R J Comeau - Curriculum Design & Research

HomeKnow ThyselfAnalysisExperientialCritical ConSeminarHypertextsELA 12Contact

Story

Strengths

Goals

Express

Self-talk

Problem solving

Habits

Decolonize the mind

 

Below, you'll find excerpts from Know Thyself where students work through academic and personal problems through writing exercises. Students do write expressive and analytical entries that help them reduce cognitive load from stress, and make positive progress on thinking through to their own solutions. Teachers gain valuable insights into their students' lives beyond school, helping them make appropriate academic accommodations, empathetic responses, and, if needed, assistance from support services.

 

 

Section 5) Analyze your own problems (and enact your own solutions)              

Free-write on your problems as you see them. What’s getting in the way of doing well in school? Are your problems academic, or personal? There are tools in this section to help you plan your own solution to your troubles.

 

Research has shown that students who learn to regulate their own learning by thinking through problems do better in school (Kaplan & Drainville, 1991; Zimmerman & Risemberg, 1997).

 

For today, select one of the prompts below, and write a page or two in response. In coming days, choose a different prompt, or reflect back on an earlier day’s writing, and do metacognition: thinking about your own thinking and feelings, analyzing patterns and looking deeply into root causes.

Eventually, you’ll move on to the sections that help you to form a plan for change.

 

Prompts: Write about …

  1. your problems with getting the homework done for this class.
  2. your problems with school generally.
  3. your problems with motivation.
  4. your problems at home.
  5. your problems in society, in terms of race, class, native language, and/or gender.
  6. your problems as you see them, whatever they may be.

 

Early in the process, it’s best to just write, to get your thoughts and feelings onto the page. As we talk together about your writing, we’ll look for opportunities to make a plan for tackling your problems, and taking ownership of change.

 

Next Step: Move from expressing your problems to solving them. See...

Academic problems, p. 71

Personal Problems, p. 124

Academic Problem Solving

Pick a section below in which to work at solving your trouble with school work.

 

Late to school?

Boost your grades and chances for college success by arriving on-time: p. 72

 

Trouble managing your time?

Record how you’re using your time, then analyze the patterns: p. 77

 

Overwhelmed or confused by the work?

Break down tasks into manageable steps: p. 87

 

Trouble with reading and/or making a comment in class?

Find your problem among the list, and reflect on the questions that follow: p. 92

 

Need to solve an academic problem?

Check-out the problem solving cycle to build the skills for independent learning: p. 97

 

Analysis not deep enough?

Here are dozens of “analytical moves” you can make in your comments and papers: p. 104

 

Confused about how to make a comment in discussion?

This “mental map” of the process will help you along each step: p. 115

 

 

Arriving to school on-time

 

Self-Analytical Writing

 

Why are you late today? Write about the basic causes first. Did you wake up late? If so, why? What time did you go to bed the night before? Why? Is your transportation a problem? Is your morning routine a problem? Write about all the factors that went into your coming late to school. Next, dig deeper into underlying problems. If you are regularly late to school, think about the deeper causes. Do you lack time management skills? Do you lack motivation to come to school? Is there something at school you’re avoiding? Do you have sleep problems? Do you have problems with other habits that lead to tardiness? Analyze yourself to get at the small and large parts of the problem.

 

Next Step: Tackle tardiness through ...

Time management, p. 77

Task breakdown, p.87

Problem solving, p. 97

 

 

Managing your time


Self-Analytical Writing

 

What patterns do you see in your use of time? How does your use of time match your personal goals for school and life? How does it work against your goals? What use of time are you happy with? What do you want to change? Where would you like to be more efficient? What activities would you like to sustain longer? What would you like to break up? What would you like to eliminate? How can you make the change happen that you want to see?

 

 

 

Breaking down tasks: One of the most common academic problems for students is getting overwhelmed by the task, and giving up. Learning to break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps helps students make meaningful progress with less frustration.

 

Start by identifying the task that’s troubling you, then break it down into manageable steps. Ask for help from your teacher if you need it.

 

Which step is troubling you most? Why? What help do you need to get it done?              

What can you keep in mind as you move through the steps, that will help you from getting frustrated, and giving up?

 

 

 

The problem solving cycle for academic trouble

                                                                                                                                                 

For problem solving, reflect and write upon these five steps:

 

1) recognizing a problem … you need to do something to get what you want, but don’t know what or how

Ex: “I stay up too late, and I’m so tired in school that I don’t learn much, and so tired when I get home that I crash and don’t do much homework. Because of all this, I’m failing my senior year.”

                                                                                                                                                    

2) defining the problem and the goal … define the problem that incorporates you in its description. In other words, don’t define it in simply external terms: “there’s not enough hours in the day,” or “school sucks,” or “my sleep pattern is weird.”  Define the problem in terms that center on you, and what you can control. Next, define the goal you want to achieve, with which the problem is interfering.

 Ex: “I need to get enough sleep so I can stay awake in class, get my homework done, and graduate in June.”

 

3) brainstorm solutions … brainstorm a list of possible solutions that will help you get to your goal without causing new problems for yourself. Write down several, to build a safety net of strategies, so that if one or two fail, you’ll have other positive solutions to fall back on, and avoid impulsive behaviors or withdrawal.

Ex: “Maybe I could go to bed at 10, and wake up at 6. Eight hours of sleep would be nice. Or maybe I could nap when I get home for a few hours until dinner, stay up a little late, and get another 4 or 5 hours after midnight. Or maybe I could wake a little later for school, and get by on 6 or 6 and a half hours rest. That’s more than I’m getting now, most nights.”

 

4) enact best solutions … which strategy is the best solution from your brainstorm? Make a plan to carry it out, and do it.

Ex: “I know I need at least 7 hours to function well, but it’s hard for me to sleep that much at a time, with everything going on in my head at night. I’ll try the nap after school, and another  5 hours after midnight.”

 

5) self-monitor … keep notes on how you’re doing on your plan every day.

Ex: “It actually worked on Thursday. I took a nap right after school, got up for dinner and homework, and socialized online for an hour before bed. I woke up feeling pretty good for a change on Friday.”

 

6) self-consequence … give yourself a reward for progress, and a relevant consequence for breaking your plan.

Ex: “For making some progress on my plan, I’m treating myself this weekend to some extra time out with friends. If I start backsliding next week, I’ll have to cut back on that.”

 

 

(This section has been adapted from “Cognitive Behavior Management Skills for Students” in Beyond Behavior Modification, by Kaplan and Drainville (1991), and from “Self-regulatory dimensions of academic learning and motivation,” in The Handbook of Academic Learning: Construction of Knowledge by Zimmerman & Risemberg (1997).)

 

 

Next step: Solving your academic problem

Problem solving requires metacognition. That’s a big word for a simple thing that we all do at some level: thinking about our own thinking. When faced with a problem, you’ll benefit from thinking about the challenge clearly. The following diagram represents the problem solving cycle. It’s a way to develop your metacognition, and make an effective plan for change.

 

You can also use the problem solving cycle to work on common academic problems, like when a bad reading environment leads to poor homework completion. Metacognitive monitoring will help you solve the problem.

 

 

Vocabulary trouble often trips up students reading advanced texts. Try the following problem solving cycle to improve the process of vocabulary acquisition.

 

 

Analytical moves

One common problem that students have is the challenge of doing deeper analysis. Let’s start with a basic question: What is analysis? The word comes from ancient Greek, with roots that mean “to break apart.” Analysis reveals what’s not so easy to see at first glance. It helps us plan carefully, read deeply, see clearly, and act effectively. Work to master the following moves in your analysis, to probe deeper and reach genuine complexity.

 

Abstraction: Get to the idea above the details.  If you take away the unessential details until you are only left with the concept, what is revealed about that concept? For example, move from the local plot of a novel to the idea it’s expressing about humanity. Go from the local events in Tita’s passions in Like Water for Chocolate to what it says about the nature of love.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Accurate observations: Separate your personal views from the views expressed in the work. Make sure  your analysis can be supported with ample evidence from the text. What the book is saying may or may not align with your beliefs. Make sure you’re not reading your own opinions into the page, seeing what you want to see, regardless of what’s really there. It’s fine to include your own opinions in your comment, but don’t map them over the text. If they do really align with the text, prove it in an honest, careful and compelling way.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Analogy: Illuminate the text’s deeper meaning by comparison. A well-crafted analogy can reveal insights into the text by connecting it to a more familiar situation. For example, if you’ve explored Woolf’s form in A Room of One’s Own, and argued that she uses a skillful method of disorientation and reorientation in her narrative argument, you could make a comparison as follows: Reading Woolf is like playing Marco Polo, but while the reader is blind folded, the author really wants you to find her in a new place, as she calls to you from just beyond the familiar world of men’s novels, and men’s thinking.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Causal explanation: Much of literature and the history of ideas is about change and conflict, whether it’s in the transformation of a character or the clashing of world views. You can analyze the change you see in your readings by examining its causes. Keep asking why, why, why, to get deeper toward the root cause. For example, why does Hamlet finally do something and kill the king in Act V? Or why do the Romantics resist the logical strictures of the Enlightenment? Or why does a poem shift its tone in the middle of the last stanza? Don’t settle on quick or easy answers. Keep digging. Keep asking why.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Classifying: Break down the text into categories for further analysis. For example, how does nature imagery work in a particular poem or novel? Compare it to imagery of the city in another. Classify the methods an author uses to convince his audience of his position. Categorize the types of characters in a novel along patterns that you notice. Compare men and women in Hamlet. Look at introverts and extroverts in 100 Years of Solitude. In Season of Migration to the North, examine the categories of native and foreign, male and female, and how some characters cross and blur the lines that divide them.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Comparing/contrasting: Find two or more items for analysis on either side of a dividing line, then reveal and evaluate their similarities and differences. It could be two characters in tension in a novel. It could be two essayists who disagree about an issue. For example, compare and contrast Jeremy Bentham and Jean Jacques Rousseau on their views of education, measuring Bentham’s strict observation method against Rousseau’s advocacy of student freedom and personal exploration. Skillful comparison and contrast goes beyond obvious differences to find surprising similarities, hidden agendas, buried assumptions, and subtle differences in form.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Complexity: Texts are complex things, built of many interconnected parts with dynamic relationships. Avoid simple analysis built of one basic and obvious observation. Dig deeper, and look longer, to see the text’s complexity. For example, don’t stop at noticing that Tita is torn between tradition and the modern world in Like Water for Chocolate. If you go further, you’ll notice that tradition and modernity have their attractions and repulsions, and every major character is a hybrid of both – where the mother is a restrictive figure of tradition but also an independent and strong figure of a modern woman. At the same time, the text itself is a hybrid, with a liberated, modern sense of romantic love mixed with traditional forms of recipes and home cures.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Connect to other texts: The more you read, the more you’ll be able to make connections to prior readings that lead to meaningful analysis. Be careful to avoid the “this reminds me of…” comment. It’s not enough to say there’s a connection. Analyze it. Explore it. You must make a meaningful connection. For example, when reading creation stories from around the world, students have noticed similar “Eve” figures across the literature. To go beyond the “this woman reminds me of Eve” non-analysis, say how the figures are similar and different, and what that means. Why do female figures often represent the “Fall” moment that also begins the world as we know it? Why do the texts show moments of female transgression of male authority leading to pain, and progress? You can perform other analytical moves as you connect to other texts. Abstraction can help you see the overall idea above the details of each text. Comparison and contrast can help you understand each culture and time. Causal explanation can help you see the history of ideas developing. Do more than point out the connection. Dig into it.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Critical consciousness: Where appropriate, bring a critique to your reading of a text, exposing and challenging an injustice it supports, an oppressive agenda with which it aligns, a contradiction that damages the image of ourselves, or disrupts our progress together as a people. Critical consciousness can expose gender bias, class oppression, and racist attitudes, but also seek positive moments that foster empowerment, self-actualization, and social justice. For example, when reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, you could trace the portrait of the worker in the mass production economy, challenging his assigned role as a dehumanized commodity. Or you could uncover the empowering aspects of his capitalist vision, bringing to light the positive freedoms of a market economy.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Diagram: How can you represent your analysis of the text through visuals, graphs, diagrams, or concept maps? For example, to understand Nervous Conditions, make a Venn diagram showing the categories of the native African and the colonial English, as well as where they intersect in moments of hybridity. Graph the plot structures from the 18th to 20th century texts we read, moving from linear to elliptical to circuitous. Make a concept map of 100 Years of Solitude, showing the dynamics of the world out there compared to the world of innocence and isolation, and the fusion points where they meet in the novel.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

 Your diagram:

 

 

Evaluate: Make a judgment backed up with analysis, argument, and evidence. Say if you agree with an author’s position or not, and why. Judge the nature of a character in a novel. Work toward complex evaluation, which goes beyond a simple “good” or “bad.” You might find that the issue is “good when…” but “bad if….” Look for situations that go beyond the surface. This could sound like, “It seems obvious that the character is evil, but in reality she’s good, because….” Be open for opportunities for evaluation goes beyond binary thinking like good/bad, right/wrong, pure/impure, which are useful categories, but don’t always fit. And always work to convince your audience of your evaluation through careful argument and ample evidence.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Evidence: Select evidence from the text related to your argument, not simply from the plot. Select a quote you can dig into and break down, revealing deeper meaning. Make sure you’re not hanging a big argument on one small piece of evidence. Suppose your analysis with ample evidence. Dig deeply into one section of a text through a close reading. Look broadly across the text to firm up your evidence in diverse passages.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Form: How does language works to shape meaning? Uncover through close readings. Avoid “generic analysis of form,” where you repeat stock answers about how the form works. You could say about any element of form, the tone, imagery, or syntax, that it “draws you in,” “grabs your attention,” or “emphasizes” something. But what does this analysis really say? Don’t all texts work to do that at some level? So even if it’s true that a text’s imagery works to “grab your attention,” that doesn’t really tell us much. Instead, how is this text’s specific content shaped by its specific use of form? For example, what does the cold, logical form of Adam Smith’s writing say about the nature of capitalism as he describes it? What does the combative nature of Marx’s prose say about his communist ideas?

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Generalization: Broaden the scope of your analysis from the local to the general. For example, you could move from a discussion of Colombian history in 100 Years of Solitude to an analysis of Latin America broadly, and on to the evolution of society generally in the modern world.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Generating metaphors: Use inventive language to capture the text’s depths – its big idea, its complexity, its contradiction, its overall spirit. Craft similes and metaphors, figures of speech and rhetorical flourishes – be creative to reveal the subtleties of the reading. For example, if you’ve argued that Borges plays with self-referentiality to underline the constructed and contingent nature of the self, work to capture that in metaphor: Borges’ poems and stories go beyond what Hamlet called the purpose of art, to hold a mirror up to nature, by holding a mirror up to a mirror, showing the infinite regression the borders of the self – where the effect is dizzying, illuminating, and comically subversive.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Generating possibilities: What are the various ways you can interpret a passage, or respond to an argument? Expand your analysis by offering multiple ways to look at a text. You could evaluate them, revealing which view is the best. You could argue why each view is valid, explaining why seemingly separate interpretations make up a coherent whole. For example, when reading Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized, you could make an argument supporting his view that assimilation is impossible under colonial conditions, then make an argument about how it could be possible, then a third argument about why the binary of assimilation or non-assimilation is the wrong way to look at the phenomenon. You could then say which argument is most true, or explain why each view is valid.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Inference: Use evidence in the text to prove something not directly stated, but that you infer. It should be revealing, not obvious. You wouldn’t score many points by inferring from the narrator’s tone in Notes from the Underground that he is angry. That’s pretty obvious. However, you could infer from his defensiveness against his imagined readers, his hostility toward his co-workers and classmates, and his harsh self-critique that the narrator restlessly takes apart the relationships in his life in search of something he cannot find, or even name.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Justifying the discussion: Why is it important to see what you’re seeing? Reveal the gravity, the impact, the relevance of your observations. If there is no apparent importance, ask yourself why. Do you need to think further on why your analysis is important to see? Do you need to start over and find something more worthy of class discussion? Do you need help from your classmates and/or teacher to justify the discussion? Prepare to answer this question: “So what?” For example, if you’ve made an observation that Swift’s ironic treatment of childhood poverty in Ireland is a more effective form of argument than straight critique, you should prepare to say why that matters to notice. You could argue that an ironic, sideways tackling of injustice helps shock the audience into caring about suffering from which they are detached in their daily lives, and that Swift gives activists a tool, in his sardonic hyperbole, of bridging the distance between the people, the press, and the oppressed.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Logic: Examine the quality of the thinking in an argument or theme from a text, whether it’s directly stated or implied. Look for the logical fallacies we’ve studied, from hasty generalizations to ad hominems. Test ideas for logical validity. Extend arguments to their logical conclusion. For example, Freud has a theory about hero myths and the Oedipus Complex. What specific elements of his argument can you test with reason? What alternative logic can you propose to explain the evidence?

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Negative analysis: What’s not there that you might expect to be? What does its absence tell you? For example, when looking at the short stories in Dubliners, by James Joyce, you might notice that the stories often lack clear exposition, so that the reader has to struggle with what’s happening and who the characters are. The stories also lack clear conclusions or moral lessons. What’s the effect on the reader? How does that connect to the meaning of each story? What does this new, ambiguous structure say about the early 20th century?

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Parts/whole: How does the meaning of a local passage inform our understanding of the whole work? What does a broad theme of the whole work tell us about how to read a local passage? Connect the part to the whole, and the whole to the part. For example, use the broad meaning of Blake’s songs to inform your reading of “The Tyger” in Songs of Experience. Use a reading of “The Lamb” in Songs of Innocence as a key to understanding the entire set of poems.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Prediction: What comes next in an argument, in a story, and why is it important to see? What does your prediction reveal about what has come before? What evidence can you bring to support your speculation? Make sure you don’t simply predict the plot of a novel. You’ve got to justify the discussion – focusing on the deeper meaning, not simply the surface matter. For example, when reading The Stranger by Camus, go beyond predicting the verdict in the trial. Say what your prediction means, what it says about society, what it says about our justice system, and our encountering of “the stranger,” the Other.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Problem solving: What challenge does the literature or theory present, and how does it suggest ways to deal with that problem? Do you agree or disagree? How else might we think of the problem, and its solution? For example, the Tao Te Ching describes a mysterious, unknowable infinite to which humans ought to align themselves in a natural flow of detachment. What problems in human existence is this philosophy seeking to address? What problems might it cause? What is the best approach to the tensions that it works to navigate?

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Sequencing: Examine why a story or an argument is put together in its particular order. For example, why does 100 Years of Solitude begin both at what seems to be the character’s final moments of life, while flashing back to its beginning? Why does Equiano’s autobiography begin with a prayer, then a formal address to Parliament, then an apology for telling his story? How does the structure of a text shape its meaning?

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Synthetic conclusion: As you work to conclude your analytical comment, finish with a synthesis, creating something new from the parts that came before. It’s more than a summary, which just restates what you’ve already said. A synthesis brings your earlier ideas together through a creative act.

You could conclude with poetics, in a striking metaphor, in a compelling image that captures the essence of your argument with a more profound and revealing insight. For example, if you’ve argued that the Yoruba creation myths have adapted to the modern world through their dynamic oral tradition, avoiding the calcification of most sacred writing, you could conclude your comment with a synthesis through poetics: The Yoruba wrote in the fluid medium of living human speech, while the Judeo-Christian tradition set down their beliefs in the restrictive mode of chiseled stone.

You could conclude with a connection, showing how your analysis reveals new insight into a related area. The most common place could be a connection to today’s world, or your life. For example, if you’ve argued that Dabydeen’s The Intended shows the impossible trade-offs demanded by cultural assimilation, you could conclude your comment by examining the difficulties of assimilation for contemporary immigrants in Boston, or you could contrast his story with successful stories of integration. Connecting the story to your experience of today’s world is a safe bet for relevant synthesis.

You could conclude with a recommendation, explaining how to resolve the tensions explored by the text. For example, if you’ve argued that Frazer’s analysis of religion misses the spirit of religious experience, recommend a fuller way to read sacred texts that avoid his mistakes.

You could conclude with new questions. Your analysis could reveal big new questions that we wouldn’t have seen before. If so, this can be a synthetic conclusion. They have to be important questions, with answers that aren’t obvious. For example, if you’ve argued that Weigle’s feminist take on religion demands that we re-read creation stories to uncover powerful portraits of women, you could leave us with important questions: how do women work within a male church hierarchy to re-interpret centuries of patriarchal theology, and how will men react to feminism from the pulpit?

You could conclude with a big new insight, the surprising place your argument leads us to. Never hold back your thesis, saving it for the conclusion. Instead, deliver your essential argument, compelling in and of itself. Once you reach your conclusion, show us what your thesis reveals after thorough analysis. For example, if you’ve argued that the poetry of Sappho represents a new tradition of individualism breaking away from the collective mode of sacred texts, you could explore the nature of that individualism in your conclusion, spelling out what’s gained and what’s lost as the individual poet stands forth from the folk collective of earlier writing.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Theoretical lens: Apply the views of a familiar theorist to uncover meaning in the work, such as Marxism, psychology, feminism, sociology, etc. For example, how can your studies in psychology illuminate Don Quixote and what that texts tells us about the nature of the human mind?

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

Uncovering assumptions: What are the implicit arguments assumed in a theory, not directly stated, but at the core of its world view? What does a novel assume about how the world works, how people behave? Uncover the assumptions, then analyze and evaluate them. For example, in Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy, is there a general portrait of how people are? What is it? Is it correct? Compare it to the portrait of humanity in the poems of Blake or Wordsworth, or in the paintings of Gauguin.

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

 

What does it say / What does it do?: Start with a literal understanding of a passage or paragraph in a text, to get to the “what does it say?” level of understanding. Next, ask yourself how the section functions in the story or argument, the “what does it do?” level. In a narrative, does the section set up background, exposition the central character’s history, provide an illustrative anecdote, draw the plot to a crisis, or provide denouement? In an essay, how does the section work to convince the audience of the author’s argument?

Try it out in the reading for tonight, or on an idea you hear in class.

What it says:

What it does:

 


 

 

References

Kaplan, J. S., & Drainville, B. (1991). Beyond behavior modification: a cognitive-behavioral approach to behavior management in the school (2nd ed.). Austin, Tex.: Pro-Ed.s

 

Zimmerman, B. J., & Risemberg, R. (1997). Self-regulatory dimensions of academic learning and motivation. Handbook of academic learning: Construction of knowledge, 105-125.

 

Story

Strengths

Goals

Express

Self-talk

Problem solving

Habits

Decolonize the mind

HomeKnow ThyselfAnalysisExperientialCritical ConSeminarHS ReadingELA 12Contact

 Copyright 2013-2015 Robert J. Comeau