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Identifying the elements of something complex and the relationships among those elements.
"Analysis" is often used loosely to describe the act of seriously examining something. Researchers, on the other hand, mean something quite specific when they talk about the critical thinking skill of analysis. In their seminal work on the taxonomy of instructional objectives, Bloom et al. (1956) described analysis as the identification of three things:
In their revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy, Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) label these facets of analysis as differentiating, attributing, and organizing.
Analysis, then, is the act of identifying the parts and investigating how they contribute to the structure of the whole. McKeachie and Svinicki (2006) emphasized the importance of conceptual structure in teaching: "If we are to teach our students effectively, we need to bridge the gap between the structure in the subject matter and structures in students’ minds.... you are not making impressions on a blank slate. Rather, our task is to add new dimensions or new features to structures." (p.63).
Any activity or assignment which requires students to identify constituent pieces of, or perspectives on, a problem can be considered an analysis activity. Some teachers problematize published findings or even their own lectures in order to stimulate analytical thought. To design an assignment so that it demands analytical thinking, some verbs one can use in the directions for the assignment are: categorize, classify, compare, contrast, debate, diagram, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, and outline (from Bloom and Krathwohl, 1956).
Analysis is often required in writing assignments, but can also be done with games, discussion activities, and graphic organizers like concept maps (All & Huycke, 2007). Because of their visual nature, graphic organizers are a particularly powerful way to help students analyze a given concept, process, or event.
Example of a concept map of 'water'
All, A.C. & Huycke, L.I. (2007). Serial concept maps: Tools for concept analysis. Journal of Nursing Education, 46(5), 217-224.
Anderson, L.W. & Krathwohl, D.R. (Eds.) (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom"s Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.
Bailin, S. (2002). Critical thinking and science education. Science & Education, 11, 361-375.
Bloom, B.S. & Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longman.
Kronberg, J.R. & Griffin, M.S. (2000). Analysis problems: A means to develop students" critical thinking skills. Journal of College Science Teaching, 29(5), 348-352.
McKeachie, W.J., & Svinicki, M. (2006). McKeachies’ teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. New York, NY: Houghton-Mifflin.