As I was reading through “Change in Performance: Evidence from the Employees”, I noticed Haswell talked a lot about his research that compared the writing work of employees and college students. I wasn’t too surprised to find that the employees earned higher scores on the writing task than the college students. Thanks to Haswell’s acute awareness and interpretation of his findings, what I was surprised to find were how many similarities the students and employees shared in their writing: “More telling are some of the ways employees do not significantly differ from the students. They qualify no more assertions than students do, provide no more examples or allusions, write no longer paragraphs or introductions or conclusions, use no more active verbs, and produce no more dependent clauses or parallel structures” (84). This really begs the question: If the employees’ and the students’ writing shares so many similarities, how is it that the employees are demonstrating writing that seems significantly more competent than college students? And why?
Haswell’s discussion gets really interesting as he attempts to answer just those questions. The real-world writing tasks given to employees are very ‘pragmatic’, applicable, pertinent, and have Keith Grant-Davie’s rhetorical constituents: exigence, audience, rhetor, and constraints (In WAW, “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents”). When these elements actually exist for any given writing task, the need to write clearly, consistently, and maybe with more flow and cohesion (and with less focus on grammar and paragraphing, which Haswell discusses on p. 85 when he discusses professionals and how few revisions they make) the task of writing itself gains more relevance and thus may be perceived as more as a necessary task than just as a task ‘to earn a grade’. Each opportunity to have a real audience, and each time a real rhetor has real exigence, like in the work situation, the artificiality of writing disappears as a real need to improve writing and communication skills emerges.
Haswell tastefully critiques the use of models in writing; it is in his discussion of models that I found a fascinating connection between the teaching of writing models and the teaching that takes place at Del Mar in the beginning-level remedial writing classes. The two classes I observed focused heavily on teaching writing through models (sentence models and paragraphing models—heuristic rules like “you must start with a topic sentence and that sentence must contain XYZ”). When discussing the maturity of writers, Haswell writes that “they have been traveling on their own, acquiring skills rather than just being taught them (to use Stephen Krashen’s vital distinction)” (87). If all we focus on in the classroom is reaching students to model their writing instead of teaching them how to acquire writing skills and to use/change those skills as the rhetorical situation changes, haven’t we just given them the fish and not taught them how to fish? Haswell uses the work of other scholars to support his argument that the employee writers aren’t too concerned, necessarily, with things like topic sentences, the revision process, and explicit transitional markers (85). Yet, these things are often reiterated and ‘skilled-and-drilled’ in many composition and basic writing classes. So then, I ask, how do students successfully transition into the work world as competent writers, and how is teaching writing models supposed to foster writing competency for the students’ future roles in workplaces?