This article introduces an innovative method of training in writing skills in content areas for college students. The method involves the use of a peer-review panel to encourage students to write in-class essays in academic and professional formats. The basic features are: Students take the instructor's perspective; they internalize class performance standards; and thus, they voluntarily incorporate those standards in their attitudes toward instruction as well as in their learning behaviors.
Writing affords students an indispensable tool to record what they have learned and observed, to express what they have experienced in their inner world, and, most importantly, to embark on new projects on the basis of learning (Hayes & Flower, 1980; Shaw, 1999). Training students with appropriate writing skills is a major task in all levels of education. On college and university campuses, as more and more students come from diverse backgrounds and with inadequate academic preparation, instructors have to explore into and experiment with more and more innovative and effective methods in both content course teaching and basic skill training (Creigh, 1977/8; Demicell, 1979; Dobie, 1993; Haas & Smoke, 1990; Hendriks & Quinn, 2000; McNaughton, Hughes, & Clark, 1997; Shaw, 2002). Although styles of learning that arise from general education naturally make their way to specific student groups, modes of teaching that emerge from special education, such as areas of learning assistance and developmental education, may find their appeals and applications in larger student populations as well (Avinger, Hatcher, Fischer, & O'Rear, 1998; Burkhalter, 2000; Chand, 1985; Livingston, 1996; McAndrew & Williamson, 1985; Mullin, 1998; Schiff, 1980).
In my classes, I train students in writing skills through a wide variety of writing exercises, including in-class question-answering essays, weekly journals, conference abstracts, journal article summaries, news item analyses, book reviews, theme topic essays, research project reports, and analytical term papers.
For each writing project, I first provide students with clear directions for content and structure. For example, directions for a news item analysis instruct students to (a) identify a news report related to a predesignated theme topic in a national newspaper; (b) analyze that report using concepts or theories learned from the class; and (c) propose a new approach, different from the journalist approach critiqued in the analysis, to the key issue touched upon by the news report. Second, I allow students to search the literature for publications by the instructor. Published work by the instructor serves students not only as an explicit model, but also as a powerful source of inspiration for their exercise in academic and professional writings. Third, in small graduate seminars, I ask students to write presentation proposals. I then work one on one with them to rewrite their drafts and submit their final proposals for presentation consideration in formal academic conferences. Students are amazed to see how their original drafts can be drastically changed to fit into the standard format of academic writings. Finally, I encourage students in all classes to start their writing assignments early enough in the semester so that they have a draft to solicit comments from the instructor as well as from their friends, colleagues, former teachers, and significant others.
Despite these diverse efforts, few students closely follow the instructor's guidance, actively seek advice from the instructor, or in the end turn in a quality writing product. In fact, the majority tend to write their papers in the last several days of the semester; they are reluctant to show their papers to anyone; and they hand in their writing assignments to face whatever consequence …