as Problem Solving
Problems with a single correct answer (problems in multiplication
for example) have methods that ensure solution of that problem.
Either you know the method or you don't. If you don't know
the method, you can learn it. However, problem solving
situations may not be as simple as learning the times tables.
Complex problem solving involves the ability to get beyond
simple memorization of axioms, dates, formulas, names, etc.
Although knowledge of the facts is fundamental, the student
needs to learn how to acquire and interpret that knowledge.
The writing that students do in their college courses presupposes
their ability to think critically in order to solve a complex
problem and then to express their findings, their "solutions"
if you will, in terms that are understandable to others. The
first step in such problem solving is to define the problem.
In defining the problem, students can use a number of strategies
that will lead them to a statement of their aim or purpose
in writing. Such a definition also takes into account the
audience for which the final product is intended.
Useful Strategies for Arriving at a Sense of Purpose
For five minutes write down anything that comes to mind
about the topic. What do you already know about the topic?
What avenues might you explore? These initial jottings do
not have to be organized; they are merely
your first step in the process.
When making lists, focus you attention on key words or concepts.
The initial list will most likely be random. Try to see
relationships. Don't get fixated at a low level of questions,,
that is, don't remain focused on questions that can be
answered with yes/no or questions that involve easily resolved
issues which are not open to debate or question.
Topics: See your subject as X and begin asking questions
about it. Pose some of these questions: What does X mean?
How can X be divided? What contradictions exist in X? How
is X like something else? Different?
See your topic as a particle, a wave, or a field. If you
view the topic as a particle, you see it as a static entity.
You are interested only in X. If you look at the topic as
a wave, you view it as part of a process or continuum.
How does X fit into the continuum. How does X fit in with
what went before and after? How does X compare with what
went before and after? If you view the topic as a field,
you view it as a system of relationships. You view X in
context, as part of a network.
Pentad: Kenneth Burke looked at topic development in
dramatic terms. In Burke's plan, the writer views the topic
from five different perspectives. In Burke's system, the
writer must view the topic from the perspective of action,
actor/agent, scene, means (or agency), purpose. Action
allows you to look at what happens. The actor/agent
perspective focuses on who was involved. Questions
relating to the actor/agent go beyond what was done to the
planning, etc. behind the deed. Questions of scene
lead to a focus on the time and place of the deed.
Questions about means or agency would look
at complex issues and relationships involved in
the situation. Questions about purpose would lead
to statements regarding motivation and goals.
A journal, unlike your class notes, goes beyond the simple
act of recording what transpires in the classroom. The journal
allows you to record dialogues with yourself regarding the
meaning of the experience. In a journal, the writer can accomplish
what T.S. Eliot expresses in The Dry Salvages. "We had the
experience but missed the meaning,/And approach to the meaning
restores the experience/In a different form." In a journal,
the student writes, not to fulfill an exercise, but to learn.
"Learning about a subject means more than memorizing axioms,
dates, and formulas. You also need to develop general intellectual
skills that will allow you to understand the discipline in
its entirety, that is to approach it intelligently, knowing
what questions to ask, where to discover the answers to those
questions, and, finally, how to develop and organize your
own ideas about the subject. A body of knowledge about
the material is fundamental, but a student of any subject
should also learn how to acquire and
interpret additional knowledge. . . .
. . ., writing is one of the most important intellectual activities
that you do in college, for writing is not simply a method
of communicating what you know about a subject; it is an extremely
useful tool for assisting you in a variety of tasks, from
observation to argument. From making simple lists to analyzing
and synthesizing complex data, intellectual functions, especially
the more complex ones, 'seem to develop most fully only with
the support system of verbal language--particularly, it seems,
written language.' The most useful writing in this kind of
writing is what we call "private" writing, that is, writing
you do for yourself." (Elaine P. Maimon, et al. Writing in
the Arts and Sciences)
for Keeping a Journal
gain self-knowledge--to assist you in formulating the thoughts
and half-formed ideas you have in your unconscious
To develop the habit of writing. Writers learn to write
by writing. Keeping a journal helps allay some of the fears
of the "blank page." Keeping a journal encourages self-expression
and helps the writer to develop his/her talent.
give form to confusion of everyday life.
help in perceiving and observing more critically and sensitively.
Take note of what you experience. Be concrete, using as
much detail as necessary to accurately record what you feel.
current situation: Summarize an event or experience
that has taken place in class. Record your attitude or point
of view regarding the experience in detail.
Choose an awkward or unpleasant moment and rewrite the experience
so that the situation turns out more to your satisfaction.
path not taken: Imagine a situation that turned out
badly (perhaps because of reluctance to risk something important).
What might have happened if, at the critical moment, you
made the risky decision?
Argue a position open to debate or dispute; take the
unpopular side; try to find an unusual angle to support.
(Remember, arguments are based on well chosen evidence;
don't simply make pronouncements which are
justified by emotional response ("knee jerk reaction")
The journal is not a diary of your daily activities. Use
the journal to record thoughts and impressions, to remember
the past, to plan for the future. Approach the writing of
the journal as an journey into the unknown. In the words
of T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding: "We shall not cease from
exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to
arrive where we started/And know the place for the first
time." In keeping a journal you discover new things about
yourself you may not have considered or realized before.
Take Eliot's advice and "Fare foreward, travellers! Not
escaping from the past/Into different lives, or into any
future;/You are not the same people who left that station/Or
will arrive at any terminus."
For more detailed information, see Dr. Harmatiuk.
Call the number listed below or send an e-mail message:
Sandra J. Harmatiuk
First Year of Studies
227 Coleman-Morse Center
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556 (574) 631-6578
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