In my early law training, one of my professors prided himself on being a challenging teacher. Every time a student answered one of his questions, he always responded with another question: why? Ok, then why that? Ok, how? Ultimately, I realized he was trying to urge us toward a deeper understanding of not only the materials but our own thought processes about the materials.
He was coaching us to think analytically.
Since then, I have heard myself echo that demanding voice of his many times.
Student writers flirt at the edges of analysis when asked to write analytically. I read, sometimes actually biting my nails, to see if the student will get past that slim line – past summary and into analysis. Many times, the student stops just short of it. Instead, the writer offers a quotation from the assigned text right where I would have liked to hear the writer’s original thought, conveying an original impression about the topic. In some cases, the writer places all of the building blocks for the analysis in a wonderfully logical order, but then doesn’t complete the thought by answering ‘why?.
Part of the definition for the word ‘analyze’ has to do with discovery. Discoveries can’t be made without asking questions: why, how? That’s why my working definition of the word “analyze” boils down to this:
Analyze: to break something apart, see how it works, then put it back together so you can see it with new eyes – your own eyes.
When my nephew was little, I sometimes brought his Transformer toy to class as a way to demonstrate analysis. For those of you not familiar with Transformers, my nephew’s toy was actually four or five small cars that could also be small robots. Each of those small cars/robots came together to make one large car/robot. I would ask volunteers to come to the front of the room and show us all how to break off each of the small ‘car/robots’. When there were no more pieces, I would give each of the four components to four groups of students (one small part to one group) who were charged with ‘transforming’ the small car into a small robot. Then, volunteers came up to demonstrate how their small parts fit with the larger whole to ‘transform’ the big robot into a big car.
In the process, students asked each other and themselves: how does this work? why does this piece have to go here, can it go here? And throughout the exercise, they were, of course, analyzing
In the end, students could analogize to their essays in this way: if I know something about a topic, it is my job to break it down for my reader into small parts so she can see those parts, understand how they connect, and then help her see how those smaller parts relate to my overall thesis.
Paragraphs are like the small parts of the Transformer, and your essay is like the Big Transformer Robot.
Here is a video of someone taking apart, and putting back together, a transforming toy. See if you can analogize as well!
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