Our First-Year Writing Sequence follows a reading-writing-thinking curriculum that draws on John Dewey’s image-metaphor of a “forked road’ situation. Dewey uses the idea of being at a crossroads and the decision making that occurs at a crossroads as a metaphor for the cognitive processes that form a critical thinking process. First, the traveler/writer must recognize that there is a choice to be made. That is, they have to observe that there is in fact a choice in this situation because there exist multiple possibilities (observation). Once the traveler/writer recognizes the forked situation, it is appropriate to then investigate the options of each possibility (analysis). The process of analyzing options often results in recognizing the consequences of each option that helps to place the traveler/writer in a position to exercise judgment to make a choice (synthesis). Now our traveler/writer understands that the decisions made on the trail were because of a culmination of reasons and circumstances that may possibly change on another day. Another traveller might make a different choice, just as they might also use the forked road experience for their own future situations (reflection). The metaphor presents decision making as a constructed process, located in a specific time and place under certain conditions. Embedded in the metaphor is the fact that we also are a result of past decisions that lead to the “forked road” situation–and in order to improve our journeys we should learn from our past experiences.
What we’ve done is e-x-t-e-n-d that metaphor for our curriculum, and although students are always generating options, analyzing them, synthesizing them, and reflecting on their reasons, each unit highlights one of these processes.