Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 1) -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 1)

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This faculty spotlight features Dr. Pettis Perry, Ed.D., core faculty and program coordinator of the Master of Science in Leadership Program. When we asked Dr. Perry to answer our faculty spotlight questions, he responded with a treasure trove of insights—so much so that we decided to break his response into two parts. Enjoy Part 1!
Expert advice from Dr. Pettis Perry

What are the most common writing challenges for your students?

Becoming familiar with the rules of the game.
Writing is both a science and an art; it has to be approached both technically and creatively. The science encompasses all of the rules of the game associated with writing according to the writing style being used (APA, in the case of Walden) and expectations established by the academic program. For example, the MSL program is an applied theory program, so in addition to language usage and formatting,  the rubrics contain assessments for how well the theory was applied, content accuracy, how well the narrative was organized, critical thinking, and creativity. The art of writing encompasses the ability to convey ideas fully, clearly, concisely, and interestingly. Students sometimes have difficulty here because it is so dependent upon strength of language skills and the creative centers in the brain.

Learning the language and subject matter of the discipline.
Learning the language of the discipline (subject matter) that is being studied is fundamental to communicating effectively and authoritatively. The way to learn the language of the discipline is much like learning anything new: A writer must use the words and phrases that structure the language of the subject. With practice, the degree of familiarity with the language and subject matter will come through in how we communicate our ideas.

Owning your current skills with a thirst to grow developmentally.
common student writing challengesThe willingness to own our current writing skills is central to learning how to write well. If writers assume that they write well and have nothing more to learn, they will meet feedback with denial, frustration, and defensiveness. As frustrating as it might be to receive substantive content and writing feedback, finding ways to set the ego aside is crucial to embracing valuable advice. Openly embracing the feedback may also lead to closer relationships with faculty members who are willing to work with students when they need additional support.

Creating the time and space to write.
Finding the time for organizing thoughts and conceptualizing the narrative before writing can become an overwhelming exercise, particularly for working parents with young children. Yet, writing well takes time to construct, proofread, and draft multiple iterations before producing a final product of which to be proud. Creating the time and space to write may entail keeping a list of content notes and ideas, writing individual segments of an assignment as time permits, and then compiling the work into the final document in a final sitting. Being flexible and creative about how to complete assignments creates opportunities for completing the work with less self-imposed pressure.

Learning to demonstrate critical thinking.
The MSL program and many other programs at Walden University emphasize the need to demonstrate strong critical thinking skills as part of becoming a scholar-practitioner. Critical thinking is defined here as demonstrating the ability to read, comprehend, synthesize, and use theory-based literature by applying it to real-world or case study examples.  Demonstrating critical thinking competency requires several skills, such as (a) identifying a problem by analyzing an operational work environment, personal experience, or case study; (b) identifying and discussing the applicable theory that might help explain what was observed; (c) selecting a real-life experience or case study example that is reflective of the theory; and (d) applying the theory to the real-world example to demonstrate how the theory are applicable.

What have you done to help your students master those skills?

With student feedback, I created a course guide titled My Course Survival Guide, which I post in doc sharing for students to download. The guide covers a range of topics, including my expectations, helpful writing tips, and some of the more important APA rules with examples.

The feedback that I provide is intended to assist students with communicating their ideas more clearly, concisely, and powerfully to maximize the impact of their communications. The idea is to help them create what I refer to as bulletproof arguments that will withstand counterarguments and also to prepare them for their capstone documents. My bias is for how things are communicated rather than towards the direction of the narrative itself. Therefore, I provide substantive feedback regarding the application of theory and critical thinking and then references to improving technical writing.

When I come across students with language or critical-thinking deficiencies, I encourage them to contact and work with the Writing Center, which is a wonderful resource available to all students. As part of my feedback to students I also download and attach their Grammarly reports rather than trying to rewrite their papers for them as I used to do. I found that my attempts to provide detailed writing feedback were overwhelming students, so I changed tactics. Today, I combine into a single PDF document the graded paper, rubric, and Grammarly report so that the student has everything in one place.

I also make myself available by telephone. One of the positive outcomes of this practice is that the conversations not only answer questions and lead to increased learning, but they often lead to positive relationships with students that continue beyond graduation. My expectations are posted in several places in my classrooms. Whenever I get the chance, I strongly encourage students to cultivate a work ethic that includes doing whatever it takes to devour the subject resources and to submit only quality work.

Dr. Perry currently resides in Bellingham, Washington. Look for his insights in Part 2 of this faculty spotlight soon!

Other posts in our spotlight series:

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald

Student Spotlight: Mary Eldredge-Sandbo

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