In this chapter and in the next three, I walk through example assignments and how you might analyze them to better understand your task.
This assignment comes from one of my first-year writing classes. It’s a fairly typical early assignment in my first-year writing classes, one that asks students to read a text and engage with it in some way. In this case, the readings include the same one I use as a model in the first section of this book, though the actual assignment differs a bit.
|Assignment||Summarize the ideas of “segregated coexistence” and “living in community” from Mitchell’s essay and analyze how those ideas apply to the situation described in an additional article (see sources below).|
|Audience||Fellow college students who are unfamiliar with either of the essays or the terms that Mitchell uses|
|Sources||“The First Battle in the Culture Wars: The Quality of Diversity” by Nicholas Ensley Mitchell
Your choice of the following:
|Length||700-900 words (2-3 pages)|
The ability to read critically and summarize accurately is a crucial academic skill. The ability to use ideas from one text to guide understanding in another text is similarly crucial. This assignment helps you practice both of these skills.
Your summary will need to explain the key concepts in Mitchell’s article and to explain the main points in the article that you choose to work with. In class, we will work specifically on critical reading strategies to understand how authors make claims and connect those claims to one another. We will also work on techniques for writing strong summaries that accurately represent an author’s work.
Your summaries of these texts should be between 300 and 400 words of your final paper.
In this part of your paper, you will make connections between Mitchell’s concepts and the specific situation described in the article you have chosen. Specifically, you must try to explain the situation in your article using the terms “segregated coexistence” and “living in community” as Mitchell explains them. Think about questions like the following:
- Does the article you have chosen describe a situation that could be considered “segregated coexistence”? If so, what is that situation and how well does it align with “segregated coexistence” as Mitchell describes it?
- Similarly, does the article you have chosen describe a situation that could be considered “living in community”? If so, what is that situation and how well does it align with “living in community” as Mitchell describes it?
- Are there ways in which Mitchell’s terms don’t apply or don’t cover the issue well enough? How so?
Note that this part of your paper should be between 400 and 500 words long, longer than your summaries. While accurately summarizing is important, readers at the college level are more interested in seeing your thinking, so this part should be longer than your summary.
When I comment on your summary and analysis, I will be looking to see how well you have met the goals of the assignment. That is, I will be looking for how accurately and thoroughly you have summarized the articles and how well you have explained and provided support for your analysis. If you only provide summaries of the articles without analysis, your project will not be successful. Instead, your project should demonstrate your critical reading and thinking skills.
Your summary and analysis will also need to meet the standard expectations of good college-level academic writing, which we will be working on during the term. Your purpose and focus will need to be clear and well explained. You will need to provide your reader with sufficient detail in your summary and your response so that your explanations are clear and thorough. You will also need to provide structural cues that enable your reader to follow the logic of your thinking. And your prose will need to be well written both stylistically and grammatically.
Examining the Verbs in Key Sentences
When I read this assignment, I find three key sentences that tell us what we’re supposed to do in this assignment.
Before going on, try to find the key sentences in the Summary and Analysis assignment. Then, read on to see if you agree with my choices.
Let’s look at them.
First Sentence for Examination
To start, there is a sentence summarizing the assignment at the top. Sentences pulled out like this are often important:
Summarize the ideas of “segregated coexistence” and “living in community” from Mitchell’s essay and analyze how those ideas apply to the situation described in an additional article (see sources below).
The verbs here are pretty direct: summarize and analyze.
- What are you summarizing? Mitchell’s ideas
- What are you analyzing? How those ideas apply to the situation in the second article you have chosen
Second Sentence for Examination
There’s another key sentence at the beginning of the “Summaries” section:
Your summary will need to explain the key concepts in Mitchell’s article and to explain the main points in the article that you choose to work with.
The verbs here are less helpful, at least until we look at the words around them.
When someone tells you that you “will need” to do something, you know that they mean that you “must” do it. If we substitute “must” for “will need,” we get a bit more help:
Your summary must explain the key concepts in Mitchell’s article and must explain the main points in the article that you choose to work with.
“Choose” is not terribly important for our purposes because it’s just identifying the second source that we are working with. “Explain,” however, seems to be very important.
Here we get a focus for our summary work:
- Explain the key concepts in Mitchell’s article (which have been identified in the first sentence we analyzed)
- Explain the main points in the article we’ve chosen
In this sentence, we have more detail about what “summarizing” looks like for this assignment.
Third Sentence for Examination
To understand the “analyzing” part of the assignment, we have a couple of sentences at the beginning of the “Analysis” section. I’m including two sentences since the second sentence begins with “specifically,” which indicates that it’s providing more detail about the first:
In this part of your paper, you will make connections between Mitchell’s concepts and the specific situation described in the article you have chosen. Specifically, you must try to explain the situation in your article using the terms “segregated coexistence” and “living in community” as Mitchell explains them.
These verbs require a bit of adjustment before our task will be clear. “Will make” doesn’t tell us much without the following word “connections,” without which we don’t know what we are making. However, “will make connections” can also be understood as simply “connect.” Here’s the sentence with this adjustment (eliminating a few more words to make the sentence grammatically correct:
In this part of your paper, you will connect Mitchell’s concepts and the specific situation described in the article you have chosen. Specifically, you must try to explain the situation in your article using the terms “segregated coexistence” and “living in community” as Mitchell explains them.
Similarly, “must try” doesn’t help us until we look at the words that tell us what we are trying to do. In this case, “must try to explain” is the idea we need to focus on. “Must try” in this sentence is an indication that our professor wants us to make effort, but explaining is really the work here:
In this part of your paper, you will connect Mitchell’s concepts and the specific situation described in the article you have chosen. Specifically, you must explain the situation in your article using the terms “segregated coexistence” and “living in community” as Mitchell explainsthem.
As with the sentence earlier, “have chosen” just indicates our second article, which is why I skipped that one.
The last “explains” is worth looking at in a bit more detail. In this case, the verb is not about your doing the explaining, but rather the fact that Mitchell has done some. From this sentence, we know that we must use the two identified terms in the same way that Mitchell does.
So, in the analysis part of our paper, we need to do the following:
- Connect Mitchell’s concepts, which we summarized in the summary section of the paper, to the situation in our second article.
- To do this effectively, we need to use Mitchell’s terms.
Having done this analysis, we now have a better sense of the intellectual work of this assignment:
- Summary Part 1: Explain Mitchell’s key ideas
- Summary Part 2: Explain the main points in our second article
- Analysis: Use Mitchell’s ideas to explain the situation in our second article.
Kinds of Cognitive Processes
First, the verbs.
The summary section of the assignment focused on explaining the key ideas in both articles. It can be helpful to move “up” the pyramid or the side of the grid with the cognitive processes to help us figure this out.
We aren’t being asked to remember, since we can look up the information, but we are being asked to understand both Mitchell’s concepts and the main points from the second article. Notice that on the grid version, summarizing appears at the intersection of factual knowledge and the cognitive process of understanding.
When we look at connections, though, “understanding” doesn’t seem to be enough. Yes, we have to understand, but we’re trying to make those connections (remember the original wording?), and “understanding” seems to be more about making sense of ideas that others have already put together.
The next step is “applying.” If we look only at the grid, applying doesn’t seem to work, but the pyramids explain this one a bit differently. If applying means to “use information in new situations” or “use information in a new (but similar) form,” the term seems to work, right? The assignment asks us to use Mitchell’s terms to explain the situation in the second article. That sounds like an application to me!
But what about “analysis” in the title of the assignment? Look at the explanation of analyzing on the grid: “Break material into constituent parts and determine how parts relate to one another and to an overall structure of purpose.” Similarly, the pyramids describe analyzing as making connections and exploring relationships.
We aren’t doing this kind of work if we look only at Mitchell’s article; there, we are simply explaining what Mitchell means (i.e., summarizing). But when we get to the second article, we have to do more than just apply Mitchell’s terms. We have to divide up the ideas in that article into ideas that are connected to “segregated coexistence” and ideas that are connected to “living in community.”
To do this successfully, we need to explain how these connections work. This means that it’s not enough to identify specific ideas as either one or the other. We also need to make those connections clear to our reader. Those explanations are kinds of analysis.
The verbs in the assignment do not ask us to make arguments or critique ideas, so Bloom’s “evaluate” doesn’t apply in this assignment. Similarly, we aren’t really “creating” something new, beyond the vague idea that what we write should be in our own words for the most part. These two cognitive processes don’t apply much, if at all, here.
To summarize, looking at the verbs and assignment, we seem to be working in the cognitive realms of understanding, applying, and analyzing.
Kinds of Knowledge
While the verbs tell us about the cognitive processes that we are being asked to use, the examination of those key sentences can also help us focus on the information that we will need to complete the task. While much of this was obvious as we explored the verbs, I’ll break it down a bit here to complete the example.
In this case, we will need to know/understand the following:
- Mitchell’s key terms (“segregated coexistence” and “living in community”)
- The main ideas in our second article
- The connections between Mitchell’s concepts and the ideas in our second article
The first two would be factual knowledge, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. We should be able to go to the article and find those ideas. We aren’t developing those terms or ideas; we are simply recording them. To do that, we have to understand them, but that’s a cognitive process, and we’ll come back to that in a minute.
The connections, however, aren’t factual. Our chosen article doesn’t use Mitchell’s terms directly, so we have to create those connections ourselves. If you look at the descriptions, you’ll see that this type of knowledge is called “conceptual,” which specifically is about organizing factual knowledge.
I don’t see anything here that is asking us to work with procedural (how to) knowledge or metacognition (thinking about thinking), so we are just working with the first two types of information.
Putting It Together
In this assignment, we are being asked to use factual and conceptual knowledge to understand, apply, and analyze.
The assignment comes in two parts. The first part is focused on summarizing Mitchell’s two key concepts and the main points from the second article. This part, then, stays firmly in the factual realm. We’re not supposed to talk about our opinions of any of these ideas or start making connections between them in this section. If we fail to present the factual information (e.g., we are missing one summary or the other; or we misread the article so our summary isn’t accurate), we will not succeed at this part. Also, because this is the more basic part of the assignment (lower on the pyramids and grid), if we don’t do this part accurately, odds are good that our analysis part won’t be as successful as we would like.
The second part, what the assignment calls “analysis,” is really a combination of applying and analyzing. We have to understand the main points, too, but mostly, we would do that in the first part of the assignment. In the “analysis,” we need to explain how the ideas in the second article can be categorized using Mitchell’s terms. We’re applying Mitchell, but we also have to explain if our assignment is going to be successful.
At this point, I have beaten this assignment into submission, but I’m hoping you can see the value in taking an assignment apart like this.