Some Observations about Student Problems with the Five Eyes'
What have I run into working with students and the five eyes in the trenches?
I'm adding this document well after the project was finished and after I experimented further with the five eyes, even in a different type class with paragraph-length formal writing assignments rather than a discussion board.
Here I distill some experiences, especially aimed at identifying problems the students have had (or problems I've had with the way students have performed) in each eye category. Here I note especially some common bad habits and misdirections among students and the strategies I've tried to counteract them.
I have found that even though they know they have only a paragraph or so in which to work that some students feel they have to summarize the plot of a work or to provide extensive contextual background before they "start." They seem to need to "work up" to their topic. I find myself chanting another mantra to these students: "Summarize is not one of the five eyes." And "Assume that everybody has done the reading." I find myself hammering the message to "get to it," "to cut to the chase." As a remedy, I find myself asking these students to imagine that I am looking them right in the eye as I ask a prompt question -- say, "what is the author's purpose?" (hypothesize) -- and to imagine how I would glaze over if instead of looking me right in the eye in return and answering directly "the author's purpose is _________," they would start way back with a plot summary and gradually work up to my question. I would turn to ice before they got there, I say. Some students are simply not wired for the kind of immediacy these short assignments require. I have had too many students spend 1/2 of a paragraph "getting to it." I suggest that, yes, ok, write out the background if they recognize that that's what it takes to get them started but to then go back and cut it out (revise a post as they would an essay), permiting more space for their core material.
The following is an analysis post. Imagine me looking the student in the eye and asking "how does Thoreau achieve his purpose in Walden?" and getting this response.
Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” is an account of his life experiences in the forests surrounding Walden Pond. The purpose of the non-fiction work is to expound Thoreau’s philosophy of life and of what it means to live. The main idea of Thoreau’s philosophy is to become connected with all living things. To live a life well, Thoreau believes that it is through existence that a person defines their finite self. Thoreau believes that people should live their lives in communion with nature and in tune with their souls. The reason for this idea is that Thoreau sees people as being connected to everything, and that, presently, people have lost their understanding of what it means to be alive. In his work, Thoreau accomplishes his task of explaining his philosophy through using metaphors and persuasive writing. Thoreau, who was also a great naturalist, writes that “morning brings back the heroic ages” (1691). This quote signifies Thoreau’s desire to begin anew each morning and his desire to fulfill his aspirations of this new day. With sentences like these, Thoreau provides for a very convincing way of life. Overall, Thoreau is best exemplified by his quote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (1692). We should all be so fortunate as to live this kind of life.
I do ask (see below) that students develop their analyses from a statement of purpose. But in this twelve sentence post, the first six are given to defining Thoreau's purpose -- 50% of the post. It is not till "Thoreau accomplishes his task of explaining his philosophy through" in sentence 7 that this student moves to analysis. Sentences 7-10 are related to analysis, but then the last two sentences are back to Thoreau's purpose. The result is complete short-shrift to analysis, the purpose of the post. Even those four sentences of analysis are weak, containing space enough to give but one specific example and vague reference to others in "With sentences like these." This student has not properly budgeted his space to do what he was supposed to do.
In the prompt for the hypothesize eye I clearly ask for the statement of purpose in a "short, crisp sentence or two." I have found that a decent number of students either don't "see" that direction or have trouble fulfilling it. I tell students that what I want to do (virtually perhaps) is underline or draw a circle around that short, crisp sentence or two -- simple as that. That that's the first criterion for judging this type of post. I think a concise statement of purpose is necessary especially for the analysis eye that follows (how can you understand the means except in terms of the intended end?) and later for the criticize eye as well (one way to judge a work is in relation to the author's intended purpose). So, in conference with these students, I cruelly ask them to find and underline or circle the sentence that the prompt tells them to deliver, both in their posts and posts that I have chosen as good models. Tactile therapy.
For instance, can you underline the "purpose" sentence in this very long hypothesis post?
There was no such thing as law and order in Tombstone. In "My Darling Clementine" I feel that there may have been no authority at all, at least not legal. Yes, Earp was the Marshal in the town but I never viewed him as really being an authority figure he was always more of a vigilante with a badge. I also never noticed a courthouse in the town or even a jail cell. Earp enters town and sees that the current Sheriff is unable or unwilling to prevent a drunk man from shooting up a bar, in response to this Earp sneaks into the bar and knocks the man out, he then proceeds to kick him out of the town; something that he will repeatedly yell at Doc. for doing after he become the sheriff. Upon finding out that his brother has been killed Earp accepts the job of Sheriff so that he can get revenge on the people who killed him. Despite his talk about making the town safe for kids to grow up in he leaves town immediately after he has gotten his revenge. It would seem that a town with as bad of a reputation as tombstone has would need more than just one family to be taken care of in order to be safe. The position of Sheriff seems to bring with it no authority or respect ffrom the people. After he has accepted the job there are criminal actions in front of him several times. People try to cheat at poker against him. Doc Holiday takes law into his own hands and forces a man to leave town. Doc goes on to threaten Earp several times; he pulls a gun on him within minutes of meeting. In addition, an angry mob tries to tie up the owner of the theatre and run him around town. It seems that people like calling him Sheriff but when it comes to tense situations it is the fear of Wyatt Earp and not respect for the law that settle issues. Doc has the same ability without having a title. Since Wyatt never carried a gun around town he was still a threat to anybody who might oppose him. This was both because he was quick and good in a fight and also because he had his brothers (gang) armed and backing him up most of the time. Earp repeatedly tells the Clantons to turn themselves in, but it is all just a farce. He seems aware and fully prepared for the fact that they will not go quietly. When he sends the father away the Earp boys are prepared to kill him once he turns around. Earp carries a badge throughout the movie but it seems clear that he is just there for revenge. If the badge did anything it was to make sure that there weas no authority over Earp to prevent him from finding out who killed his brother. It was the good nature of Earp that prevented him from being seen as a bad guy, while he could have easily killed everybody who looked at him wrong his actions were restrained. This good character game him the appearance of legal authority.
After all this hard writing work, there is no purpose sentence. The repetition of the first-person pronoun "I" in the first few sentences indicates that this student begins in his own head rather than the director's, where he should be for the hypothesis assignment. Then he seems locked into the idea that his job is to describe and summarize the film.
One can imagine that a student who writes this much in detail is a student with potential if he could focus on the task at hand. Can he be encouraged to use what he has written here to formulate a purpose statement? Might it be that the director's purpose is to show through the ambiguous character of Wyatt Earp the bumpy transition from lawlessness to lawfulness in towns on the far margin of civilization? And would a simple initial sentence along those lines provide a focus for the summary material, a way to trim it down to manageable size, a means to control plot details that can multiply chaotically?
a) Since I describe analysis as relating parts to a whole, I have started to ask that the analysis posts begin with a statement of purpose, however tentative. I like analysis that's anchored to purpose. I have found that a decent number of students will simply start in media res describing some aspect of a work. All I ask is one sentence about purpose to govern the analysis, to give meaning to the analysis. Now -- just like an essay can work inductively and build to its thesis statement at the end -- I would accept the purpose statement at the end. But it's got to be somewhere. And I must admit that I am a deductive devotee, one who likes the thesis up front. And thus I like the statement of the work's purpose up front.
Compare these two beginnings to analysis posts:
1) Jonathan Edwards has a great deal of warnings, biblical support and emotion that he is conveying to his congregation in his well know sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."
2) The most pertinent message that Wellman passes on in the film involves the phenomenon of "mob mentality" and the ability of a group to influence individual opinions and points of view. The scene, or scenes, that most effectively illustrate the meaning behind that certain mentality are those in the film where Major Tetley and Farnley are gathering up the troops (townspeople), in hopes of capturing the ruthless killer/s and attaining revenge.
The first example starts inside the work, listing three elements of technique without linking them to any purpose, whereas the second example -- better in my book -- sets up the meaning of the work and then signals why the analysis of the scene will be significant.
b) The analysis eye also seems to be the one most prone to lack of focus. I find a decent number of students who will spend a sentence or two on a series of authorial strategies or devices. With them I have to give reminders that they are working within the narrow space of a paragraph and that, usually, depth is better than breadth. To show the multiple instances of one technique is fine, but rippling over the surface of several disparate points is usually not satisfying. My message is -- pick one important manifestation of technique and develop that as convincingly as you can in the one paragraph. On a properly functioning discussion board other students will then develop other techniques in depth so that the ensemble will cover a significant amount of ground much more valuably than one poster simply churning out a superficial list.
For instance, here's a student deep "in" the text where she should be in analysis, but trying to do too much -- trying, in fact, to explicate the whole poem:
Anne Bradstreet worked to enlarge the perception of what women in the 1650s could accomplish. At the beginning of “The Prologue [To Her Book], Bradstreet wrote from a male perspective, which was something she did in order for her work to be published and accepted. This poem’s main theme showed that women with talent and intelligence face difficulties in a man’s world. Bradstreet’s language and proposals showed her effectiveness of her emotions and thoughts regarding issues of equality and the relegated life women were supposed to lead. The mood of Bradstreet’s poem is condescending because she began to view herself in the same way society did. Her metaphorical language in the poem also contributed to the theme including, “mean pen,” “obscure lines,” and “schoolboy’s tongue.” She was a woman in a man’s world, way ahead of her time with not only her understanding, but also with her writing abilities. Her writing stressed that she did not want men to feel threatened by her capabilities exemplified when she said, “Men can do best, and women know it well” (385). She voiced criticism against men, male society and the way men treat women. She pointed out that many of the preconceptions of women’s duties need modification “Who says my hand a needle better fits” arguing that women can do more than needlework. Bradstreet criticized that if a woman’s work was written just as well as a man’s, people would question if she stole it form someone else, “If what I do…it was by chance” (385). She centered on the fact that her skills of being a writer did not receive the attention and recognition it deserved. Bradstreet was a woman whose goal was to overcome the stereotype of a female, traditionally viewed as a homemaker by demonstrating her own knowledge and artistic ability through writing.
There are several wonderful candidates here for a more satisfying in-depth analysis of their function in furthering the purpose of the poem: writing from a male perspective, the condescending mood, the metaphorical language, her unthreatening approach, the way she criticizes, etc. etc.
a) I have found that almost all students can compare and contrast ad infinitum. That's not the problem. The problem is with the new insight or idea that is the result of meaningful synthesis. In fact, my sense is that synthesizing is the hardest of the five eyes for students to do. In Bloom's taxonomy the levels of thinking ascend from analysis to synthesis and culminate in evaluation as the highest level. That's not the way that I have found it working, and that's one reason I need to do some more reading in and around Bloom's work. The criticize eye doesn't seem all that difficult for students -- the first part of it anyway -- for they jump to opinions almost too quickly. It's backing that opinion up that's hard. But the "seeing" something new through the synthesize eye takes a creative or an imaginative leap that almost all students struggle with. And, frankly, I'm not sure how to be of real help in the achievement of that leap. It somehow seems untouchable from outside, unsusceptible to exterior stimulus, unresponsive to little mental tricks -- but something internal, chemical, magical. So, frankly, I'm not sure I'm a big help to students with synthesis problems. All I can do is lay out the conditions under which a new idea might blossom.
b) Mechanically, there is a common problem that I can address, though. Rather typically I have found that student synthesis posts start right in with detailed comparison and contrast and build to a statement of synthesis as a short, even one-sentence conclusion or climax. That puts the emphasis in the wrong place. These students tend to fixate on showing the process that develops the new idea rather than elaborating on the value of the new idea itself. I find myself saying that it is not the record of your thinking that we want to see through this eye but the new idea itself that is the product of that thinking. And thus that they should start with a statement of the new idea and give only as much of the detailed process of comparison and contrast as is necessary to indicate its legitimate roots in the texts. But then run with the idea itself! Ok, I say, if you need to write through a comparison and contrast to arrive at the new idea, then do indeed write it through. But then revise your post, placing the new idea first and working outward from it as much as possible.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about:
Boudinot’s “An Address to the Whites” and Woolman’s “Some Consideration on the Keeping of Negroes” are both two important essays that discuss the racial inequality in America. Boudinot discusses the treatment of Native Americans, specifically the Cherokee people. Boundinot’s essay is a call to action to put an end to the common disparaging remarks against Indians. “A period is fast approaching that when the stale remark-‘Do what you will, an Indian will still be an Indian,’ must be placed no more in speech” (1411). Boundinot does recognize the difficulty it takes to rid the Native American people of the prejudices against them. He understands that the vindictive feelings against Native Americans have been only furthered by the way his own people have hindered themselves, yet, he still strongly believes that any faults can be overcome. Boundinot makes it a point to demand that Native Americans should be thought of on the same level as any other race. “Is he not formed of the same materials with yourself?”(1411). Similarly, Woolman uses this same approach call attention to the treatment of African American slaves. Woolman states, “We shall then consider mankind as brethren” (681). Unlike Boundinot, Woolman does not speak from a first hand experience, but rather as an on looker and commentator. Woolman states, “these poor Africans lie under in an enlightened Christian country having often filled me with real sadness…I now think it my duty, through divine aid, to offer some thoughts thereon to the consideration of others”(679). Woolman speaks specifically from a Christian/ Quaker view that all beings are equal, and he hammers his point that this is God’s true decry. Both authors, though coming from different times and discussing different races both come to the same conclusions. The whitemans’ goal to conquer and convert in the name of God, is in fact not true to God’s word.
This post is less synthesis than two analyses side by side. The student announces in the beginning that he is comparing Boudinot and Woolman, then he does a section on Boudinot followed by a clear transition into a section on Woolman. Two virtually discrete sections. Then the "synthesis" -- the new insight -- comes in the last two sentences, dwarfed by the build up. I see this a lot, and I ask such students to begin with their synthesis: "Boudinot and Woolman, though coming from different times and discussing different races, both come to the same conclusion that the whitemans’ goal to conquer and convert in the name of God is, in fact, not true to God’s word." Ok, now that's potentially very interesting. Run with that. Think of the synthesis as not only or not mainly a conclusion but a beginning.
a) One hard thing about internalizing is that a decent number of students seem to have no experience in relating assignments to their lives. Groan. I guess I should say that most of my experimentation has been with non-English majors and maybe that accounts for what to me has been a very surprising phenomenon. "We" English folk have a heard time keeping our lives out of what we read! In effect, then, my role is to give these students permission (some students feel compelled to ask if they can use "I" -- a sure sign of trouble), to authorize personal revelation, to prod them to make at least part of their private lives public. The trust that comes with a genuine sense of community is especially important here.
The mark of such students seems to be egregiously intrusive plot summaries and background material:
For Phillis Wheatley and her poem “On Being Brought From Africa to America,” religion was her key to freedom. Her beliefs gave her a sense of freedom while still enslaved. Through Christianity, she was able to live on to the next day, “Twas mercy brought me…there’s a Saviour too” (1212). This poem showed evidence of a woman who was not only aware of her race, but also able to manipulate the slave system that kept her captive. She called upon her religion because she used that to think positively when she crossed the middle passage from Africa to America. It was clear that she believed that the same God, who the white, slave-holding Christians worship, was the same God who brought her from Africa to America. The bold assertion that God took interest in her and released her from paganism is a condemnation against the Christian slave-holding conception of blacks as sub-human and beneath God’s notice. I admire Wheatley’s poem because it was a confident declaration of black humanity and spirituality, while confronting the white people at the same time. For Wheatley, she was able to use her religion as a source of liberation at a time when someone else owned her life. When I get stressed out, I exercise. I am able to clear my mind and rid myself of all the negative energy I am feeling. People have different types of ways of dealing with anxiety and there is no one correct way in handling it. Wheatley, along with many people in this world, looks to religion to help them through difficult situations.
In what should be an "internalizing" and "personalizing" post, the first-person pronoun does not appear till the third-last sentence (and even then the equation between herself/exercise and Wheatley/religion is a pretty bad one). What I try to do in situations like this is to get the student to literally begin the internalizing post with the word "I."
b) Another hard thing about internalizing in my system is the response to someone's internalizing. Can internalizing generate multi-stage interaction? I raised this worry in the report, in fact, in discussing Student P in the survey 6 Student Work (3). I wonder outloud there if internalizing is "a very discussable mode," but I do start to answer my own doubts there as well, and further reflection has simply confirmed for me that using this eye is damn important. I don't want to give up the value of the personal dimension when interpreting literature and film.
c) Thirdly, students will sometimes pick a non-essential or peripheral aspect of a work to internalize about. They will grab any connection. That is not the best idea, for the function of internalizing is to help understand or interpret the work. This important function tends to get lost. The treatment here is to ask them to identify a key issue in the work right off the bat, as, for instance, this student does beginning an internalizing post with "I believe that there is one thing that everyone can relate to in this film and that is the idea of missed opportunities ."
d) And then often there is the failure to tell a "story." This is the eye in which I would like to see interesting personal narratives. Many times students will speak generally about a personal experience, or obliquely, or in passing, or give it a glancing reference. I want a "story" here, with details, with a little storytelling flair. Look at the missed opportunities in this internalizing example:
The main point that I connected with in this film was the commentary on how easily people can get swept up by the popular opinion to the point that they start going against their personal beliefs. This commentary ment something to me because, as I am sure is true with a lot of other people, I have experianced situations in which the same thoughts and emotions come into play. There have been many occasions where I have been in a situation where the majority of people have come to one conclusion about something while I have felt differently. In almost all of those cases I have experianced similar things to those in the film, where I have gone with the crowd despire my personal feelings for different reasons. There have been times, like in the film, where the opinion would have been one that would have been upsetting to the others. When this is the situation it is very easy to understand why I, and anyone else, can come to the conclusion to stay silent about how I feel. I don't ever want to cause trouble for myself, and the best way to do that is avoid confrontation entirely. As bad as it may sound, I have to think to myself, "Why should I cause possible problems for myself just to make my opinion, which will most likely be ignored anyway, known?" From having experianced situations, not anywhere near as important or drastic, as the one in the film I can understand how Gil felt and how he could come to the conclusions he did in both the film and the story.
This student laudably identifies a key point of the film right away, but then he dances around his personal connection: "I have experienced situations . . . There have been many occasions . . . There have been times . . . From having experienced situations . . . " Many nods in the right direction, but not one concrete shred of information about any of the experiences. The importance of re-living the personal experience in words is to re-attach to the emotions and feelings involved and thus to better establish a connection to what is going on in the work.
a) Choosing the topic: I've seen far too many "soft" topics. Criticize topics -- if they are to have any meaning -- must have some "edge" to them. They must be arguable. In a film course I got several criticize posts like the following praising the choice of actors.
It takes a multitude of different things to make a film great; by far the the most key element are the actors and their roles. This film was an absolute success, in majority because of the two lead roles, one of which is played by one of the greatest actors of all time: John Wayne. The supporting role, played by Montgomery Clift, was also phenomenal depicting an somewhat of an adopted-son part. The interaction between the two on camera was fiesty, dramatic, and full of action. Their relationship was never dull or boring, and above all else it was never unbelievable. Their relationship was never too cute and it was never too raw or rough that it became fictitious. The supporting actors played an important role, even though they were heavily dwarfed by the performances of Wayne and Clift. Cherry plays a counterpart to Matthew's gunfighting skills; however, I was disappointed that we never got to see a real showdown between them. When Matthew steps into Dunson's role as the cattle driver, Cherry immediately comes into Matthew's old role as his right-hand-man, although he would never admit to being less in status. Groot also plays a great role, even though his actions come across with a know-it-all attitude. Groots importance to the film is that his role is more or less a bridging of the gap between Matthew and Dunson (by historical knowledge, obviously not by age). The female roles are played pretty well, but their limitation in the film prevents them from getting much notice beyond that, especially in the shadows of the other great roles played. In one of the articles we read (I cant recall a specific page/author) it discussed the importance of fitting roles with actors. This film is a great success because of that fact. Other parts made a difference, but that fact alone made this film effective.
This film has been considered a classic for 50 years, so saying the actors and their roles are good is a kind of obvious yawner. That's not really an engaging topic. Students like this must be prodded to ask themselves if there can be difference of opinion on their topic and perhaps to begin with framing their topic with those differences.
b) "Becausing": I have seen too much "soft" argumentation, by which I mean claims not backed up by reasons, claims without the "because" (and what follows) that gives them intellectual force. I say I actually want to be able to underline or circle the word "because" or its synonyms for as long as it takes to follow their claim back to its primary roots. The treatment, then, is "search and circle." In conference I sit with these students and cruelly put them through the paces of searching for and circling the "becauses" that should follow the claims in both their posts and model good ones.
Can you underline the "because" in the following portion of a criticize post?
When i look into the film more and more and watch scenes repeatedly it is easy to see stereotypes and very obvious general characters that are common to a lot of westerns, i like that about this film, there was a town drunk, the commanding, rich man, the religious black man, the guilty Mexican, and so on. I like that about this western.
There is no "because" here, simply assertion. This student who says "I like this film because of the stereotypes" must realize that that thought is only completed when he also says, "The presence of stereotypes in a film enhances its pleasure because __________."
c) Among the ways students avoid "becausing" are substituting facts for reasons, assuming descriptions are arguments, and using examples as if they were evaluative. Here is a criticize post that contains errors of these kinds, followed by my actual dissection.
The Student post:
Overall I found the film to be a great story. As many have noted before, it is not your typical western movie in that there is no hero who saves the day at the end. Instead there is a group of men with guilt hanging over there heads. This story really pulled me in. The part that really got me was when Maj. Tetley killed himself at the end. His son finally spoke up of how he felt about what had just occurred and it was to much for his father. I certainly do not believe young Tetley meant for his father to kill himself, but his words got to his father so much that this is what he did. Teltley led the charge the entire time and the guilt that was thrust upon his chest in the end was to much to bear. Guilt has a very funny way of hanging over people and never letting them forget it. I think the end of this film truly shows that. Killing accused men and then finding out they were truly innocent is an act that will certainly leave a burden on someone. Only the ones who were in support of a fair trial did not have the outcome hanging over their heads, all though they might have a bit for not being able to do more. I believe Tetley's suicide put a definite exclamation point on the film.
Stand back while I play around with your post! Wheeee!
"The part that really got me was when Maj. Tetley killed himself at the end." Ok, that is your criticizing nugget. Tetley's suicide was really good. Clearly said.
Now should come the "because." But let's look at what follows this in your post.
- "His son finally spoke up of how he felt about what had just occurred and it was to much for his father." That is description not evaluation and thus not a "because."
- "I certainly do not believe young Tetley meant for his father to kill himself, but his words got to his father so much that this is what he did." That is speculation and description not evaluation.
- "Teltley led the charge the entire time and the guilt that was thrust upon his chest in the end was to much to bear." That is description not evaluation.
- "Guilt has a very funny way of hanging over people and never letting them forget it. I think the end of this film truly shows that." This is description moving toward evaluation.
- " Killing accused men and then finding out they were truly innocent is an act that will certainly leave a burden on someone." This is a statement of reality not evaluation.
- " Only the ones who were in support of a fair trial did not have the outcome hanging over their heads, all though they might have a bit for not being able to do more. " This is description not evaluation.
Thus, there are no persuasive reasons given for your evaluation. I see only one point that might be developed to do so. So you have not quite conceived a proper criticize post.
However, here's one way your point could have been developed in a more proper way. Suppose your point was that Tetley's suicide was really good because it was triggered by his son, whether consciously or not. Then give and develop reasons such as 1) it's the perfect poetic justice since Tetley's prime motive in leading the hunt seems to be to make a man out of his son but he is killing him in the process, and 2) the film develops a desire in us to see the son take a stand against the tyrannical father.
It seems to me that if you took a tack like that, then you would be on the road to make a persuasive evaluation. But what I think you have is a description of facts that don't really add up to forceful evaluation.
d) Audience: "Becausing" might become more organic to criticize posts if students would always imagine they were writing to a skeptical audience who needs to be persuaded. But in my experience a decent number of students approach evaluation as if nothing was at stake. The above student says "I" like the stereotypes in this film, seemingly unconcerned if anybody else feels the same way. Likewise, this student seems totally self-concerned as well: "At the end, when John Wayne (Dunston) tells Montgomery Clift (Garth) that he'd better marry Ms. Millay, I thought that was a great way to end this film. The film portrayed a story that was upbeat and active throughout, to see a little melo-drama at the end seemed to fit perfectly for me. I really liked this film and more and more I talk about it, I think I keep falling for it even more!" Self-indulgent cooing replaces hard becausing in this evaluation.