Critical Thinking Model—Visualizing the Analysis Process

Using one of our collaborative inquiry times, Karin and I decided that we wanted to create a visual that demonstrated for students the thinking process we wanted them to begin using for their analytical thinking process. Because the process is so abstract, we wanted to find a way to create a step-by-step visual that students could use to help them with their thinking. What we were after was a method students could use throughout the year to make the bridge between the literary devices writer’s use and impact that these devices have on the passage or work as a whole. Though we still feel like we could work on the model a bit, we felt satisfied that we had created a model that would help students visualize such an abstract thinking process. Because the thinking process is so intimately connected to the writing process, we wanted students to know that they could find their way to an articulated thesis and topic sentences after a close reading of the text.
As you can see from our model below, the process is very methodical. The first step we wanted students to take is finding rhetorical strategies the writer was using and identify them, for the O’Brien novel, these strategies included fragmented and run on sentences, repetition, shifts in POV, diction, contrasting imagery, symbol and figurative language. For the exam, students need not only to be able to recognize these devices but also to discuss them fluently. So, the next step is to identify what the devices is doing literally or concretely—what it is “showing.” Steps three and four take the thinking process deeper into analysis vs. observation. These steps are interconnected; they are so connected, we debated about separating them. We decided the separate them so that students could see how an exploration of the question about why a writer chose a particular image, diction choice or type of figurative language leads us to be able to start drawing conclusions about the results of these choices. The final step five completes the thinking process (or begins the analysis process) by finally asking students to leap from the parts to the writer’s larger purpose: what is he or she trying to show us using this device in terms of the novel’s tone, ideas, and themes.

Since we were reading The Things They Carried// at the time, we chose a passage from a very high interest chapter from the novel “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” to analyze with the class as a whole. This chapter describes a young woman, Mary Anne, who joins her boyfriend in Vietman and eventually gets lured in my the seductive nature of death and killing until she finally changes from an innocent young woman to a dehumanized killer. We placed the passage on the board and walked the students through the process. Below is the passage we used:

“Quietly then, she stepped out of the shadows. At least for a moment she seemed to be the same pretty young girl who had arrived a few weeks earlier. She was barefoot. She wore her pink sweater and a white blouse and a simple cotton skirt.
….It took a few minutes to seconds, Rat said, to appreciate the full change. In part it was her eyes: utterly flat and indifferent. There was no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it. But the grotesque part, he said, was her jewelry. At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues. Elongaged and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire. One overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable” (O’Brien 110-111).

As we worked through the analysis chart and students took notes, Karin and I were both amazed by the observations students made. We could literally see the students making the connections between devices such as diction, run on sentences, figurative language. The process helped them to “see” the thinking process we wanted them to make. After the lesson, students reflected that the activity was extraordinarily helpful. Because we were doing it as a whole class, students brainstormed freely, and we jotted their notes down on the board as we went. The brainstorming seemed to allow students the chance to make observations without feeling judged or “stupid.” And, as we began to make the larger connections into the novel’s themes, the students felt as if we had really accomplished something: they could see the phases of their thinking process on the board because I had done each piece of the “analytical thinking model” in different colors. Students made poignant observations and realized that they could, with only one passage from the novel, see the choices the writer was making using rhetorical strategies to reveal and deepen the novel’s themes. Students made observations about the contrast between her pink sweater and the hideous necklace of tongues. They also next observed that she, like many of the men in the unit, had lost their innocence and humanity due to war.