Saturday, April 12, 2008

Transitions for School to Workplace Writing

Jennifer Osterday

For this research project, the field of study I chose focuses on how students are transitioning from the classroom to the workplace. As I am personally graduating in a month, I am interested in knowing in what helps and does not help students prepare for a new career. By understanding what areas are working or failing in the university, the information can be passed on in hopes of improving the universities’ current writing courses. During the research process, I focused on authors such as Beaufort, Freedman, Adam and Dias as I knew they offered the most information on this topic. All of the sources are from books written by experts in their field. Most of the articles are timely, with the exception of a piece from 1993. However, the article still offers important information on what needs to be changed in the classroom.

Beaufort, Anne. “Bridging the Gap: From Classroom to Boardroom.” Writing in the Real World: Making the Transition from School to Work. New York: Teachers College Press, 1999. 171-197. Anne Beaufort has been a coordinator of writing across the curriculum and has a Ph.D. in Education, which is focused in Language, Literacy and Culture. In this chapter, she makes the claim of the different ways students can go about transferring to a workplace after college. After extensive research with four girls, Beaufort uses their examples to make her points. Clearly the education system is not doing enough to help the girls. Beaufort makes the claim that the only thing that will help improve the school system is by teaching the different writing processes, multiple genres, and the idea that reading can be a social context for its communicative norms (180). She does point out that the schools are going in the right direction. The girls in Beaufort’s study made the point in saying that they have learned in school how to interpret texts, formulate ideas and organize their points. Beaufort also says the school system is doing well with including more participatory learning, but there is still much more to be done. This includes making writing assignments more meaningful to the students other than the accomplishment of a letter grade. She also says that learning how to facilitate the transferring of learning as well as cultivating meta-cognitive thinking is important. These three points were applied and shown to be helpful in the workforces that the girls encountered. This article is similar to other ones Beaufort has written, but is useful as it gives concrete examples from the girls she studied.

---. “New Directions for University Writing Instruction.” College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for Writing Instruction. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2007. 142-158. In this final chapter of her book, Beaufort helps explain what she believes to be the main problems with university courses. Throughout the book, she examines the writing process of her subject, Tim, as he goes through college. As Beaufort learns that his writing process does not really grow from his freshman to senior year of school, she laments it is because colleges are not increasing the level of difficulty in writing each year. It is clear Beaufort thinks there is something wrong with the way colleges are creating writing assignments. Tim, like most college students, struggled to write anything because of his mindset; everything he wrote was just “doing school” (144). Also, the author makes the claim that students would benefit more with a consistent professor throughout all four years as well as a freshman seminar, and an understanding of genre and rhetoric. Beaufort explains that students need to understand the different genres in relation to social contexts. She also says that students do not know how to transfer knowledge from the classroom to the workforce. Through opportunities and meta-cognition (thinking about thinking), the students would be more prepared. Also, by getting past the grade and having students motivated to write about things that they care about, the writing should improve. These arguments and solutions Beaufort makes about college classrooms will be useful when comparing to other expert opinions.

Freedman, Aviva and Christine Adam. “Bridging the Gap: University based Writing that is More than Simulation” Transitions: Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings Eds. Dias, Patrick and Anthony Pare. Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2000. 129-144. Aviva Freedman, who has done a decent amount of research, and Christine Adam claim the only way to help students transition from the classroom to the workroom is through a practicum. The authors studied a group of specially picked students who were asked to work in groups for a specific company. The professor was more of a guide, than a teacher as she helped the groups write appropriately for the business. Every student automatically received an ‘A’ in the course, so the students focused solely on working for the company instead of trying to work for the professor’s grade. While all the students seemed to learn what they needed to know to successfully transfer into the workplace, it seems unfortunate that this is the only solution the authors could find.

---. “Write Where You Are: Situating Learning to Write in University and Workplace Settings.” Transitions: Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings Eds. Dias, Patrick and Anthony Pare. Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2000. 31-60. Freedman and Adam focuses on studies that explain the best way to help students in the workplace. They had a study on internships as well as a course in a university setting designed to reflect workplace scenarios. The authors’ findings reflect that while there are some similarities, there are also some major differences. They found that both atmospheres focus on “learning through performance” but the learner is never fully participating in the job responsibilities (55). However, in the university setting the students are given very clear goals and assignments that they understand they must learn. In a workplace setting, the authors found that sometimes the interns did not know when to learn. The interns were too accustomed to being told when and how to learn in a classroom setting. The university is also individual centered while the workplace had everyone – newcomers and old-comers – working together on projects. The authors make a claim that while the classroom setting is trying to include “real life” scenarios, there is still much work needed to be done to truly help students transfer to a workplace setting. Not only do the students have to learn new genres in the workplace, but they have to understand how to learn the new genres as well.

Dias, Patrick, Aviva Freedman, Peter Medway, and Anthony Pare. “Virtual Realities: Transitions from University to Workplace Writing.” Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing In Academic And Workplace Contexts. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999. 201-221. These four authors offer a fresh insight on an alternative from the typical classroom situation or case studies. They make the claim that there is a point between the classroom and the workplace that can help writers. By employing a system which they term, “facilitated performance,” it allows a hybrid of working in a real workplace situation while still having the instructor there for support. The students work with actual problems, giving them global perspectives, experience with group work, the knowledge of how to critique others, as well as learning how to integrate knowledge from previous courses to the work at hand. While doing this, the instructor is still there and the students still get a grade and receive credit. The instructor and students work together as they work for a company. The writers explain that in this instance, the writing the students do is now a reflection on the instructor and the institution, unlike typical writing courses where it’s just a reflection of the student’s competence (209). The writers also advocate internships as being great ways to immerse themselves in work right away. Their final sentence makes the claim that the best way to bridge a successful transition into the workplace requires “actual practice and timely instruction” (221). This is a good idea. However, the classroom example the authors give focuses on social workers. I feel as though other majors would not have it as easy.

Joliffe, David A. “Preparing All Students for the New Workplace Literacy: Avenues for English Instruction in High Schools and Colleges.” Expanding Literacies: English Teaching and the Workplace. Ed. Mary Sue Garay and Stephen A. Bernhardt. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. 285-297. Joliffe, who has earned his Ph.D. and done extensive research in rhetoric and genres, starts by explaining how the workplace has changed over the years. Workers today are not only required to know how to work their place on the line, but also be “flexible, frequently collaborative, and open to change in production” (288). Thus, workers have to be able to be efficient in many areas – including writing. To ensure that workers are prepared for their jobs, Joliffe makes the claim that the English teachers need to teach students how to be independent, readers, writers, critical thinkers and be self-sufficient (291). To achieve this Joliffe has three strategies for English educators: incorporate ill structured problems, implement continuous assessment of quality, and develop collaborative work teams. By incorporating ill structured problems, students learn how to apply writing to real world scenarios. The continuous assessment of quality requires students to stop during the middle of a project and assess how they have been doing. The new literate workplace titles this “total quality management”. This helps students process the amount of control they have over the situation. Finally, collaborative teams would require students to work in groups and switch roles. These roles include Administrator, Producer, Developer and Fine Tuner. By having these roles, every aspect of an assignment is analyzed – from overseeing to examining the final product – and the students teach each other just like a scenario you’d find in the workplace. Each strategy Joliffe has created is focused on “learning by doing” (296) and is what Joliffe believes every English class needs to help people thrive in the workplace.

Reither, James A. “Bridging the Gap: Scenic Motives for Collaborative Writing in Workplace and School.” Writing in the Workplace: New Research Perspectives. Ed. Spilka, Rachel. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993. 201-206. In a specific part of Reither’s chapter, he comments on how to bridge the gap between workplace and classroom. He starts by arguing that the main problem with classrooms is that the focus is on the grades. Classrooms need to start understanding how to provide students how to collaborate with one another like employees do in the workforce. To achieve this, Reither makes the claim that three major changes need to be done in the workforce. One, the students need to be involved in ongoing learning projects that make the students understand how to organize, plan and consolidate with others. Instead of making the teacher do all the work, the students must understand how to do this for future careers. Next, Reither says the teachers role in the classroom needs to change from the deliverer of knowledge to the research/project manager. Finally, the students must change and understand they are not just there to sit to lectures and read a textbook; the students role involves identifying gaps and pooling findings to make a more complete educational experience. I like that Reither understands that simple writing and revising is needed in the classroom. However, he does not mention how difficult it will be for universities to change from a grade focused classroom to a collaboration focus.

Wardle, Elizabeth. (2005). “Identity, Authority, and Learning to Write in New Workplaces.” Enculturation 5.2. Wardle makes the point that identity issues can play a big part in how well someone transfers from the university to the workplace. An important part of this article is on how the subject Wardle studied, Alan, was unable to successfully survive in his chosen discourse community because of his stubborn ways. Alan wanted to do things his own way to assure that he was the one in charge; however, others saw him as simply not adopting conventions that were needed to succeed in the workplace. Instead of seeing Alan as an independent individual, others saw him as incapable of engaging with the company. Alan did not follow the rules of the convention by changing his writing behavior. Alan tried to prove himself in the new workplace but instead showed that he was incapable of succeeding. This proves that not only is it difficult to work in a new environment, but in order to succeed it is necessary to follow the ways of the discourse community. Having conflicts with identity and the authority of the business can ultimately cause a person to lose their job. It is unfortunate Alan did not try to conform to the correct writing style, as I would have liked to see whether he could have succeeded had he tried harder to not be so stubborn.

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