Week 13 – Situating Learning to Write

Freedman, Aviva, and Christine Adam. “Write Where You Are: Situating Learning to Write in University and Workplace Settings.” In Transactions Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings, edited by Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 2000.

 

The research completed by Freedman and Adam in “Write Where You Are” explores two types of situated learning described as “facilitated performance” and “attenuated authentic participation”.  The students in the facilitated performance group were undergraduates enrolled in a finance course; the novices in the attenuated authentic participation group were graduate students involved in full-time internships with government agencies. 

The students in the finance class learned discipline-specific writing.  Freedman and Adam found that the purpose and the goal of writing in this academic setting was geared almost entirely to “the learner and to the learner’s learning” (38).  The instructor would scaffold the students’ learning through modeling appropriate approaches to writing and asking numerous questions to help students look at information in particular ways.  Additionally, the students learned through collaborative performance through writing papers together. 

The interns, however, had a much different experience as they engaged in true workplace writing.  One key difference was that “no conscious attention [was] paid to the learner’s learning; all attention is directed to the task at hand and its successful completion” (45).  Because the experiences of the internship were not carefully structured and sequenced like a course curriculum, many of the interns had trouble adjusting to a less-structured environment.  This is primarily because the interns “did not necessarily recognize the opportunities for learning in the new setting because they [were] used to the way they learned in the old setting” (51). 

As a result of this unfamiliar setting, many of the interns experienced adverse emotions during the course of the internship.  I found it interesting that Freedman and Adam asserted that these feeling of “disjuncture, anxiety, or displacement” experienced by the interns “are inevitable, given the differing nature of the institutions, and not signs of student or school failure” (56).  This conclusion was especially surprising to me given the previous article I read by Johns about approaching teaching techniques in a way to better prepare students for the workplace.  Rather than agreeing with Johns, Feedman and Adam appear to almost shrug and claim that the workplace and the university are two discrete institutions; therefore, differences in student reactions to these drastically different environments is not something to be remedied.  I know that to some extent I struggled with this idea when I went from writing lesson plans during my education courses at UNT to actually planning lessons for my students at the high school.  The level of supervision, length and style of the documents, and practicality of incorporating methods into the classroom were drastically different from my student-teaching experience to actually running my own classroom.  Additionally, the differences between the logistics and expectations between school districts are even more pronounced; I was unprepared for the sharp difference between theoretically discussing classroom procedures and actually having to dismiss an unruly student from my class.

How can professors structure classes to make this transition from the classroom and into the workplace more smooth?

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