Form or Thinking?
A further problem with talking about ‘form’ (the essay, the report) is that it can stop us from thinking about thinking. What kinds of thinking do students need to employ to do well in a task or on a course? What do they have to know in order to do this thinking? How will their knowledge and their thinking come together?
The report form, for example, involves several kinds of thinking and communication: identify and explain a problem, explain a process, describe, compare and prioritise findings, select and explain visual representation, interpret and evaluate significance… To write an effective report students need to do all of this thinking, but simply asking them to write a ‘report’ may not be the best way for them to learn. It may be more productive to devise tasks that focus on developing aspects of the thinking and its expression.
The eventual goal may still be for students to write good reports. The key point here though, is that if you take a thinking approach to writing, you can find yourself setting different sorts of writing or at least setting writing differently. The next page, Writing for learning, has an example of this.
For other useful further reading, see Writing Across the Chemistry Curriculum (Kovac and Sherwood, 2001, here in further reading) or browse other examples in our work with subjects, particularly in first year engineering and humanities.