John Donaghy wrote the following piece on Writing 5 for the Fall 2005 Writing Program Newsletter.
When "English 5" became "Writing 5," I got nervous. There seemed to be a sudden, campus-wide assumption that the sorts of skills I taught in "Introductory English" were no longer adequate. Perhaps I'd have to learn and teach more skills or different skills—the kinds of skills our students might have to bring to bear on all the reading and writing they do across the curriculum. But as I've settled in and had time to think about finding the easy way out, it's occurred to me that the uberskill, the skill that's most applicable across the broadest range of academic disciplines, is a skill all of us have taught all the time—analysis.
Clearly "analysis" is not a single, whole, seamless monolithic skill. Every discipline has its own methods of analysis and, within those methods, there's a vast proliferation of schools. Still, in every discipline, analysis is a way of understanding complex phenomena by breaking them down into their component parts, examining the patterns of relationships among those parts, and developing hypotheses to account for those patterns. A linguist studying the nature of Maori verb systems, a mathematician trying to determine and prove a property of graphs, a biochemist trying to understand the way neurons change in response to external stimuli, and a literary critic trying to come to terms with William Blake's prophetic books are all doing the same thing. All of them must observe minutely. All of them must pay attention to the way the basic units of the systems they observe are arranged. All of them must make the creative, interpretive leap from observing patterns to imagining and articulating the forces that underlie those patterns.
You may have noticed that the preceding paragraph is so general that it almost says nothing at all. If that's how we look at analysis, then a personal narrative is just as analytical as an experimental approach to a problem in one of the hard sciences. Still, I guess that's the point. We can't help seeing patterns and finding meaning in them. What we need to do for our students is to make the process explicit enough so that they can do—consciously, and in difficult circumstances—what they're doing all the time in a sort of unconscious and provisional way. We need to foster the analytical mindset.
Some thoughts about how to do that:
Last Updated: 7/9/08