Re: Info request on teaching TW (fairly long)

Subject: Re: Info request on teaching TW (fairly long)
From: Hillary Jones <hillary -at- NICHIMEN -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 15 Oct 1997 08:36:44 -0700


I taught tech writing for about three years (and one of those years was
in Oklahoma). Here's what I would say. (My generalizations about
students are based on juniors and seniors that I taught at two different

Don't be surprised if you have to start with the very basics of English.
My experience was that a lot of junior-level students had forgotten the
basic structure of a paragraph, and some of them didn't know what a
complete sentence was. You might consider starting with a small
assignment that will allow you to figure out where you'll have to start.
Then if it's necessary, you can teach a little about grammar and how to
put together a paragraph.

Another general tip: since your course is required, be sure that your
assignments are directly relevant to your students' future careers, and
continue to emphasize that relevance throughout the assignment! I found
that if I could demonstrate that they would be writing proposals or
whatever on the job, they were more cooperative and receptive in class.

> 1) What critical _knowledge_ should be emphasized?

Since you're teaching beginning tech writing, I'd say basic writing
knowledge is critical, i.e., what is a topic sentence, what is the basic
structure of a letter or report. Also the concept of audience -- this is
tough for students to grasp sometimes and they tend to write with
themselves as the audience. More advanced stuff like rhetoric, and
specialized knowledge like the definition of a transition and what the
parts of speech are -- maybe these aren't so critical. However, they
should learn to USE transitions -- see the next section.

> 2) What critical _skills_ should be emphasized?

Researching, presenting the results of that research, and explaining
their conclusions from that research. The biggest issue that I and my
fellow TW teachers commented on about our students: they don't
understand how to present logic, evidence, their thought process. This
is a skill they will need. They should learn to use transitions to show
how one section or paragraph relates to others. They should also learn
to explicate their reasoning really well -- they need to know that the
reasons they came to certain conclusions may not be crystal clear to
their readers.

Another skill they will need to learn is revision. This really is a
skill -- how do I sit down to something I wrote, identify its
weaknesses, and improve it? Paul Anderson's teaching materials provide
checklists for revising and these are good to start with, but the
students need to learn to make their own checklists and develop
techniques for revising.

> 3) What critical _experiences_ should be provided?

In my opinion, considering the fields of your students, critical
experiences would include writing a business letter, writing procedures,
and writing a proposal or report.

One last piece of advice: The semester is going to fly by! Don't cram it
full of so much stuff that you can't do anything thoroughly. But also,
don't go the other direction and make one project last the whole
semester -- your students will get really sick of a project if it lasts
longer than five or six weeks.

Hope this advice is helpful to you! Good luck!

Hillary Jones
hillary -at- nichimen -dot- com

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