Setting the Stage for Professionalism: Disrupting the Student Identity

Setting the Stage for Professionalism: Disrupting the Student Identity

Lynn Hanson (Francis Marion University, USA) and Meredith A. Love (Francis Marion University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-495-6.ch011
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This chapter discusses the problem of professional writing students transitioning from an academic environment to a work environment. Even the best students struggle in their upper-level courses as instructors expect a higher level of professionalism from their more advanced students. The authors argue that the conflict between the “student” identity and the “professional” identity should be made explicit in the writing classroom. Students can learn to develop and perform new professional roles by employing a theatrical approach, a disruptive innovation that adopts Constantin Stanislavsky’s system to the professional writing classroom. Although the approach begins as role-playing, the emphasis is on becoming the professional self. Specific assignments, projects, and student survey responses are discussed.
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For decades, professional writing researchers have struggled with the problem of student transition, knowing that students must be taught much more than the “basics” of writing in order to be successful in the workplace (Anson & Forsberg, 1990). As Paré (2002) has noted, “Some of the most common writing-course exhortations could be disastrous if followed in the workplace: avoid the passive voice, write clearly ... This advice ... might well cause serious problems for the worker operating as a member of the community” (p. 64), especially one in which workplace politics require carefully studied communications. There is little argument over the fact that professional writing must adhere to a standard of “correctness,” but what to teach in the classroom in order to best prepare students for their work as effective members of the workplace community is still a matter of debate.

In traditional educational models, college students in upper-level, discipline-specific courses learn the critical knowledge of the field and adopt the modes of thinking of its members. To become a true member of the disciplinary community, however, students must learn more than the “domain content” of a discipline (Geisler, 1994). They must learn the “rhetorical processes” of that discipline, or how that content is communicated. In other words, when the rhetorical processes are not explicated to students, the knowledge of a discipline and the actual doing of a discipline remain separate. As a result, many students become frustrated when their writing (which may be a perfectly fine student performance) is deemed unacceptable in their more advanced courses.

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