Over the semesters that I’ve taught Comp Lit, one of the problems that I’ve run into often is that students have a difficult time articulating logical connections in their papers. Conferences about their papers usually reveal that they know what the connections are, although I’m sure that some students struggle with that as well. This semester, I want to emphasize the importance of logical thinking and the articulation of logical processes in my course and see whether some of the paper-writing problems can be resolved simply by foregrounding logic as a component of writing.

To that end, I’m trying out an odd beginning-of-the-semester logic assignment. I’ve posted three different logic puzzles on our course website– the humorous, wordy, but uniquely solvable Self-Referential Aptitude Test by Jim Propp that I posted about a while ago, a Kakuro puzzle that involves the integers 0-9, sums, and non-repeating rows and columns, and a 7×7 More or Less (Futoshiki) puzzle that also requires non-repeating rows and columns, with some requirements about which number be larger.

I know that these are tough, so I’m not requiring students to finish them, or even to figure out how to start all three. Each student is assigned to choose one of the puzzles and write out an explanation of the logical process by which they made their first decisions. The idea is to get them to articulate a logical process clearly, and ideally to someone who chose a different puzzle (possibly because the logic of that puzzle made more sense to them).

I’ll use this exercise to start a discussion about the kinds of logic that we typically use in literary study and critical writing: implications, correlations, cause and effect (and lack thereof), accumulation of evidence to point to one single outcome… I’m also hoping that I can convince my students that logic is an important part of critical reasoning in general. I’ll also point out that while I’m asking them to write these explanations out in English sentences, other fields that also use logic have their own systems of notation for expressing the same relationships, and that like in math, for example, it’s important in English to follow the “notational rules” for logic so that the argument makes sense.

We’ll see how it goes over!