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~ breakdown and most of the analyses by Stephen A. Tompkins ~

1)  What approach did you take in whatever number of posts that you did?  Remember my racquetball analogy from class.  How would you describe the "serves" that you made?

Left pretty much to their own devices, with only a brief introduction to the five eyes, how would the students post?  In what way would they begin discussions?

There were a total of 20 responses; one of these was actually a non-response, since the student hadn't made the required posts that could be commented on ("I owe donuts").

Out of the other 19 responses, 15 people identified a difference between the two or three posts that they made.

Although 2 students did not use the "five eyes" to describe the types of posts they made, 17 referred to one or more of the five eyes to describe their posts. 

The aggregate breakdown of the types of "eyes" students reported using during their posts that week is as follows:

Hypothesize: 5
Analyze: 10
Synthesize: 0  (there was nothing to compare with yet)
Internalize: 5
Criticize: 11

Nothing too surprising here.  My intuition was that, left to their own choices, students would gravitate toward analyzing (by talking about a character, scene, etc.) and criticizing (by offering a like or dislike kind of response), though the number of reported internalizings is higher than I expected.  Of course, student perceptions of exactly what internalizing and criticizing are at this point do not yet meet my expectations.

Here is how some of the students identified their array of posts:

Post 1
Post 2
Post 3






1st impressions


1st impressions









* 3 of the students claimed they used only one (1) of the five eyes in their posts.
* 7 of the students claimed they used two (2) of the five eyes in their posts.
* 7 of the students claimed they used three (3) or more of the five eyes in their posts.

There seems to be a bit of both hypothesizing and analyzing going on in the "first impression" or "opinion" posts, but it's interesting that the students decline to use such formal terminology to identify their thought processes.  Whether that's due to an unfamiliarity with the five "eyes" or an intentional effort to differentiate their responses from such a rubric is difficult to determine at this point.  But there is a difference between a student expressing his or her personal opinions/impressions and "internalizing" (at least as defined in the "eyes" document), although there is certainly some overlap.  Perhaps there is need to consider adding another "eye" that would cover these types of responses (maybe "conceptualize"?).

* 4 students begin with analyze
* 3 students begin with hypothesize
* 3 students begin with internalize
* 2 students begin with criticize

* There is a similar spread among the four types in the second post.

* In the third post, criticize predominates.

It's interesting to note the balance of post types in the first post.  If post 1 had been the kick-off of a group discussion, natural selection seems to have provided for the injection of a healthy range of perspectives.  I wish again, though, as I said in comments on the last survey, that I had waited to introduce the five eyes.  I should have had the students first post "cold" and then introduced the five eyes in order to have a better point of comparison for what was "natural."  I must definitely do this at some point in the future.

It is also interesting to note that criticize posts predominate in those who did a third.  I wonder if this is in response to my caution that criticizing should be done last, after careful consideration and deeper reflection.

I was expecting that students might have a routine pattern of posting, a rut, if you will, that the five eyes would bump them out of and toward the variety that sustains good discussion.  That expectation is not borne out here -- no one posted in the same mode twice -- but, again, I may have skewed things by introducing the five eyes and promoting the notion of necessary variety.  But what am I whining about, eh?  After all, they seem to be listening!

2)  How would you describe the "serves" that you made?  Were they all the same or similar? 

Nine of the students identified a sequence or progression in their responses. 

Some saw the change upon reflection after the fact:

  • "The first post was a very calm 'tell it like it is.'  The second, however, I was a little hostile."
  • "...my postings seem to follow a specific sequence: subjective to critical."

Some, however, register that they were conscious of changing approaches at the time they were posting:
  • "In writing all of my posts, it just made the most sense to me to start with a hypothesis and then go to an analysis (or I could have internalized), and then to end with a criticism."
  • "In the first post, I really tried to just express whatever my first impressions were of the book....I tried to stray from that perspective in the second one, focusing more on analysis of the supporting characters."
  • "I chose to analyze first....In the second post, I changed my attitude and decided to criticize."
  • "Essentially, the first post was me getting a feeling of things (class, the book, my anxiety over posting and having my classmates ridicule me if I was wrong), but by the third post, I read through and actually thought about my classmates' posts before me, and I thought a lot more about what I was posting and how it could make for a better discussion of the novel."
This evidence that some students were consciously trying to change modes shows that they were listening as well.

3)  Was there a different approach from post to post?  If there was difference, can you reflect on why?

These first two responses identify the student's rationale for a difference in their posts as a direct reaction to their classmates'  previous comments.  So, these students were doing the right thing -- reading and listening to others.
  • "I think I tried to mix it up concerning the different 'eyes' of writing, partially for variety and partially because i did notice that it is most people's first instinct to pass judgement on a work and give their criticize immediately."
  • "When I sat down to write these three posts, I was mainly writing in response to some of the points that were made in class or in response to new thoughts I had after class, while my mind was still focused on the novel."
The next response indicates a desire to foster discussion and debate as a reason for difference -- also right on!
  • "I was attempting to provoke thought in other posters and perhaps generate an in-class discussion on my topic of analysis."
This response indicates an egocentric approach to discussion (not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that) and also indicates a preference for written commentary as opposed to verbal exchanges.  This would certainly validate the theory of discussion board writing as a liberating and less intimidating experience for many students.
  • "I gave my opinion on how I perceived what I read BEFORE viewing the other posts.  The reason I did this was because it was easy to convey my thoughts about the story in typed words opposed to expressing it vocally.... I felt that the only way to get MY message across was to post first, then read."
These next three responses indicate a reluctance to criticize until completing the novel, which was a point I made to forestall the tendency I've seen in students too often to leap too quickly to one-dimensional "likes" and "dislikes." 
  • "The reason for the difference in approach is mostly due to finishing up the book. (the class discussion a day earlier also added to the fire)."
  • "I think the reason my post was written like it was is because of 2 factors.  First off, I wrote my post late, so i was sort of tying in my first and second posts together.  Because of this, it looks like i came out swinging.  Secondly, I did not add any criticism i think because it was not the last post.  I felt like any criticism we had was supposed to be saved for the last post after the completion of the book."
  • "I think i gave my best effort on the last post because I had read the whole novel and was able to step back from the book a bit."
This last response is interesting in that it indicates the student's initial reluctance to adhere to any formula for making a response:
  • "I tried to let my thoughts flow in my writings and didn't want the five eyes to hold me back at all.  After writing the fourth post I found the eyes helpful and intend to use them in future posts."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In addition to the above responses to the specific survey questions, the following tendencies in the student responses are worth remarking:

1)  Self-criticism:

Many students "described" their posts in ways I hadn't anticipated.  They "evaluated" their work, even making plans for changes in the future -- something that I didn't intend and that the survey prompt doesn't call for.  This is a very striking and very healthy phenomenon.  I can ask for nothing better than students conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of their own work and planning their own agendas.
  • "I feel that my first serves were just too quick, giving me an immediate advantage.  The other person couldn't touch it.  My writing was too certain and consise to have anyone play off of it.  It wasn't broad at all and there was no room for comments.  That's my fault though.  I have to learn to write more sociably as opposed to just throwing a quick one to automatically score a point."
  • "In summary, I appear to be a chronic analyzer."
  • "feel that for most of my posts I was critical of the work and the actions of the character.  I know that for the next work I will have to separate my personal opinions on the characters for the substance of the work.  I also think that it will be a good place for me to pose questions to the class that I don't really understand or want clarification on."
  • "For the future, I would like to keep these aspects of my writing in my posts, but also include, separately or in the same post, some internal thoughts, as well as some comparitive thought as soon as we have the means to do so.  I also like to try and refrain my criticism a little until I have posted more than once or twice to persuade myself to look at other stlyles of approach to our readings."
  • "Looking back, I realize that I should probably try to vary my writing style, which I can start to do with Uncle Tom's Cabin.  In class, however, it is easier for me to touch on many subjects that are brought to my attention, as opposed to the thoughts that enter my mind in my lone bedroom.  My critical perspective to writing is a pattern that has followed me long before reading THE AWAKENING.  I'm hoping to broaden my horizons as the semester goes on, being that we are in a less formal atomosphere and can experiment more freely with our writing."
  • "My first post was a volley because I addressed the already brewing discussion and sent it to a new area of the court.  My second and third posts were serves as I tried to bring in a new topic with strong support in hopes of stirring class discussion.  I tried both methods to see which would more greatly affect the class.  I have yet to make conclusions as to what method is better."
  • "I think mostly my posts are just my opinions of what I think the AUTHOR thought.  I see this as my primary problem in posting."
  • "My second post is my least favorite because I didn't seem to give any deeper meaning to anything I said.  My third post I found to be a bit more solid and in depth.  However, I think both posts would have been better if I had set out with a very specific goal in mind."
  • "I wanted to really use my third post to argue WITH MYSELF and my own first post, because I saw how wrong I was in presuming that her life and her quandary were so transparently wrong and terrible.  I think I gave her a little bit more of the credit she deserved, although I have her the bulk of my approval in the 9/5 4-Eyes essay.  More than criticizing her actions, I defended them against my own previous claims.  I think I'll be doing that a lot this semester, because I value the classroom discussions and appreciate when our discussions force me to change my mind."
  • "Looking back now, I feel that my argument could have used some fine tuning and it probably wasn't as influential as it could have been.  The major difference here from the other two posts lies in the lack of rhetorical questions in the closing sentences.  I guess I thought the topic was provocative enough and didn't need any further pushing for people to catch on."
2)  Battle zone rhetoric:

It's interesting to note the rhetoric of "conflict" used by many of the students to describe their responses.  It's apparent that many students perceive their posts as contributing to a combat or contest.  My colleague Stephen Tompkins has noticed that this tactic in argumentation and discussion is prevalent in all of his classes -- what he calls the "deride and conquer" approach.  Hmmm, how reconcile this with the goal of class "community"????????

Here are some representative examples of this tendency:

  • "The first post was a very calm 'tell it like it is.'  The second, however, I was a little hostile."
  • "In the second post, I changed my attitude and decided to criticize....and I went off on a rant through the whole thing.   actually enjoyed writing that one the most."
  • "I feel that my first serves were just too quick, giving me an immediate advantage.  The other person couldn't touch it."
  • "As for the second posting, 9/3, I abandon any objective observations and begin with a critical analysis of Edna and the last ten pages.  I discuss of how her suicide was selfish and weak."
  • "I believe that my posts follwed similar serves.  They attacked Edna, the last post more vehemently than the first."
  • "My final post attacked what I thought was the most important debate in the novel."
  • "My posts were more of an overhead serve than an easy volley... Because of this, it looks like i came out swinging.....I'm not sure what kind of serve our last post was supposed to be?  It doesnt seem like as much of a rocket as my first post."
  • "I have no problem arguing the validity of my opinion in an open forum (my first Talk Radio! post is testament to this); I was fine with responding to everyone's attacks on me in my "A Response" post.
3)  Using questions:

A number of students commented on the use of questions in their responses.  Obviously, a true "discussion" relies heavily on interrogation, rhetorical questioning, and the solicitation of opinions and answers, as the following remarks indicate.
  • "we were instructed not to respond to other's posts.  So instead of questioning, I made general statements and attempted to substantiate them using textual evidence.  My second post was purely analytical and interestingly enough I ended it with a question, knowing full well that no one would respond to it.  However, I was attempting to provoke thought in other posters and perhaps generate an in-class discussion on my topic of analysis."
  • "I know that for the next work I will have to separate my personal opinions on the characters for the substance of the work.  I also think that it will be a good place for me to pose questions to the class that I don't really understand or want clarification on."
  • "I ended by questioning the reader on his/her opinions. I thought this would really stir class discussion; completing the volley....I made some claims here about his intentions toward Edna and supported them with the text.  Most importantly I again ended with questions for the reader, trying desparately to spark some discussion."
  • "One tool I used to persuade my reader was to pose one or two questions.  The answers to the questions I posed are purposefully intended to force the reader to consider my arguement. After answering the questions, the reader will most likely tend to favor my objective because the answers provide more elaborations and illustrations proving my point."
  • "I always want to hear feedback from my posts, and so I try thinking of topics no one has yet mentioned, and if my opinion happens to go against the grain ... so be it,"
  • "Random-- I noticed that I tend to use a lot of open-ended questions/statements(good for other people to think about, but I should elaborate more)."
4)  Signs of success:
  • "In the second post, I changed my attitude and decided to criticize.  I thought that Edna's 'final act,' as I had put it, was selfish, and I went off on a rant through the whole thing.  I actually enjoyed writing that one the most.  I can also say that this post has some analysis, in that I do take the time to site examples; I try and justify my claim."
  • "I tried to keep the post very concise and get to my points quickly.  If I look at the post in terms of a serve, I think this post is successful.  Taking a strong stand for an idea makes it easy to respond.  Other people know exactly what I think about the situation, and it is easy for them to figure out whether they agree or disagree and comment accordingly."
  • "I think i gave my best effort on the last post because I had read the whole novel and was able to step back from the book a bit."
  • "All in all I am pleased with my posts.  I feel I was successful in pushing class discussion and presenting the board with new ideas."
  • "I like posting an idea, and then going off of that idea on how i think the author was trying to do things."
  • "All of these serves introduce ideas to the discussion board.  My goal in writing these posts was to initiate some response in anyone who would read it.  Being able to engage your reader with your thoughts is very important in establishing a persuasive attitude."
It appears that what students value in terms of making what they consider to be a successful post are taking a strong stance, justifying claims, persuading others to agree, introducing new ideas, and fostering discussion.  I wonder about the difference here in regard to the criteria for their own posts and what they said about the posts of others in answer to survey 2, question 12

5)  Concerns:

Two students expressed uncertainty and confusion about what they were supposed to be doing with their responses.
  • "This is my first class in which we are posting regularly about the works read for class.  I am in new territory.  While the previous classes here at Lehigh worked at conditioning our writing skills, this class seeks to condition our discussion skills (something of which I have trouble with)  Therefore, I feel that both my postings were made hesitantly.  I was unsure about what subjects to discuss and what format to use.  I was unsure about how much I should write.  I thought that quantity might be just as, if not more valuable, than content.  I feel, going into the second posting, that I had a better understanding about the posting process, however, my qualms still remained."
It's interesting that this student sees a distinct difference between "writing" and "discussion."  There seems to be some disconnect in her ability to perceive writing as a means of discussion, perhaps indicating that she sees discussion as more of a communal verbal technique using dialogue, while writing is individual and monologic.
  • "I was unsure of the direction that we were supposed to take with our posts and instead of leaving it an 'open forum' to bounce ideas off classmates, we were instructed not to respond to other's posts."