Book by John C. Bean
Review by Timothy J. Jones
Senior Academic Counselor
University College
University of Oklahoma

Anyone seeking to learn more about writing across the curriculum and critical thinking will profit from reading Engaging Ideas. The author, John C. Bean, has taught writing courses and conducted faculty development workshops since 1975.  His book includes a wealth of classroom-ready activities and assignments designed to develop students’ analytical and communications skills.

In a brief review of cognitive development, Bean reminds readers that most first-year students see “knowledge as the acquisition of correct information and right answers” (p. 18). He encourages instructors to assign both personal writing (journals, reading logs) and professional writing (problem-based research papers) in order to develop higher-level thinking skills in students. Bean provides suggested teaching strategies and sample assignments from a wide range of academic disciplines. Advisors who teach student success or first-year experience courses will find many assignments that can be adapted for their classes.

The writing assignments and teaching strategies make Engaging Ideas a book that instructors will turn to regularly. Bean establishes the theoretical basis for writing across the curriculum and also addresses the most important concerns instructors have—dealing with the paper load and finding time to grade student work. Some of the activities (uncollected in-class freewriting, making marginal notations in texts) help students build important skills without producing more papers for the teacher to read and grade. In order for students to see writing as a process of drafting and revising, Bean recommends a strategy known as “minimal marking…in which the teacher tells a student that his or her paper is marred by sentence errors” and that there will be no grade until the student corrects the errors (p. 246).  This practice is meant to encourage revision-centered conferences with students about papers, use of writing centers, and independent student learning.  

Although writing across the curriculum movement has a long history in higher education, Bean is aware that the movement is “rooted in a radical revisioning of what it means to be a writer” (p. 17). Student-focused and problem-based assignments will stimulate independent learning and critical thinking, making the students more aware of and involved in their own writing processes.

Engaging Ideas contains many assignments and teaching suggestions appropriate for advisors who teach in any academic discipline. Some of the write-to-learn assignments can be adapted as advising journal assignments for students who have yet to declare a major. Advising is also a process through which students come to speak the language of academia, and some advisors may find ways to incorporate student writing as part of advising, whether through email or as part of an advising portfolio. Engaging Ideas is a book to consult for many different purposes, whether for a re-visioning of writing in the classroom or as part of advising. 

Engaging Ideas:  The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom.  (2001). Book by John C. Bean. Review by Timothy J. Jones. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass,  304 pp. $40.00, (paperback), ISBN 978-0-7879-0203-2
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