Although all people are created equal, all approaches to the teaching of writing are not. As University of Chicago researcher George Hillocks found in his meta-analysis of composition research, some approaches are markedly more successful than others. In his 1995 text, Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice, Hillocks discusses three modes of teaching: presentational, natural, and environmental. Of these modes, the environmental can be most useful to instructors in upper-level writing courses. Hillocks found that environ-mental teaching had 2.3 times the effect that the natural process had and nearly 20 times the effect of the presentational mode. Environmental teaching means constructing “environments to induce and support active learning of complex strategies that students are not capable of learning on their own” (p. 55). The following features characterize the environmental mode:
-Clear and specific objectives;
-Assignments are developed to engage students in specific processes involving writing, often writing encountered outside the classroom;
-High levels of peer interaction (i.e. peer revision, small-group projects, work-studies, focused class discussions);
-“Materials and activities that will engage students in processes requisite to particular writing tasks. (Hillocks, p. 56)
In essence, this form of teaching, “provide[s]
environments that support students in learning strategies for developing
both the content and form of discourse” (Hillocks, p. 56-57). The
rhetoric and composition program at the University of Louisville was privileged
to have Hillocks join its faculty as a Watson Distinguished Scholar in
1999. Hillocks trained faculty and teaching assistants in the environmental
approach, an approach disseminated by the WR program.
Some instructors in upper-level classes across the disciplines are utilizing modes of inquiry and some environmental teaching. One department housing such instructors is Marketing, which offers the writing intensive class Integrative Marketing Strategy (MKT 460). Department Chair Dr. Scott Johnson, who has recently taught the 460 class, stresses the importance of writing for his students. As he emphasises, “the value of writing is to be able to think clearly. We really stress that [students’ writing] makes sense, that it is logical, and that it be specific. We want to get them to a point where they say what they intend to say whenever they write up a case.” For Johnson, that also means offering students chances to participate in environments that model marketing workplace atmospheres. Additionally, Dr. Charles Sharp, a professor of Marketing who has most recently taught MKT 460, views writing as a primary tool in the field. Sharp believes that “one of the functions of marketing is communication” and that “writing is one of the ways we communicate.” In his course, Sharp involves his students in various modes of inquiry and environmental writing ranging from essay exams to larger research papers.
Each of these instructors include assignments in their courses that “engage students in specific processes,’’ including “writing encountered outside the classroom.” Johnson has found ways to link writing with new technology programs that simulate the workplace. He uses computer simulations in which students compete against each other, managing seperate businesses from the ground up (including obtaining research, hiring employees, and gathering product information). Students get back stock prices over a ten-year period as results of the simulation and compete against each other to see which group can maintain the most successful business. Afterwards, students write up reports and discuss what they observed through competing in the simulation. These reports include an executive summary that precedes the full report; this summary is typical in the current marketing industry, where employees need to explain complex and extensive results in clear and concise memos, and is one more way Johnson places his students into workplace-like situations. A second form of environ-mental writing, evident in Sharp’s class, is the production of timely status reports throughout a group project. These reports highlight the progress each group has made and focus on what else needs to be accomplished. For Sharp, these progress reports are necessary because the genre is commonplace in today’s marketing field; often, employees will need to arrive at “Monday morning meetings” with reports on their progress that are clear and succinct. Also, from an environ-mental standpoint, the reports cause students to clearly reflect upon the writing task involved in their project. Without reflection, there can be no improvement of writing performance.
A second feature of environmental teaching, “high levels of peer interaction,” is present in MKT 460. One type of environmental assignment Sharp utilizes is having students in the class participate in a two-member group project, where students identify a marketing problem and search for ways of dealing with that problem. To do this, they must go into the field and observe their product, analyzing how it is merchandised, talking with customers about how and why the product appeals to them, and discussing sales practices with the sales people at the different locations. After conducting an extensive analysis, each group provides an analytic report of their findings, which includes developing an industry analysis, writing a strategic marketing analysis, and providing recommendations. Also, students must explain their findings and conduct a “competitor analysis,” where the group compares and contrasts their product with similar products in the field. Sharp feels this project better conditions students to what they will need to do in the workplace because “they [students] need to go into the field and observe.”
Finally, each instructor has developed some smaller assignments that assist students in grasping a greater understanding of how larger tasks should be accomplished. One way Johnson develops these environments for his students is through the use of case study analysis. Johnson states, "the case approach gives them this simulated real environment. It forces them to think through very real issues. We are expecting them to look at these cases very critically, looking beyond what’s in the case. Students should use the data in the case to make their own decisions."
Students write up reports on three different cases throughout the semester, and Johnson provides students with questions to consider for each of the cases. This final case should demonstrate what has been learned from feedback provided on the previous cases, is typically twice as long, and contains greater depth of analysis. In Sharp’s class, the group project contains two sections. The first section, which receives extensive feedback, serves as a foundation for the second section. In addition, essay exams are used that require students to write responses similar to what is expected in the group project. Sharp again provides extensive feedback that helps guide students in the development of the group project.
The glue that holds many of these assignments together is writing. For Johnson, deciding whether or not to have marketing students write should not even be questioned. As he argues, “business students need to be able to write effectively. At some point, you have to be able to sit down and write a coherent note about an evaluation, or about what should be done. Everybody in a position with any type of responsibility has to be able to do this.”
Environmental teaching can provide other
WR instructors with writing assignments that are creative, challenging,
and engaging. At the University of Louisville, professors desiring
such assignments have not had to reinvent the wheel. The WR office
is dedicated to helping other instructors in disciplines across campus
develop assignments much like these to be used in their classrooms.
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