Granted, this is not the most beguiling blog post title. However, I was inspired by Priya’s recap of her work and decided to share my own musings about my first year as a Communication Fellow. My reflections quickly landed on scaffolding and revision, two foundational principles of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC). As a New Yorker I am not a fan of scaffolding. As an educator, I am a big proponent.
I have worked with three different professors who each teach Business Policy (BPL 5100) in very different ways. BPL 5100 classes require a final group presentation on a particular company, but this assignment is presented and evaluated differently professor to professor. While one professor might require a 40-minute presentation that includes an extensive explanation of financial indicators in an effort to determine if purchasing the company’s stock is a good recommendation, another professor might assign students a specific “critical issue” for a company and ask students to talk for twenty minutes about how the company could most effectively address the issue.
This semester I worked with Professor Cornelius Marx and I have been struck by how much assignment design has influenced student work. Professor Marx uses the “critical issue” premise, which helps focus students’ research efforts towards developing a strong argument. The key for me, though, is that Professor Marx assigns a paper in which the students, as a group, write up their research (an industry analysis, a list of possible alternatives for the company, recommendations for which alternatives to pursue, and implementation plans for those recommendations). Students submit revisions to help clarify their argument, add or remove feasible alternatives, and improve language skills. The paper is due long before the oral presentation and receives its own grade.
I asked Professor Marx about his approach and he explained that he’d made this pedagogical decision two years ago to help students avoid procrastination and to improve the overall quality of their work. He shared his perspective with how these WAC principles have worked in his classroom:
This increases the workload for me but the quality definitely improves. If the paper is put to rest before the oral is begun, the oral inevitably improves because they know their material much better… Of course there are still teams that do it at the last moment but the average quality of both paper and presentation has improved.
Because students came to their oral presentation rehearsal knowing more about their topic and their vision for the company, we were able to spend the rehearsal discussing the fundamentals of good public speaking: converting the written paper into listener-friendly speaking notes, connecting with the audience through eye contact and vocal clarity; proper introductions and conclusions; using transitions, internal previews, and summaries to create group cohesion; and the importance of consistent PowerPoint design.
As a former Teaching Fellow and current adjunct instructor at Baruch, I’ve often wondered if my students were really “getting it” and if scaffolding and revising were worth my additional efforts. It has been a heartening revelation to watch a more experienced professor’s pedagogical process and see its clear benefits.