“More analysis needed.”
“Say more about this.”
“Analysis lacks depth.”
We have all seen this kind of feedback on student papers. We have received it and we have most likely given it. But it does not do much for the student. What are the next steps? Even if we improve our descriptive feedback and say, “provide more detail about how character drives plot here”, we have addressed a specific instance of weak writing, but have we (first) taught the skills of analysis? Or did we merely use the terms?
We often provide resource lists of test question words: evaluate, justify, review, assess, explain, define, demonstrate, elaborate, explain, explore, identify, examine, interpret, illustrate, compare contrast.
I find whenever we give them to students en masse, the sheer weight of them renders the words indistinguishable from one another. Some of these words are tied to the Writing Strategies or Methods of Development, which are addressed on another section of this website, but some are tied deeply to the act of analysis, which forms the very core of English curriculum.
Teaching English is not really about the language–the real mission of English instruction is to teach thinking. At the heart of thinking is analysis:
- a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features : a thorough study
- separation of a whole into its component parts (Merriam-Webster)
The longer I taught the more useful I found it to focus on the skills of critique, or critical thinking, to focus my students’ energies on what matters most–and as En Vogue assures us, the rest will follow.
A testament to the solid bedrock these skill provide is in the return of my students from post secondary institutions looking for my handouts on these skills because “they have an assignment they would be good for”. Plot twist: they are good for every assignment.
In addition to analysis, I also prioritize the following: Describe, Interpret and Evaluate. Description, Analysis, Interpretation and Evaluation are the four core skills that I emphasize to structure good thinking, writing, and speaking. I call these skills the Critical Thinking Strategies which does not roll off the tongue or resonate but the acronym DAIE seemed awkward. One of my student teachers convinced me DAIE Skills was the name I needed (“Have a nice DAIE”, he would say to my grade 12s Thomas Goutos, here is your shout out!).
I actually like to use memes to introduce these the DAIE skills. The bare bones of a meme–an image, a caption–prevent students from losing their way and obscuring that fact with summary of content. It also makes them more accessible and engaging. Who does not want to learn more about a Spongebob meme? But the DAIE skills will reveal that there is always depth and nuance to peel back and engage.
Check out a series of explanatory handouts and some meme resources that highlight the DAIE skills.