Teaching Strategies

Teaching writing, especially for mass communications, can be very challenging for even the most seasoned veterans. The difficulty mainly lies in unlearning students. Since the 5th grade, students have been learning the five paragraph essay and traditional English grammar rules. Now, in their 15th year of school, you have to teach them new writing formats, new grammar rules and new ways of thinking about writing. In essence, you have to teach them a new language that has just enough in common with the old language to make things really confusing.

What follows is a list of 10 teaching strategies, gathered from both research and from personal experience. Keep in mind that these strategies are primarily for teaching collegiate-level students in beginning writing classes. However, most of these strategies can be adapted to higher-level courses, and even some writing courses that don’t deal with mass communications.

Strategy 1: Understand your students are often learning something brand new.
Unlike college algebra or American history, your students probably have had no prior experience writing for mass communications. That’s why it is best to treat teaching writing for mass communications as if you were teaching a foreign language. For many of your students, it will be.

Strategy 2: Emphasize that proofreading is just as important as good writing.
In the first week of my class, I always tell my students, “I can’t make you great writers in 14 weeks, but you can make yourselves great editors by putting effort into doing so.” With the exception of those who have an extraordinary knack for it, students will need several semesters, and maybe several years, to become truly effective mass communicators. But editing is simply a matter of hard work.

Strategy 3: Always provide some positive feedback.
Wilbert McKeachie maintains that specific comments lead to greater learning, but balancing encouragement and criticism is the key. When writing comments on your students’ papers, always try to point out any improvements they may have made, such as organization, less grammatical errors, etc… It can help soften the blow for more serious errors, and prevent them from becoming discouraged.

Strategy 4: Encourage students to get one-on-one feedback.
Helpful comments or criticisms on a piece of paper may not always work, especially with tough problems. Fifteen minutes of one-on-one interaction can help more than several writing labs, where your time is divided among all of your students.

Strategy 5: Have your students read the newspaper(s) every day.
Dr. Julie Dodd, of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, recommends that students should read the newspaper at least 20 minutes every day (http://grove.ufl.edu/~mmc2100). This could be the campus newspaper, online newspapers or any other newspaper they have access to. Most college libraries and bookstores/coffee houses have several newspapers they could read for free. Encourage them to do so. You may even offer extra credit in the form of current events quizzes or the discovery of spelling/factual errors.

Strategy 6: Bring your own media writing experiences into the classroom.
Dodd also recommends this in her teaching guide for lab instructors by noting that students often mention how “real-world” examples are particularly useful. In my class, I often share with them stories or news releases I have done, even when I was writing at their level. Critique your work together, and let them poke a little fun at any mistakes you might have made.

Strategy 7: Make the students search for answers.
When a student asks me an AP style question, my first response is “Where did you look for it in the stylebook?” By making students look for answers, they will be more likely to remember what the answers were. Plus, it makes them rely on tools (such as the AP stylebook) that they will have forever. They won’t have you when they move on to a profession.

Strategy 8: Use the time before they write effectively.
Carole Rich suggests coaching students before every writing assignment, even if it is only for a few minutes. I teach a three-hour lab, and I usually spend about 45 minutes lecturing beforehand. This lecture usually consists of:
Addressing strengths and weaknesses in the previous assignment;
Letting them know how to prepare for next week’s assignment;
Discussing how this assignment fits into the broad media picture;
Specifically discussing the details of the night’s assignment.

Strategy 9: Encourage students to get published.
This could be in the local newspaper, the campus newspaper, or just about anywhere else. Just help them get a byline! The feeling of accomplishment they will feel will only be surpassed by the practical experience they receive. Remember, we are not training them to be students, but to be professionals. This also goes for PR students. There are several non-profits in every town that could use to have some news releases written.

Strategy 10: Evaluate your own work, not just theirs.
At the end of every semester (or quarter), conduct a personal teaching audit. Ask yourself what worked, what didn't and what can be done about it. Examine which assignments caused the most difficulty for both you and the students. Then ask yourself if the difficulty was a result of your own actions or methods. Make adjustments and repeat the process. As McKeachie points out, "Change is the constant companion of professors" (p. 256).

This site was created by Eric Piper

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