraphrase; few literary elements, virtually no discussion on meaning; no good questions; limited coverage of text, and/or too short.