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Student writing in the quantitative disciplines: a guide for college faculty. (English)
The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/Wiley (ISBN 978-0-470-95212-2/pbk; 978-1-118-20582-2/ebook). xxv, 166~p. (2012).
“Writing to learn” is a movement that the author champions. Patrick Bahls is a mathematician who has used writing in his classes that included calculus, linear algebra, introduction to proofs, and topology. In this book, he shares his experiences and assignments, as well as some of his students’ writings, and reactions to his assignments. Since the book is written for college faculty teaching in the quantitative disciplines, his examples also include those from courses in economics, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, computer science, statistics, as well as courses using quantitative methods for the social sciences. The book is intended to complement style guides and technical manuals. Thinkers such as Lev Vigotsky and Jean Piaget recognized that language is an instrument of thought and a means of thinking, learning, and understanding. Scholars in British composition studies introduced to an American audience in the late 1960’s the notion of expressive writing through which the writer organizes her/his own personal experiences, explores, and discovers, i.e., to learn. A movement of writing across the curriculum (sometimes referred to as writing in the disciplines) developed in the United States since the 1970’s. This book intends to describe ways of writing that fit into classes in quantitative disciplines. In examining the writing process, the author traces the steps a piece of writing goes through and techniques a writer uses: seeking out and sifting through ideas; organizing and outlining; annotated bibliographies or similar organizational strategies; drafting, reviewing and revising. The reader is led through the process of structuring writing assignments: shaping a single assignment, making your learning outcomes clear, and helping students get started. There are samples of writing prompts and suggestions for building a review and revision process, also for sequencing assignments throughout a course as well as from course to course. A chapter on assessing and responding to student writing contains rubrics and a guide to peer review. Specific assignments from “low-stake” informal writing (variations of free-writing and keeping a journal) to formal writing (text-books, grant proposals) projects are described in two chapters. There is plenty for a novice or an experienced practitioner to glean from. A reader who wants her/his student to learn is persuaded to take on the mission. The author has served on his university’s committees on writing-intensive courses and on first-year writing; he is a regular presenter at regional, national, and international conferences on writing-to-learn and writing across the curriculum meetings and conferences. There is support on his local campus and in a community of practice for what he does. For the success of mathematicians new to this practice, this reviewer would add a suggestion that they would do well to assess the extent of their local support: What is the participation of writing-across-the curriculum at their university? Do colleagues in their department value such teaching practice? The book contains sections on student resistance and faculty resistance. These considerations should not be under-estimated. In a supportive environment, more of our students may learn mathematics better and communicate with clarity if writing is incorporated in their classes.
Reviewer: Pao-Sheng Hsu (Columbia Falls)
Classification: D45 C55 E45 A15
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