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Amateurs need explicit knowledge — not platitudes

I shared my position on the use of short lectures in a writing class a couple of days ago. But I told only part of the story from the video lecture-tutorial + teaching note that will be published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Education.

The amateurs in my courses depend on me to make a professional’s tacit knowledge of writing explicit. A few of them will intuit that knowledge while reading and writing on their own. For those few, platitudes like “don’t take the bait when handling a hostile audience” are adequate. For the rest, platitudes are too vague and samples of effective tone in writing are too idiosyncratic to actually TEACH them anything. So that’s what my lectures do — provide explicit knowledge of what it means to not “take the bait.” While understanding concepts like tone is not the end goal of professional writing courses, such understanding provides a scaffold for the more sophisticated learning goals which are: the ability to achieve professional goals through written communication.

I mention both Bloom’s taxonomy and the Structure of Observed Learning Outcome taxonomy in my teaching note. But Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory best captures the philosophy behind my use of lectures. It’s the basis of the figure in this post. For example, the lecture-tutorial on tone is needed because my students must conceptualize formality level, reader-orientation, directness level, and presuppositions before they can experiment with tone in their own documents and experience success with workplace readers.

Kolb’s learning cycle captures the fact that amateurs require multiple attempts or cycles of learning to achieve proficiency in complex skills. It signifies that the tone lecture-tutorial can provide a scaffold for students while they are involved in two phases of the learning cycle within a professional writing course. For active experimentation, some sample course activities would include:

  • completing short tone exercises (1a)
  • analyzing tone in sample texts (2a)
  • writing a text (3a)

For abstract conceptualization, some examples might include:

  • identifying formality level after sharing exercise answers in class (1d)
  • relating feedback on text analysis to formality level (2d)
  • applying formality level to feedback on the draft of a text (3d)

I feel obligated to provide instructional lectures on topics like tone as a means of guiding HOW my students think about the effectiveness of workplace documents. I also feel obligated to supply material based on research rather than personal opinion. So my lecture-tutorial explains four aspects of tone based on applied linguistic research.

Tone must be understood before it can be applied in exercises involving sentences and paragraphs from professional texts (see 1a in the figure), used to evaluate the quality of texts (see 2a in the figure), or implemented effectively when creating a document (see 3a in the figure). A few students can do these tasks without me. For the rest, I am responsible for providing explicit knowledge.

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