The help book essay
There is no research that has attempted to look at both environments in the same study. Comparing the perceptions of high school students and then following the same students to first-year university and obtaining their perceptions of university writing has led to insights that could not be obtained by focusing on only one environment to the exclusion of the other. In addition, students who enter university often have difficulties learning how to write an academic essay and this study illuminates what some of those difficulties are and perhaps provides some information that high school instructors might find useful in their own practices. Limitations of the Study One of the limitations of this study was that the surveys were filled out only by those students who took the time to get their parents to sign the permission forms, or students who were already 18 years of age and could sign their own permission forms. The fact that the students had to remember to take the permission forms to their parents for signatures limited the number of students who ultimately participated. Another limitation was that the students the help book essay volunteered to take part in either the focus groups or individual interviews. This led to a self-selected group of students who were interested in sharing their perceptions of high school and first-year university writing environments. This study also relied on information from the students who had self-identified as going on to study at a selected Western Canadian University. The fact that I limited it to these students meant that many the help book essay students were not eligible to fill in the survey and that they could not participate in either the focus groups or the individual interviews. UNIVERSITY AND HIGH SCHOOL ARE JUST VERY DIFFERENT 237 The questions that were asked on the survey did not always align with the themes that emerged in the qualitative interviews. This was one of the reasons that I wanted to use an explanatory approach as it is difficult to generalize findings and draw inferences simply on the basis of quantitative research.
Similarly, as per qualitative research methodology, I did not the help book essay approach the focus groups and individual interviews with a set of questions already formulated but instead allowed the questions to emerge and change as the participants discussed their own perceptions.
My own biases, as articulated in my personal stance, may have led me to search for certain themes in the qualitative interviews, but I believe these were minimized by using actual quotes from the participants to illustrate my findings and interpretations. I also employed a second researcher to independently review my data to see if he came up with the same themes. In addition, in an effort, not to lead the students into commenting on areas that they did not broach on their own, I was reluctant to ask them specific questions. This is a limitation that, perhaps, I should have been more aware of during the individual interviews. In addition, because the university students in this study were, for the most part, University 1 students, the results could have been skewed. It would be beneficial to interview students from direct-entry programs (e. Follow-up interviews could be conducted to see if there is a difference in the perceptions of students attending different universities. Another interview could also be conducted with the students in their second year of university to see how they were coping, and to see if they had a different perspective of the writing environment and of university in general. This could UNIVERSITY AND HIGH SCHOOL ARE JUST VERY DIFFERENT 239 be conducted with a large group of students to see the degree to which this attitude is prevalent.
In many instances, the differences had to do with the need for students to become more independent and to take on more responsibility for their own learning. More scaffolding needs to take place in university if students are to successfully make the transition. Students would benefit from understanding the limitations of the UNIVERSITY AND HIGH SCHOOL ARE JUST VERY DIFFERENT five-paragraph essay. In first-year students are comfortable with the five-paragraph essay and therefore writing instructors may be better advised to explain to students how they can take what they know about the five-paragraph essay and adapt it to the new environment.
Students would benefit from having their instructors teach them how to review literature.
This would include their expectations for citation of sources.
This study did not look at the programs offered to first-year students nor did it gather information on the teaching processes employed by instructors. It did, however, seek to gather data from select students, recording their perceptions of the respective writing environments and modes of instruction. The general consensus among the students was that there was a profound difference between the ways in which writing was taught in high school and university.
Given that a number of the students reported that they reverted to the familiar five-paragraph model when they did not understand new writing strategies or expectations, it may be more effective to begin university writing instruction from the point at which high school instruction ended. The students may be better able to build on an 241 existing foundation. UNIVERSITY AND HIGH SCHOOL ARE JUST VERY DIFFERENT Recommendations for Theory Cognitive theorists believe that there are certain factors that affect the efficiency with which new material can be learned (Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner, 2007). This appears to be more effective than allowing the students to impose their own meaning on new concepts. In addition, since learning is a function of the way in which information is mentally processed, teachers should be aware of both what students learn and how they attempt to learn it.
In this study, it appeared that students (12 of 14) were often aware of what they were meant to know but not of the way in which they were meant to acquire the knowledge. In this study, students reported that their transition to the first- year writing environment was sometimes complicated by their inability to understand the change in expectations. Since new information is more easily acquired when students are able to contextualize it within their prior knowledge perhaps instructors should make more of an effort to connect the new information to information students already have on the subject. In terms of instruction, first-year instructors should take into consideration that students come to the university with prior knowledge in many areas, including writing instruction. This knowledge can either be beneficial to students or can hinder them when they are attempting to acquire new information.