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A Special Section on Accountability A Balanced School Accountability Model: An Alternative to High-Stakes Testing The health of our public schools, Mr. Jones argues, depends on defining a new model of accountability — one that is balanced and comprehensive. And it needs be one that involves much more than test scores. BY KEN JONES F OR SOME time now, it has been apparent to many in the education community that state and federal policies intended to develop greater school accountability for the learning of all students have been terribly counterproductive. The use of high-stakes testing of students has been fraught with flawed assumptions, oversimplified understandings of school realities, undemocratic concentration of power, undermining of the teaching profession, and predictably disastrous consequences for our most vulnerable students. Far from the noble ideal of leaving no child behind, current policies, if continued, are bound to increase existing inequities, trivialize schooling, and misKEN JONES is the director of teacher education, University of Southern Maine, Gorham. 584 PHI DELTA KAPPAN lead the public about the quality and promise of public education. What is needed is a better means for evaluating schools, an alternative to the present system of using high-stakes testing for school accountability. A new model, based on a different set of assumptions and understandings about school realities and approaches to power, is required. It must be focused on the needs of learners and on the goals of having high expectations for all rather than on the prerequisites of a bureaucratic measurement system. PREMISES In the realm of student learning, the question of outcomes has often been considered primary: what do we want students to know and be able to do as a result of schooling? Once the desired outcomes have been specified, school reform efforts have proceeded to address the thorny questions of how to attain them. Starting from desired outcomes is an important shift in how to think about what does or does not make sense in classroom instruction. In the realm of school accountability, however, little attention has been paid to corresponding outcome-related questions. It has simply been assumed that schools should be accountable for improved student learning, as measured by external test scores. It has been largely assumed by policy makers that external tests do, in fact, adequately measure student learning. These and other assumptions about school accountability must be questioned if we are to develop a more successful accountability model. It would be well to start from basic questions about the purposes and audiences of schools. For what, to whom, and by what means should schools be held accountable? The following answers to these questions provide a set of premises on which a new school accountability system can be based. For what should schools be accountable? Schools should be held accountable for at least the following: • The physical and emotional well-being of students. The caring aspect of school is essential to high-quality education. Parents expect that their children will be safe in schools and that adults in schools will tend to their affective as well as cognitive needs. In addition, we know that learning depends on a caring school climate that nurtures positive relationships. • Student learning. Student learning is complex and multifaceted. It includes acquiring not only knowledge of disciplinary subject matter but also the think- ing skills and dispositions needed in a modern democratic society. • Teacher learning. Having a knowledgeable and skilled teacher is the most significant factor in student learning and should be fostered in multiple ways, compatible with the principles of adult learning. Schools must have sufficient time and funding to enable teachers to improve their own performance, according to professional teaching standards. • Equity and access. Given the history of inequity with respect to minority and underserved student populations, schools must be accountable for placing a special emphasis on improving equity and access, providing fair opportunities for all to learn to high standards. Our press for excellence must include a press for fairness. • Improvement. Schools should be expected to function as learning organizations, continuously engaged in self-assessment and adjustment in an effort to meet the needs of their students. The capacity to do so must be ensured and nurtured. To whom should schools be accountable? Schools should be held accountable to their primary clients: students, parents, and the local community. Current accountability systems make the state and federal governments the locus of power and decision making. But the primary clients of schools should be empowered to make decisions about the ends of education, not just the means, provided there are checks to ensure equity and access and adherence to professional standards for teaching. By what means should schools be held accountable? To determine how well schools are fulfilling their responsibilities, multiple measures should be used. Measures of school accountability should include both qualitative and quantitative approaches, taking into account local contexts, responsiveness to student and community needs, and professional practices and standards. Because schools are complex and unique institutions that address multiple societal needs, there should also be allowances for local measures, customized to meet local needs and concerns. A standardized approach toward school accountability cannot work in a nation as diverse as the U.S. Given these premises, what are the proper roles of a government-developed and publicly funded school accountability system? • It should serve to improve student learning and school practices and to ensure equity and access, not to reward or punish schools. APRIL 2004 585 • It should provide guidance and information for local decision making, not classify schools as successes or failures. • It should reflect a democratic approach, including a balance of responsibility and power among different levels of government. A BALANCED MODEL An accountability framework called the “balanced scorecard” is currently employed in the business world and provides a useful perspective for schools.1 This framework consists of four areas that must be evaluated to give a comprehensive view of the health of an organization. The premise is that both outcomes and operations must be measured if the feedback system is to be used to improve the organization, not just monitor it. In the business context, the four components of the framework are: 1) financial, 2) internal business, 3) customer, and 4) innovation and learning. Applying this four-part approach to education, we can use the following aspects of school performance as the components of a balanced school accountability model: 1) student learning; 2) opportunity to learn; 3) responsiveness to students, parents, and community; and 4) organizational capacity for improvement. Each of these aspects must be attended to and fostered by an evaluation system that has a sufficiently high resolution to take into account the full complexity and scope of modern-day schools. 1. Student learning. Principles of high-quality assessment have been well articulated by various organizations and should be followed.2 What is needed is a system that • is primarily intended to improve student learning; • aligns with local curricula; • emphasizes applied learning and thinking skills, not just declarative knowledge and basic skills; • embodies the principle of multiple measures, including a variety of formats such as writing, open-response questions, and performance-based tasks; and • is accessible to students with diverse learning styles, intelligence profiles, exceptionalities, and cultural backgrounds. Currently, there is a mismatch between what cognitive science and brain research have shown about human learning and how schools and educational bureaucracies continue to measure learning.3 We now know that human intellectual abilities are malleable and that people learn through a social and cultural process of con586 PHI DELTA KAPPAN structing knowledge and understandings in given contexts. And yet we continue to conduct schooling and assessment guided by the outdated beliefs that intelligence is fixed, that knowledge exists apart from culture and context, and that learning is best induced through the behaviorist model of stimulus/response. Scientific measurement cannot truly “objectify” learning and rate it hierarchically. Accurate decisions about the quality and depth of an individual’s learning must be based on human judgment. While test scores and other assessment data are useful and necessary sources of information, a fair assessment of a person’s learning can be made only by other people, preferably by those who know the person best in his or her own context. A reasonable process for determining the measure of student learning could involve local panels of teachers, parents, and community members, who review data about student performance and make decisions about promotion, placement, graduation, and so on. What is missing in most current accountability systems is not just a human adjudication system, but also a local assessment component that addresses local curricula, contexts, and cultures. A large-scale external test is not sufficient to determine a student’s achievement. District, school, and classroom assessments must also be developed as part of a comprehensive means of collecting data on student learning. The states of Maine and Nebraska are currently developing just such systems.4 Most important, locally developed assessments depend on the knowledge and “assessment literacy” of teachers.5 Most teachers have not been adequately trained in assessment and need substantial and ongoing professional development to create valid and reliable tasks and build effective classroom assessment repertoires. This means that an investment must be made in teach- er learning about assessment. The T H E L O S A N G E L E S C O U N T Y O F F I C E O F E D U C AT I O N P R E S E N T S value of such an investment is not only in the promise of improved PARENT EXPECTATIONS SUPPORT ACHIEVEMENT (PESA) classroom instruction and measureFacilitator training for parent workshop leaders ment. Research also shows that imHelp parents prepare their children for success. proved classroom assessment results Become a Certified PESA Facilitator and lead parent workshops at your school! in improved student achievement on 6 PESA fulfills the requirement of providing parent involvement activities to improve student external tests. academic achievement and school performance for the federal reform legislation of Last, the need to determine the efthe No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Title I, Sec. 1118. Parent Involvement) fectiveness of the larger state school PESA facilitator workshops are available in English, Spanish, and Chinese. system can either support or underPESA Facilitator Trainings are scheduled for: mine such local efforts. If state or Sept. 7-8, 2004 Chicago, IL federal agencies require data to be Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2004 San Francisco, CA aggregated from local to state levels, Jan. 20-21, 2005 Palmdate, CA Feb. 1-2, 2005 Houston, TX local decision making is necessarily Mar. 15-16, 2005 Brooklyn, NY weakened, and an undue emphasis is placed on standardized methods. • The $300 registration fee includes the 2-day training, PESA Facilitator Manual, If, however, the state and federal instructional video, interaction wall chart, and refreshments. agencies do not rely on local assess• Please call (800) 566-6651 for a Registration Form with locations. ment systems to gauge the health Discount for on-site PESA Facilitator Trainings. To request a registration form or addtional information regarding of the larger system, much may be the TESA or PESA programs, please call (800)566-6651. gained. In New Zealand, for example, a system of educational moniLook for the TESA training schedule on page 581 of this issue. toring is in place that uses matrix E-mail: tesa_pesa@lacoe.edu Website: www.lacoe.edu/PESA sampling on tasks that include oneto-one videotaped interviews, team tasks, and independent tasks. 7 No stakes are entailed How should we define and put into practice our understanding of opportunity to learn? How will we measfor schools or students. The data are profiled and shared with schools for the purpose of teacher professional de- ure it? How can an accountability system foster it? velopment and as a means of developing model tasks At a minimum, one might expect that schools and for local assessments. Such a system supports rather than school systems will provide qualified teachers, adequate undermines local assessment efforts. instructional materials, and sound facilities. This is the 2. Opportunity to learn. How can students be ex- contention in a recent lawsuit, Williams v. State of Calipected to meet high standards if they are not given a fornia, in which the plaintiffs argued for an accountfair opportunity to learn? This question has yet to be ability system that is reciprocal — that is, while schools answered with respect to school accountability. Schools are held accountable for performance, the state is held should be accountable for providing equitable oppor- accountable for ensuring adequate resources.8 tunities for all students to learn, and we must develop But there is more to this issue than just funding. ways to determine how well they do so. Jeannie Oakes describes a framework that includes opAt the heart of the matter is that the responsibility portunity-to-learn indicators for access to knowledge, for opportunity to learn must be shared by the district professional teaching conditions, and “press for achieveand state. The inequitable funding of public schools, ment.”9 Linda Darling-Hammond stresses the “fair and particularly the disparity between the schools of the humane treatment” of students in a set of standards haves and those of the have-nots, places the schools of for professional practice.10 disadvantaged students in unjust and often horrifying As such standards for opportunity to learn are arcircumstances. Over the past decade, there have been ticulated, the question arises as to how to monitor and lawsuits in various states attempting to redress this im- report on them. Clearly, the degree of adherence to these balance, which is largely a result of dependence on prop- standards cannot be determined through the proxy of erty taxes for school funding. Yet not a great deal of testing. It is necessary to conduct observations in schools progress has been made. and classrooms and to evaluate the quality both of inAPRIL 2004 587 dividual teachers and of the school as a whole. Teacher evaluation has received a great deal of criticism for being ineffective. The hit-and-run observations that principals typically conduct do little to determine whether teachers are meeting established professional teaching standards. Unions have been described as more interested in protecting their membership than in ensuring high-quality teaching. A promising development that has potential for breaking through this impasse is the recent initiation of peer-review processes by a number of teacher unions. Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association and director of the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN), has been a leader in advocating for and implementing such teacher evaluation processes. In a recent unpublished manuscript, he describes how the process should work: • Some classroom observation by peers and supervisors, structured by a narrative instrument (not a checklist) based on professional standards such as those of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and framed by the teacher’s goals for the lesson/unit; • Information from previous evaluations and feedback, such as structured references from colleagues and other supervisors; • Portfolios that might include examples of teaching syllabi, assignments made, feedback given to students and samples of student work, feedback received from parents and students as well as colleagues, data on student progress, teaching exhibitions such as videotaped teaching samples, professional development initiatives taken, and structured self-evaluation. All summative evaluation decisions about promotions or continued employment should be made by a specially established committee of teachers and administrators. Urbanski goes on to describe safeguards for due process and for preventing malpractice. He also describes how such a process could be used in conjunction with professional development for improving teaching and school practice.11 In order to evaluate the performance of a school as a whole, a school review process will be necessary. Variations of inspectorates and school-quality reviews have been developed in New York, Rhode Island, Maine, and other states, as well as in Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and other countries.12 In order for such reviews 588 PHI DELTA KAPPAN to serve the purpose of school improvement, the data should be collected in a “critical friend” manner, through a combination of school self-assessment and collegial visitations. Findings from such a process should not be employed in a bureaucratic and judgmental way but rather should be given as descriptions to local councils charged with evaluating school accountability. As with all aspects of any school renewal initiative, the quality and effectiveness of a review system will depend on the time, resources, and institutional support given to it. Who will ensure that adequate opportunities to learn are present in schools? As described below, a system of reciprocal accountability must be set up so that both local accountability councils and the state itself serve to “mind the store” for all students. The issue of equitable funding will undoubtedly be resolved through the courts. 3. Responsiveness to students, parents, and community. Current accountability systems move power and decision making away from the primary clients of the education system and more and more toward state and federal agencies. As high-stakes testing dictates the curriculum, less and less choice is available for students. Parent or community concerns about what is happening in the classroom and to the students have become less important to schools than meeting state mandates. As the primary stakeholders in the schools, parents and communities must be made part of the effort to hold schools accountable. There are many examples of local community organizations, especially in urban areas, that have taken on the task of insisting that schools are responsive to the needs of children.13 To demonstrate responsiveness to students, parents, and the community, schools must go beyond spon- soring parent/teacher organizations or encouraging parent involvement as a means to gain support for existing school practices. They must also do more than gather survey information about stakeholders’ satisfaction. True accountability to the primary clients for schools entails shifting power relationships. Local school-based councils must be created that have real power to effect school change. These councils would review accountability information from state and local assessments as well as from school-quality review processes and make recommendations to school boards about school policies and priorities. They would hold school boards accountable for the development and implementation of school improvement plans. Phillip Schlechty discusses how such councils might work: Community leaders who are concerned about the futures of their communities and their schools should join together to create a nonprofit corporation intended to support efforts of school leaders to focus on the future and to ensure that lasting values as well as immediate interests are included in the education decision-making process. It would also be the function of this group to establish a small subgroup of the community’s most trusted leaders who would annually evaluate the performance of the school board as stewards of the common good and would make these evaluations known to the community. . . . In a sense, the relationship between the school district and the monitoring function of the new corporation should be something akin to the relationship between the quality assurance division of a corporation and the operating units in the corporation. . . . When the data indicate that goals are not being met, the president of the corporation, working with the superintendent and the board of education, would seek to discover why this was the case, and would seek as well to create new approaches that might enhance the prospect of achieving the stated goals and the intended ends. It is not intended that the new corporation simply identify problems and weaknesses, it is intended that the leaders of this organization also participate in the creation of solutions and participate in creating support for solutions once they have been identified or created.14 Communities must determine how to sustain such councils and ensure that they do not pursue narrow agendas. The composition of councils in urban settings will probably be different from those in rural or suburban settings. Standards and acceptable variations for councils will be important topics for public discussion. 4. Organizational capacity. If schools are going to be held accountable to high levels of performance, the question arises: Do schools have the internal capacity to rise to those levels? To what degree are the resources of schools “organized into a collective enterprise, with shared commitment and collaboration among staff to achieve a clear purpose for student learning”?15 The issue of meaningful and ongoing teacher professional development is especially pertinent to whether or not schools are capable of enabling all students to meet higher standards of performance. A great deal of research has shed light on what kind of professional development is most effective in promoting school improvement.16 Schools must also attend to the issue of teacher empowerment. Teachers are increasingly controlled and disempowered in various ways. This leads to a declining sense of efficacy and professionalism and a heightened sense of job dissatisfaction and has become a factor in the attrition that is contributing to the growing teaching shortage. 17 Principals must share leadership with teachers and others as a means of sustaining capacity. To be an effective collective enterprise, a school must develop an internal accountability system. That is, it must take responsibility for developing goals and priorities based on the ongoing collection and analysis of data, it must monitor its performance, and it must report its findings and actions to its public. Many schools have not moved past the stage of accepting individual teacher responsibility rather than collective responsibility as the norm. 18 States and districts must cooperate with schools to nurture and insist upon the development of such collective internal norms. THE NEW ROLE OF THE STATE For a balanced model of school accountability to succeed, there must be a system in which states and districts are jointly responsible with schools and communities for student learning. Reciprocal accountability is needed: one level of the system is responsible to the others, and all are responsible to the public. The role of state and federal agencies with respect to school accountability is much in need of redefinition. Agencies at these levels should not serve primarily in an enforcement role. Rather, their roles should be to establish standards for local accountability sysAPRIL 2004 589 tems, to provide resources and guidance, and to set in place processes for quality review of such systems. Certainly there should be no high-stakes testing from the state and federal levels, no mandatory curricula, and no manipulation through funding. Where there are clear cases of faulty local accountability systems — those lacking any of the four elements discussed above (appropriate assessment systems; adequate opportunities to learn; responsiveness to students, parents, and community; or organizational capacity) — supportive efforts from the state and federal levels should be undertaken. Are there any circumstances in which a state should intervene forcibly in a school or district? If an accountability system is to work toward school improvement for all schools, does that system not need such “teeth”? This question must be addressed in a way that acknowledges the multi-level nature of this school accountability model. One might envision at least three cases in which the state would take on a more assertive role: 1) to investigate claims or appeals from students, parents, or the community that the local accountability system is not meeting the standards set for such systems; 2) to require local schools and districts to respond to findings in the data that show significant student learning deficiencies, inequity in the opportunities to learn for all students, or lack of responsiveness to students, parents, or communities; and 3) to provide additional resources and guidance to improve the organizational capacity of the local school or district. Is it conceivable that a state might take over a local school or district in this model? Yes, but only after the most comprehensive evaluation of the local accountability system has shown that there is no alternative — and then only on a temporary basis. It is of great importance to the health of our public schools that we begin as soon as possible to define a new model for school accountability, one that is balanced and comprehensive. Schools can and should be held accountable to their primary clients for much more than test scores, in a way that supports improvement rather than punishes deficiencies. The current model of using high-stakes testing is a recipe for public school failure, putting our democratic nation at risk. 1. Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, “The Balanced Scorecard — Measures That Drive Performance,” Harvard Business Review, January/ February 1992, pp. 71-79. 2. National Forum on Assessment, Principles and Indicators for Student Assessment Systems (Boston: FairTest, 1993), available at www.fairtest. 590 PHI DELTA KAPPAN org/k-12.htm. 3. Lorrie A. Shepard, “The Role of Assessment in a Learning Culture,” Educational Researcher, October 2000, pp. 4-14. 4. Debra Smith and Lynne Miller, Comprehensive Local Assessment Systems (CLASs) Primer: A Guide to Assessment System Design and Use (Gorham: Southern Maine Partnership, University of Southern Maine, 2003), available at www.usm.maine.edu/smp/tools/primer.htm; and “Nebraska School-Based, Teacher-Led Assessment Reporting System (STARS),” www.nde.state.ne.us/stars/index.html. 5. Richard J. Stiggins, Student-Centered Classroom Assessment (Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1997). 6. Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam, “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment,” Phi Delta Kappan, October 1998, pp. 139-48; and Paul Black et al., Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom (London, U.K.: Department of Educational and Professional Studies, King’s College, 2002). 7. Terry Crooks, “Design and Implementation of a National Assessment Programme: New Zealand’s National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP),” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education, Toronto, May 2002. 8. Jeannie Oakes, “Education Inadequacy, Inequality, and Failed State Policy: A Synthesis of Expert Reports Prepared for Williams v. State of California,” 2003, available at www.decentschools.org/experts.php. 9. Jeannie Oakes, “What Educational Indicators? The Case for Assessing the School Context,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Summer 1989, pp. 181-99. 10. Linda Darling-Hammond, Standards of Practice for Learning Cen tered Schools (New York: National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, Teachers College, 1992). 11. Adam Urbanski, “Teacher Professionalism and Teacher Accountability: Toward a More Genuine Teaching Profession,” unpublished manuscript, 1998. 12. Jacqueline Ancess, Outside/Inside, Inside/Outside: Developing and Implementing the School Quality Review (New York: National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching, Teachers College, 1996); New Zealand Education Review Office, Frameworks for Reviews in Schools, available at www.ero.govt.nz/EdRevInfo/Schedrevs/SchoolFramework. htm; Debra R. Smith and David J. Ruff, “Building a Culture of Inquiry: The School Quality Review Initiative,” in David Allen, ed., Assessing Student Learning: From Grading to Understanding (New York: Teachers College Press,1998), pp. 164-82. 13. Kavitha Mediratte, Norm Fruchter, and Anne C. Lewis, Organizing for School Reform: How Communities Are Finding Their Voice and Reclaiming Their Public Schools (New York: Institute for Education and Social Policy, Steinhardt School of Education, New York University, October 2002). 14. Phillip Schlechty, Systemic Change and the Revitalization of Public Education (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, forthcoming). 15. Fred M. Newmann, M. Bruce King, and Mark Rigdon, “Accountability and School Performance: Implications from Restructuring Schools,” Harvard Educational Review, Spring 1997, p. 47. 16. Judith Warren Little, “Teachers’ Professional Development in a Climate of Educational Reform,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, vol. 15, 1993, pp. 129-51; and Milbrey W. McLaughlin and Joan Talbert, Professional Communities and the Work of High School Teaching (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001). 17. Richard M. Ingersoll, Who Controls Teachers’ Work? Power and Accountability in America’s Schools (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003). 18. Charles Abelman et al., When Accountability Knocks, Will Anyone Answer? (Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania, CPRE Research Report Series RR-42, 1999). K Copyright of Phi Delta Kappan is the property of Phi Delta Kappa International and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education http://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/ 2018, Volume 30, Number 2, 322-333 ISSN 1812-9129 The Classroom as Think Tank: Small Groups, Authentic Exercises, and Instructional Scaffolding in an Advanced Writing Course Arlene Peltola Long Island University A recent (2015) study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Managers concluded that nearly half of US employers, across industries, believe recent college graduates to be lacking in requisite competencies for communication, broadly, and writing, in particular. This paper describes an advanced writing course in public relations that seeks to ameliorate this proficiency gap by using experiential learning modules, small group learning methods, authentic exercises, and instructional scaffolding techniques to improve student writing and promote workplace readiness. The module series, Writer’s Bootcamp, is a short, intensive, and rigorous collaborative among students and instructor aimed at shaping independence and aptitude in writing. Authentic exercises, derived from real-time, real-world situations, were assigned. Students in small groups worked together to appropriate the piece (from the PR Toolbox, a collection of trade writing), collaboratively script, and present a response in thirty minutes. An assessment of learning outcomes involving the programmatic writing rubric, critical incident reports (verbal), and a reflection instrument (written) indicates the Bootcamp as engaging, gratifying, and transformative by students. Limitations are discussed followed by implications for teaching and learning in upper-level, pre-professional writing courses. An advanced writing course in the College of Arts, Communications, and Design is requisite for public relations majors at a midsize, private university in New York. The curriculum requires intermediate proficiency in writing as a starting point, as demonstrated by the satisfactory completion of its prerequisite, Writing for Public Relations I. Learning objectives in the advanced course emphasize both on-the-spot writing and the application of strategic thinking to written communication. The duplicitous nature of this aim – to help foster a quick, agile written response, as well as cultivate a cogitative, tactical capacity for writing – can pose a problem for instructors. In the field of public relations, there is voluntary accreditation; however, the profession does not require a license to practice in America as in other fields (e.g., medicine, law, real estate, and accounting). Scholars, therefore, keep a close eye on practitioners’ requirements to ensure that their students are adequately prepared for the workplace. Evidence from the profession, however, suggests a marked deficiency in communicative competence (written and oral) among new graduates. This study describes how student learning in an advanced writing course accelerated when experiential learning modules in an active, small group format were introduced halfway through the semester (week seven). Students (n=19) enrolled in the course were third- and fourth-year matriculates in the public relations program (B.F.A. in Public Relations) and varied in age, gender and ethnicity. To evaluate the efficacy of two distinct teaching modalities—lecture / discussion and active small groups / authentic exercises—student writing completed independently outside of class during weeks one through six was assessed at mid-term and measured against writing completed collaboratively in class during weeks seven through twelve. Factors contributing to learning episodes were analyzed by the use of a programmatic grading rubric, verbal critical incident reports, instructional scaffolding, and written reflective exercises. Evidences of student learning and improved writing aptitude were remarkable: on average up 1.5 letter grades from mid-term, as students engaged with each other and the real-time business situations with which they were tasked. The Case for Communicative Competence Despite academia’s best efforts, there remains a gap in communication skills desired by business practitioners and those delivered by new graduates. Conrad and Newberry (2012) have suggested that this may be the result of practitioners demanding outcomes-based, functional skills and academics teaching the basic, formal fundamentals of communication. Although there is general agreement on the importance of business communication skills and on the need to include them in the business curriculum (Du-Babcock, 2006), growing evidence indicates a substantial number of inadequately prepared entry-level applicants in this area. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (2015) identified the main deficiency in workplace readiness, across industries, to be communicative in nature: 49% of all human resource managers surveyed agree that oral and written communication skills are lacking, with 27% stating that applicants have insufficient skills in written communication and 22% citing ineptitude in verbal discourse. A review of the literature reveals a slow-budding crisis in workforce preparedness when it comes to Peltola Classroom as Think Tank writing for the business professions. Earlier studies (Society of Human Resource Management [SHRM], 2009; National Commission on Writing, 2004) have indicated that, while writing remains a “threshold skill” for hiring and promotion, less than one third of employees, current and new, possess the writing skills that their organizations value. Moreover, a significant number of firms reported that although the writing skills of new applicants (recent graduates) were generally considered unsatisfactory, few employers provided training in this area. This gap between what is needed and what is provided in the world of business is further exacerbated in the realm of public relations. Specialization is growing, assert public relations professionals (Public Relations Society of America [PRSA], 2011), and while writing and research skills remain vital to the profession, today’s PR practitioner must wield the tools of both traditional and new media in order to communicate quickly and accurately to both broad global audiences and specific local constituencies (Neill & Lee, 2016). Content creation is in demand; and writing effective content—words which resonate with a specified target—is a highly valued skill. Industry leaders agree that “learning how to grapple with and capitalize on the new ways people create and consume content is the newest challenge in PR” (Greene, 2015, p. 5). The expanse and importance of public relations’ communication (e.g., media relations, online communications, integrative marketing, special events, product and brand messaging, crisis management, influencer communications, and community relations) underscores the need for academics and PR practitioners to collaborate in preparing public relations majors for the workplace. PR professionals spend a great deal of time communicating in a variety of forms, including face-to-face and written, and in a variety of media. The observation, understanding, and instruction of these key skills can improve the often-underrated art of communication, an art at the epicenter of every working day. Literature in the fields of business communication and public relations practice recognizes the lack of preparedness of new graduates with respect to written communication skills, despite a consensus among practitioners and academics of those skills sets’ importance. Thus, based on recent emphasis of outcomes-based initiatives, I set out to provide structure to what was otherwise missing in the classroom. This resembled a cooperative think tank environment and involved a writing curriculum designed to teach effective organizational behavior, interpersonal relationships, work processes, and communicative competence. Theoretical Framework Revisions to the advanced writing curriculum, introduced in week seven, integrated small group learning methods, authentic exercises, and instructional scaffolding. 323 Characteristics of Small Group Learning Small group learning (SGL) is a learning method that places students at the center of the learning process, allowing them to negotiate meanings, express themselves in the language of the subject, and establish more familiar contact with instructors than formal lecture methods permit (Borůvková & Emanovsky, 2016). A small group structure in the classroom often works to help distribute the cognitive load among the members of the group, taking advantage of students’ distributed expertise by allowing the whole group to tackle problems that would normally be too difficult for each student alone (Lange & Costley, 2014). Working in groups, students identify what they already know, what they need to know, and how and where to access new information that may lead to a solution to the problem (Lewis & Dehler, 2000). The role of instructor, then, is to facilitate learning by supporting, guiding, and monitoring this process. SGL is a common technique in collegiate instruction, and allows for several specific non-traditional learning contexts to develop within it, including problem-based, project-based, cooperative, collaborative, or inquiry-based learning. Collaborative problem-solving groups are a key feature in the advanced writing course. O’Donnell submits that collaborative learning is an instructional context whereby peers work together on a task with the goal of all participants benefiting. (O’Donnell, 2002). Over fifty years of research support the premise that when students are active in collaboratively facilitating their own understanding, learning outcomes improve (Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2014). Furthermore, it has been demonstrated in the literature that students who learn together in small groups exhibit higher academic achievement, motivation, and satisfaction than those who do not (Schrader, 2015). Cognitive and affective outcomes associated with collaborative learning environments and shared learning goals necessarily depend on the quality of student interaction (Rocca, 2010) and the levels in which students are actively engaged in the building of their own minds (Barkley et al., 2005). Social interdependence theory, too, suggests that through a shared goal, teams learn to work together for the benefit of the group (Lee, 2016). In other words, an individual learns better with a peer because the peer provides an audience, prompts metacognition, and helps to maintain an individual’s focus on a task. The benefits associated with this kind of learning include a mastery of content and improved critical thinking, problem solving, and interpersonal skills (Johnson & Johnson, 1999; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2010). Learning is facilitated when group members strive to motivate and support each other. These cooperative efforts, collectively known as “promotive interaction” (p. 5), Peltola are an essential element of the collaborative learning process (Johnson & Johnson, 1999). Thus, working with others to solve a common problem, explain one’s viewpoint, and engage in co-creative activity are strategies that build strong cognitive and interpersonal connections. Learner-to-learner relationships are at the heart of the advanced writing course in public relations and draw from both David Johnson’s work (Johnson, 2003) on social interdependence theory and Norah McRae’s discourse (McRae, 2015) on transformational learning in work-integrated tasks. Educational psychology scholar David Johnson (University of Minnesota, professor emeritus) described the appropriate use of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning as pedagogy to build a collaborative community in the classroom, and suggested inter-class interdependence by organizing students into “neighborhoods” (Johnson, 2003). A stimulating environment that promotes participatory, neighborly exchange in the classroom can make quite an impact on the undergraduate student. There is ample testimony in the literature (Barkley et al., 2014; Bowen, 2011; Bush, 2009; Rocca, 2010) to suggest that this type of participation leads to high-quality, supportive learning environments where engagement, motivation, and learning are more likely to be achieved. Rocca (2010), for example, reported myriad benefits, including bringing a sense of life to the classroom, higher levels of motivation and critical thinking, selfreported gains in character, less memorization and more interpretation, and demonstrative improvements in oral and written work. McRae (2015), too, observed the transformative potential of social relationships in the classroom to assert that, “taking a sociocultural view provides a broad scope for considering how transformational learning occurs” (p. 142). McRae’s (2015) examination of transformational learning expanded upon Johnson’s work to include workintegrated learning, a form of experiential learning, which intentionally connects the education of students to the world of work by partnering academic institutions, workplaces, and students. Covill (2011) pointed out that “while researchers continue to explore the relative merits of lectures versus active learning methods, many educators continue to view active learning as superior to lecturing” (p. 93). While it is true that traditional lecture methods are sometimes preferred by students, e.g., students using memorization as a learning strategy and preferring a discourse that “enables them to listen passively, organizes the subject matter for them, and prepares them well for tests” (McKeachie, 1997, p. 1219), it appears that the instructional format often depends on the content area being taught. Advanced writing, conducted in the context of peer collaboration, peer editing, and authentic exercise, seemed to naturally fit Classroom as Think Tank 324 within an experiential learning format rather than that of traditional lecture. Based on Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development, the active small groups also serve to aid students in learning beyond what their abilities would allow them to do on their own in order to reach a higher level of knowledge. As Schrader (2015) explains, “[T]he zone of proximal development is the difference between what the knower can do on her own and what can be done with assistance” (p. 25). An assessment of outcomes indicated that the small group format - collaborative, cocreative and derivative of social interdependence theory helped to narrow this zone considerably. Authentic Exercises Until recently, few authors have attempted to define authentic learning and its components. In a general sense, authentic learning can be seen as learning through applying knowledge in real-life contexts and situations. Callison and Lamb (2004) placed authentic learning at the intersection of workplace problem, personal interest, and academic exercise. Maina (2004) identified three key elements of authentic exercise: activities mimic real-world situations, learning takes place in meaningful situations which are extensions of the learner’s world, and the learner is at the center of instruction. Four themes supporting authentic learning, outlined by Rule (2006), help to clarify its components: 1. 2. 3. 4. An activity that involves real-world problems and mimics the work of professionals The use of open-ended inquiry and metacognition Small groups; student self-directed learning in community A presentation of findings to audiences beyond the learning community In authentic learning environments, students are the inquirers, rather than note takers; and instructors are mentors, or procurers of resources, rather than lecturers. An EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative conducted by Lombardi (2007) examined possible outcomes of authentic exercises. In this study, student teams were assigned authentic learning activities designed to cultivate the kinds of portable skills that newcomers to any discipline typically have difficulty acquiring on their own: the judgment to distinguish reliable from unreliable information, the patience to follow longer arguments, the ability to recognize relevant patterns in unfamiliar contexts, and the flexibility to work across disciplinary and cultural boundaries in order to generate innovative solutions (p. 3). Lombardi discovered that authenticity Peltola Classroom as Think Tank allowed for real-world relevance, collaboration, reflection, and practical output in measurable terms. Student Readiness and Instructional Scaffolding Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976) introduce scaffolding as a “process that enables the novice to solve a problem, carry out a task, or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts” (p. 90). Within the context of small groups and authentic exercises, I sought to increase participation by developing scaffolding strategies based on Donato’s (2000) definition of scaffolding, which recommends that teachers scaffold the learning experience by shaping the discussion to achieve goals of specific tasks and to activate the background knowledge of students. In the context of student writing, some research (Gully, 2012) supports the idea that instructional scaffolding is preferred by students over a professor’s edited comments on papers. Gulley opened her discussion on feedback on developmental writing with researcher, Nancy Sommer’s, discovery that when asked what they thought about faculty feedback on their writing, students suggested that teachers’ written comments on their papers “demoralized them” and “made them feel like they don’t belong in college” (p. 16). Sommers (1982) submits that “our teachers need to offer students revision tasks of a different order of complexity and sophistication from the ones they themselves identify, by forcing students back into the chaos, back to the point where they are shaping and restructuring their meaning” (p. 154). Linking participation with scaffolding has been a focus of research in the recent years, specifically involving mobile learning technologies. The issue of student readiness was apparent in the advanced writing course, and scaffolding techniques were trialed with the understanding that the use of open-ended and follow-up questions can lead to more “substantial and elaborate” (p. 42) answers from the students (Heinonen & Lennartson-Hokkanen, 2015). Instructional scaffolding infused the second half of the semester in the form of authentic exercises and student conferencing. Method This study meets the guidelines, and was conducted under the approval of, the Institutional Review Board of Long Island University. It was delivered in spring 2015 in the author’s undergraduate Advanced Writing in Public Relations class. This class is a third-year university course designed for majors, although it is open to all students within the College of Arts, Communications and Design. The course is not required for matriculation (B.F.A. in Public 325 Relations), and is populated with juniors and seniors who have taken and passed its prerequisite, Writing for Public Relations I. The advanced writing curriculum traditionally covers aspects relating to writing effective copy in a variety of formats and for a variety of audience. A traditional lecture and discussion format was supplanted in week seven of the semester by an experiential learning module incorporating active small groups, authentic exercises, and instructional scaffolding into the syllabus in order to improve student writing and promote workplace readiness. The module series, Writer’s Bootcamp, was a short, intensive, and rigorous collaborative among students and instructor aimed at shaping independence and aptitude in PR writing. Authentic exercises, derived from real-time, real-world situations, were assigned. Students in small groups worked together to appropriate the trade tool (from the PR Toolbox, a collection of professional trade writing), collaboratively script, and present a response in thirty minutes. The Experiential Module: Writer’s Bootcamp If experiential learning is the process of knowledge acquisition through hands-on experience (Vadeboncoeur, 2002), then Writer’s Bootcamp is an all-hands-on-deck experience where everyone’s help is needed, especially to do a lot of work in a short amount of time. During the first half of the semester, students worked individually and out of class on writing assignments aligned with lectures. Content focused on a writing stratagem and communication processes and applications commonly used in public relations (e.g., blogs, leads, headlines, press releases, backgrounders, media alerts, and public service announcements). The instructor provided lecture time for class discussion on the writing process and best practices in the field of PR. Written feedback was provided each learner on each assignment. Careful review of student writing at week five in the semester concluded that students, on the whole, were unprepared for an advanced writing course. The instructional approach of lecture, writing templates, style guides, and individual in-class writing were largely devoid of engagement and poor grades reflected this. In fact, students’ progress seemed to be tethered to the professor’s edits and suggestions rather than self-directed. Students were not actively learning the techniques of writing, nor were they turning in work that they were proud of. It was important to take cues from the class to reassess their readiness and capacity to succeed in this advanced-level course. The syllabus was reformatted mid-semester using an experiential framework called Writer’s Bootcamp. A writing workshop method, developed from the work of Donald Graves (1994), required that the students write for a variety of audiences and purposes. This method of instruction focused on the goal of promoting Peltola the development of lifelong writers. Added under the moniker of Writer’s Bootcamp, each remaining lecture (from week seven) ended in an authentic exercise designed to spur student engagement, stimulate learning, and improve writing proficiency. The instructional redesign was informed by the work of Lewis and Dehler (2000): “[R]ather than providing students with well-defined problems with clear solutions, the instructor serves as a facilitator, fostering creative tension and opportunities for students to critique and rethink oversimplified concepts, assumptions, and issues and develop more complicated and insightful understandings” (p. 713). In Writer’s Bootcamp, active small groups of three or four students were tasked to effectively appropriate a specific PR tool and then collectively write and edit a response to a unique, authentic case presented at the beginning of each lecture. This method carried through the duration of the course and allowed students to engage in, and take ownership of, each writing assignment. Assignments began with a briefing on a specific, real-time public relations initiative at a recognizable company. The pedagogical considerations for Writer’s Bootcamp, described below, build upon the other to create, and ultimately fulfill, the expectation of writing proficiency in the public relations profession. The nature of college writing. It was imperative that students were provided with a renewed focus. Although students enrolled in the advanced writing course had demonstrated adequate writing proficiency in its curricular prerequisite, it was possible that acquired and newly acquired skills were not adapted to new kinds of tasks in the advanced course. Melzer’s (2014) examination of types of transfer: positive versus negative, threshold concepts, low road versus high road, metacognition, near versus far, and vertical transfer allows us to better understand, leverage, and build toward disciplinary expertise in the field of Public Relations writing. For example, if the student practiced metacognition in the prerequisite course, she would have built in “moments of self-reflection to core writing requirements” thus providing awareness in her transfer to “more complex issues.” (p. 83). Melzer proposes a vertical writing transfer curriculum principle to “focus on situated, authentic, domain-specific practice as transfer is more likely to occur when learning is authentic and connected to disciplinary and professional practice” (p. 84). It was not just a matter of higher standards: the instructors of PR advanced writing are not asking for something better, but something different (Williams & McEnerney, 2008). The students need to direct their skills and intelligence to new tasks using high road transfer, abstracting from one context and connecting with another. Writer’s Bootcamp guided students towards this end. Student readiness. For the most part, the students Classroom as Think Tank 326 were ill-equipped to successfully complete the early assignments (e.g., write an interesting lead, an engaging headline, or an effective public service announcement) at an advanced beginner level. Mid-semester, students admitted that they were not practiced, nor confident, in their writing abilities. Instead, students had cultivated a habit of perpetual revision and were accustomed to reacting to multiple tracked edits on a first draft, followed by myriad corrections suggested by the professor. Students seemingly trained themselves to respond to instructors’ tracked edits versus thinking about the problem-solution steps themselves. In the end, the final piece barely resembled the students’ work. Rounsaville, Goldberg, and Bawarshi (2008) indicate that “studies of writing development identify meta-cognition as crucial to knowledge transfer” (p. 97). Instead of thinking about their own thinking, students were using low road transfer. Perkins and Solomon (1988) state that “low road transfer reflects the automatic triggering of well-practiced routines in circumstances where there is considerable perceptual similarity to the original learning context” (p. 25). Further, students did not demonstrate positive transfer from the prerequisite course or during the first half of the advanced course. In sum, they did not reveal a capacity to initiate substantive, thoughtful, targeted, and meticulous writing for public relations. The PR Toolbox. While reports have indicated that practitioners and educators agree that the practical skills necessary for entry-level applicants for public relations positions should include the ability to conduct research and write news releases and newsletters (Auger & Cho, 2016), there appears to be an assumption of curricular consistency across accredited public relations programs. Writing for public relations is a creative enterprise which involves a rapidly changing communication environment. The PR Toolbox was created to enhance individual efforts to be competent communicators both internally and externally; and to help develop sensitivity to the need to convey and receive information quickly and accurately. The toolbox is a collection of tactics and formats from which student teams can choose in order to address their assignments within the framework of authentic exercise. The toolbox consisted of press releases, leads, fact sheets, backgrounders, paid marketing advertisements, public service announcements, media alerts, special events, video news releases, search engine optimization, internal communication channels, contests, social media, and partnership collaborations. Students recognized each tool as an element of previous courses in the program and, as a refresher, defined and discussed them as Writer’s Bootcamp was introduced. The exercise of selecting a specific apparatus from the toolbox involved both strategic thinking and clientcentered, problem-based learning. Motivation to write. Although students recognized Peltola the need to write well as essential in a PR major and understood that practitioners consider effective writing as critical to success in the profession, this understanding did not seem to be sufficiently motivational. Camfield (2016) observed that because students often perceive writing as an overwhelming “monolith,” (5) most lack the coping skills necessary for dealing with the natural setbacks that are part of the writing process. In order to help students avoid “feeling stuck” (5), improve coping strategies, and promote intrinsic motivation, writing assignments were assigned and completed in class using a team approach. The excitement and genuine engagement that developed in this context can, in part, be attributed to small group learning and social interdependence theory. Active small groups and authentic exercise. An active student team approach was designed to enhance discussion, creativity, collaboration, and proficiency. Active teams, composed of three or four students, were created by the instructor. Grouping was based on academic background, gender, and country of origin. This was a successful tactic in vesting the students in a framework that was both diverse and dynamic. An authentic exercise, chosen by the professor and based on a real-time, engaging public relations situation, began every lecture. For example, the Marriott millionth mobile check-in was celebrated with a surprise lobby dance party. The video of the actual event, and a recount of its results, were presented as stimuli to student groups. These groups were then tasked to become Marriott’s competitor and prompted to respond to the successful sweepstakes by utilizing one or more PR tool, write the document, and present it to peers in the classroom. Princess Cruises’ strategy to obtain user-generated content to improve customer loyalty served as another example. The details and results of Princess Cruises’ program were presented by the professor at the beginning of the lecture. Again students were asked to appropriate a PR tool to further the corporate objective of loyalty by playing it out across a digital platform. Each student team took on the role of PR department to assess and recommend how to handle the assigned situation. After being briefed on the situation and provided a video stimulus, teams were given thirty minutes to discuss and write an approach utilizing the most effective tools in the PR Toolbox. The professor walked among the teams to scaffold and redirect as needed. Student teams then had fifteen minutes to present their work on the document camera to the class, who provided feedback. The presentation format was crucial in the success of the module. The professor conducted a thorough debriefing at the conclusion of each class to summarize learning and guide the discussion toward a conclusion. What was done well and where improvements should be considered were discussed before class adjourned. Student conferences and instructional scaffolding. In addition to scaffolding teams during authentic exercise, the professor employed a scaffolding method during Classroom as Think Tank 327 student conferences to allow for individual effort in correcting errors or performing tasks with instructional guidance and prompts as needed. Conferences were held during office hours on a voluntary basis, and they functioned to provide expertise, focus, and motivation to the students. A large portion of conferencing related to the final writing project, which was completed individually in order to help shape and support writing independence. Writer’s Bootcamp certification. In the spirit of achievement, individual I Survived Writer’s Bootcamp certificates were presented to each student at the end of the semester. This gesture was well received. Findings Three metrics were used to assess the impact of active learning in small groups and authentic exercises in writing: critical incident reports, grades based on a programmatic writing rubric, and a reflection instrument. Critical Incident Reports Informal verbal reports were provided by students at the end of class four times during the last half of the semester. Critical Incident Prompts: Q1: What action (if any) did anyone take that you found was most affirming / helpful? Q2: What action (if any) did anyone take that you found most puzzling / confusing? Q3: What was the most important information you learned during today’s class? The findings were recorded and collated by the professor, attributed by key phrase, and clustered around three themes: (1) authentic exercises and transference; (2) active small groups and collaboration; and (3) Writer’s Bootcamp and practice-based learning. A qualitative thematic analysis of student responses was conducted at the end of the semester (Table 1). Students found that working in active small groups on authentic assignments and presenting their work to peers helped to advance their communication skills. Critical incident reports revealed that students cared more about concise and accurate writing, the organization of their writing, the expansion of word choice, and application of AP stylistics than they did their grades. Most puzzling or disconcerting to students was the time (thirty minutes) given to complete each assignment. Critical incident reports also revealed that as students grew accustomed to the Bootcamp structure, they became more efficient. Perhaps the most important information gleaned from the critical self-reporting, in terms of future implications, was the Peltola Theme Classroom as Think Tank 328 Table 1 Critical Incident Reports: Thematic Clusters and Significant Statements Statement Authentic Exercises and Transference “I used more PR tools in this one class than in my total undergraduate career.” “I liked the Marriott video about the lobby event. It was exciting. I’d like to be a part of something like that.” “I learned how important understanding the situation is.” “I learned that PR is fun!” “I learned that writing is the last thing in the process, not the first.” “I liked pretending to be a practitioner.” “I see where the authentic exercises helped me take what I’m learning and apply it to a very real situation.” Active Small Groups and Collaboration “My team pushed me and I pushed my thoughts to the best possible limit.” “I liked being in a group thinking about the situation instead of being alone.” “I liked when my team thought my ideas were good. I like being creative.” “I felt good presenting. Sometimes other teams did a much better job and I learned a lot from them.” “The team brings ideas I would not have thought of.” “My team is getting better now at outlining what’s important in the real business examples.” “I liked looking at an issue from different angles.” Writer’s Bootcamp and Practice-Based Learning “I was motivated to write better because my classmates were going to see it on the doc cam.” “I developed confidence and pride in my work by working in teams on real assignments.” “I liked thinking about a solution to a real problem before I started writing.” “I learned to look at an event through a competitor’s eyes. It helped me think about PR from a business perspective.” “I felt that the 30 minutes went by too fast. We may have done better work with an hour.” “I’m not bored with writing anymore.” “I am more confident in writing and presenting.” “I learned that writing with a real purpose, really weighing the facts, is a better process than just writing for a grade.” “I like Writer’s Bootcamp. I liked doing quick research on the competition.” “I care more about my writing now. My writing has a purpose.” “I really pushed myself every class.” “I learned to write a pitch letter and lead.” Peltola Classroom as Think Tank common rumination on the imperative of critical thinking before writing. The suggestion of implementing Writer’s Bootcamp for the duration of an entire semester was unanimous. Importantly, students reported enjoyment and gratification in exploring the role of a practitioner taking on real assignments. Many responses displayed an emotional investment in writing. The qualitative data was classified and compared against assessments in the writing rubric and reflection instrument. Grades Grades were assessed in accordance with the established writing rubric of the public relations program. Valuation against the following eight criteria, on a scale of EXCEPTIONAL to UNACCEPTABLE, was completed for each student, on each of the writing assignments, throughout the semester: • • • • • • • Overall content and organization Writing organization and structure Tone of writing, sentence structure Word choice Grammar and spelling Application of AP (Associated Press) style rules Satisfying the assigned requirements Although the programmatic rubric was familiar to all upper-level students, it was reviewed and discussed in the first session of the advanced writing class. Writer’s Bootcamp evoked a greater sense of wanting to perform well, and scores reflected this, up on average 1.5 letter grades in the last half of the semester. Critically, all students moved out of the UNACCEPTABLE category (poor organization of work, ideas fail to make sense together, reader loses interest, tone is unprofessional, errors in sentence structure, frequency of spelling and grammar errors, paper does not meet the requirements). Progress in the grading scale mirrored positive self-reporting in the critical incident reports. Written Reflection In the final class students completed a written reflection activity without the professor present. Responses were anonymous. The instrument, comprised of twenty-four questions on a Likert five-point scale and fourteen openended questions (Table 3), was administered online in order to preserve anonymity with respect to handwriting. This allowed individual students to express how much they agreed or disagreed with a particular statement relating to 329 the advanced writing curriculum, as well as to provide focused, annotative feedback. Reflective responses were analyzed for recurrent themes using an open coding system. Emergent themes, rated on the Likert scale as strongly agree or somewhat agree, are exhibited in Table 2. Reflections that were rated neutral by students involved confidence, self-governance, and leadership. Open-ended positive reflections included a cadre of brief statements and succinct assessments, such as: • • • • • It was great It helped me think Start it earlier in the semester It pushed me Do it in other classes A common theme was that the Writer’s Bootcamp was engaging, educational, and gratifying. All students (n=19) agreed on the efficacy of key motivations and behaviors in the following areas: practical knowledge, leadership, critical thinking, self-regulated learning, pride, analytic thinking, communication skill development, confidence, collaboration, problem solving, formulation of questions, academic growth, and growth in writing. The quantitative findings of the reflection instrument, the advance of student scores across the writing rubric, and the qualitative testimony in selfreported critical incidents together attest to the effectiveness of the experiential module. Limitations Although several important pedagogical implications can be made through the results of this study, there are some limitations. The first is acknowledging that the advanced writing course contained a split format consisting of two distinct teaching modalities: lecture / discussion (independent writing outside of class during weeks one through six) and active small groups / authentic exercises (collaborative writing in class during weeks seven through twelve), it would be useful to further examine the relationship between the two settings and its effect on outcomes. Also, this study does not compare the following various areas: the amount of participation of the group as a whole, the equality of participation among members, or the amount of student participation per written response. Additionally, student perceptions are examined in terms of satisfaction and learning when comparing small group learning (SGL) to other instructional methods. Although improved writing is the goal, critical thinking responses through participation, for example, appear to enhance the Peltola Classroom as Think Tank 330 Table 2 Written Reflection (n=19) - Likert scale For each of the questions below, circle the response that best characterizes how you feel about the statement, where 1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Somewhat Disagree, 3 = Neutral, Neither Agree nor Disagree, 4 = Somewhat Agree, 5 = Agree I gained practical knowledge about PR and business I had the opportunity to be a leader with people I had the opportunity to be a leader on subject matter I experienced the opportunity to think critically by applying skills learned I experienced self-governance and selfdirected learning I experienced pride in this work I experienced the opportunity to think analytically by interpreting current results I experienced the opportunity to think analytically by developing a number of strategic scenarios I developed written and oral communication skills I acquired new knowledge I developed problem solving skills I developed confidence with subject matter I developed confidence with people I developed skills in the art of collaboration I developed a comfort with looking at things from different perspectives I developed confidence in working creatively and with my imagination I learned to formulate questions that led to discussion or learning The resources at my disposal were ample to accomplish the assignment The experience led to personal growth The experience led to academic growth in my field The experience led to my growth in writing I feel I was prepared for the rigor of this experience I cared about the Bootcamp assignments I care about the perfection of my portfolio Strongly Disagree Somewhat Disagree Neutral Somewhat Agree Agree 1 2 3 4 5 Peltola Classroom as Think Tank 331 Table 3 Written Reflection – Open-ended Q1. My greatest learning experience on this assignment was Q2. The greatest impact on me from this assignment was Q3. My greatest disappointment from this assignment was Q4. My largest contribution to this assignment was Q5. Now think about your contributions specifically, what was your greatest leadership contribution? Q6. What was your greatest critical thinking contribution? Q7. What your greatest analytical thinking contribution? Q8. What was your greatest collaborative contribution? Q9. What were the most useful resources you had available for this assignment? Q10. Do you remember thinking more deeply or less deeply in this assignment versus an in-class course over the same semester? Q11. What were the obstacles to this assignment? Q12. Was this a meaningful assignment? If yes, in what way? Q13. Was the professor available to provide input and advice? Q14. How would you improve the Writer’s Bootcamp experience? construction of knowledge, self-understanding, and selfconfidence. Acknowledging what is actually being said by students when they participate in a think tank atmosphere is also important. Suggestions for further research include ways in which to promote more useful forms of participation in group work, perhaps through additional scaffolding. Further analysis of group work regarding the quality and nature of the discourse and its relationship with written responses is a fruitful area for further research. Individual conferences were held during office hours on a voluntary basis. It may be useful to examine the potential effects on learning outcomes if this were made mandatory. Other researchers might implement this experiential module in writing courses that have a particular business or pre-professional focus. Future research might also include a formalized, longitudinal examination of the real effects or benefits of Writer’s Bootcamp through a survey of Bootcamp alumnae who are practicing in the field. Conclusions The experiential module described in this paper suggests that both the course redesign (classroom as think tank versus lecture hall) and the active small group learning environment (student teams writing and editing in collaboration) led to positive impacts on student performance in an undergraduate advanced writing course. Both the initiation of active small groups and implementation of authentic assignments spurred student engagement, motivation, and prideful performance. The qualitative aspects of this research help to confirm a high level of student engagement and development when working in small groups on an authentic exercise. A comparison of grades from the first half of the semester (average score: D+) to the second half (average score: B) suggests that the experiential module, Writer’s Bootcamp, helped to hone the writing skills of students and positively affect communicative competencies. Given the importance that writing in the public relations profession holds, this proficiency is a cornerstone in the curriculum for preparing students for the workplace. Collaborative learning constructs, predicated on social interdependence theory, helped to initiate self-reported gains in student efficacy, learning, and confidence. Writer’s Bootcamp was created to promote active student involvement in writing and pre-professional discourse. Peltola Classroom as Think Tank Because students were required to participate in a synthesis of opinion and aptitude, their understandings of authentic situations, as well as the serious, professional responses these warrant, deepened. A supportive environment, or think tank neighborhood, further enhanced collaborations in writing, peer editing, and presenting. Instructional scaffolding helped students effectively take on complex and unfamiliar tasks. 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Society of Human Resource Management. (2015). Workplace readiness and skill shortages. Retrieved from http://www.shrm.org/Research/FutureWorkplac eTrends/Documents/Workforce%20Readiness% 20and%20Skills%20Shortages.pdf. Classroom as Think Tank 333 Society of Human Resource Management. (2009). The ill-prepared US workforce: The gap between need and provision. Retrieved from http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/articl es/pages/illprepared%20u.s.%20workforce.aspx. Vadeboncoeur, J. A. (2002). Experiential education. In J. W. Guthrie (Ed.), Encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 760-763). New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Williams, J. M., & McEnerney, L. (2008). Writing in college: A short guide to college writing. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Writing Program. Retrieved from http://writingprogram.uchicago.edu/undergrads/wic0intro Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89–100. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x. ____________________________ ARLENE M. PELTOLA, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Long Island. Her primary research interests include experiential learning, leadership, communication, and the role of fundamental skills in the entry-level workforce. Professor Peltola teaches across the communication and business curriculum and serves as a pro bono consultant for the non-profit sector. She has held professional leadership positions in large, global public and private firms Copyright of International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education is the property of International Society for Exploring Teaching & Learning and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
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The article “A Balanced School Accountability Model: An Alternative to High-Stakes
Testing” by Ken Jones addresses the significance of having a new model of accountability in
the school system. He also states that the model should be comprehensive, balanced and
inclusive of other aspects other than the test scores. Jones notes that the high-stakes testing is
ineffective since it has “flawed assumptions, oversimplified understandings of school realities,
the undemocratic concentration of power, undermining of the teaching profession and
predictably disastrous consequences for vulnerable students.” He notes that the high-stakes
testing system is likely to incorporate inequality, trivialize schooling and poor quality of public
education (Jones, 2004). Jones states that the answers to the following questions will help in
the formulation of a new school accountability model: “For what should schools be
accountable?”, “To whom should schools be ac...


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