I teach analysis-based discussion classes , and in them, I struggle knowing how to approach a common reaction I hear from students. This reaction begins with, “I like” followed by the first detail the student observed. Notice and Focus is a three-step process for guiding analysis that has helped my students move away from reactive statements. By using this process, students no longer feel they need to immediately have an explanation about a presented text and instead slow down and notice details before conceptualizing what those details might mean.
Step 1: Repeatedly ask, What do you notice? In this step the class can collaboratively generate an unordered list of details they notice. This step could also be completed independently or in small groups in the case of large classes. By generating the list collaboratively, I begin to learn more about individual students through the types of details they share. Similarly, one student’s observation might reveal something to another student that they might not have noticed otherwise. David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen, authors of Writing Analytically, explain that beginning with, “‘What do you notice?’ redirects attention to the subject matter itself and delays the pressure to come up with answers” (24).
Step 2: Independently students rank the three details from Step 1 that they find to be the most interesting, significant, revealing, or strange. Rosenwasser and Stephen’s explain, “The purpose of relying on interesting or one of the other suggested words is that these will help to deactivate the like/dislike switch of the judgment reflex and replace it with a more analytical perspective” (25).
Step 3: Students then describe why they found the details from Step 2 to be the most interesting, significant, revealing, or strange. To allow for processing, I typically give students a quick write to frame their ideas before sharing with the class.
Notice and Focus can be adapted to a variety of types of materials for analysis. This method varies in the length of time that it takes to implement, especially dependent on class size. In my 15 person classes, I typically allow 15-20 minutes. If you use this process, begin noticing how much time it takes in your class so that the goal of not rushing the analysis can be supported by the form of the process itself. This method results in a discussion that places description at its foundation and alleviates pressure to immediately decide what something means.
If you want to learn how to apply this method in your classroom, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for a consultation.