It may seem that teaching methods would change as often as the students as each year welcomes a new set of unique personalities and backgrounds. However, this is not the case. Teaching approaches generally tend to happen in shifts as new studies reveal more effective means of reaching students. A popular trend among writing programs is to adopt what is being called the process approach to writing instruction. This is a very different approach from the old form of teaching which is called the product approach. To help the writing school determine which approach would be more effective for our students, it is necessary to know a bit more about each of these approaches before making a recommendation.
The assumption under the product school of writing is that writing, like any other skill, can be taught. By giving students proper and rigorous instruction in language usage and basic principles of writing, it is suggested they will be able to then be able to start producing high quality essays and research papers entirely on their own (Hairston, 1996). Using this approach, instructors use sample texts and ask the students to mimic the processes they see in the book, such as the traditional 5-paragraph essay. Grammar and rules are very important in this approach and a strong message is sent that the first draft is the final draft and the only draft that matters (Hairston, 1996). Creative exercises are seen as a waste of time because they tend to break the rules the teacher is trying so hard to enforce. Not surprisingly, the teacher is the guiding force in the classroom with the students simply doing as they are told.
This approach is most helpful when students are learning about how to write mostly formulaic-type work, such as business reports or cover letters. It helps students identify poor grammar structure early in the process at the same time that it gives them a relatively predictable structure on which to build as they face complicated academic writing assignments. However, using this approach doesn't usually produce quality work. According to Eschholz (1980), such an approach will only result in "mindless copies of a particular organizational plan or style" (24). It has often been described as habit formation (Silva, 1990: 13). "Writing is messy, recursive, convoluted and uneven" (Hairston, 1982: 85), but the product approach with its focus on mimicry, ignores these characteristics of writing and can quickly set up students for failure.
The process school, on the other hand, operates with the assumption that the skill of writing can only be acquired gradually. Rather than drilling students with the rules and conventions of writing, this school holds that it is better to allow students to develop their writing through a slow evolution of working with the instructor and other students in a process called peer review (Eschholz, 1980). In fact, the concept of collaboration is considered to be an important tool in learning to write. It more...