By Lani Aquino
All forms of writing are unique and powerful in their own ways, and getting students to hone these communication skills and develop as writers is foundational to ELA. Writing and the written expression of one’s thoughts aren’t ELA exclusives though. Developing these practices is foundational to any curriculum because written expression is a lifelong skill that follows students into higher education and the workplace.
So how are students entering the next level as writers? Unfortunately, the entrance is at a pretty subpar level, and the brevity of students’ daily social media posts and communications are doing nothing to enhance their abilities to effectively communicate in the workplace. In short, students are coming up short when it comes to written and verbal expression in the real world.
Education Week’s special report focusing on Literacy in the Workplace examines the shortcomings found as students are entering the workforce. Writing, speaking, reading, and digital literacy are all areas where more real-world applications need to be implemented. Sarah D. Sparks tackles Is Professional Writing the Missing Link in High School English Classes?, and the exploration of current practices in middle and high schools found a focus on worksheets, short answers, and note taking. While these are writing tasks, they are not necessarily professional tasks that will take students to the next level of communication in the workplace.
What writing practices can better prepare students for the real world?
A poll of current professionals would likely find that the last fill-in-the-blank worksheet completed occurred outside of their career path and/or when helping their child complete a homework assignment. Real-world writing isn’t about filling in the blanks. It’s about effectively communicating thoughts and ideas, persuading a variety of audiences, and conveying experiences all in a short and concise format. Students need to learn to write in a manner that clearly communicates with an audience while emphasizing facts over emotion and moving beyond a casually abbreviated format.
Any curriculum can infuse more professionally aligned writing practices. When selecting writing tasks for students to complete, it is imperative to look at them through a real-world lens. If an assignment doesn’t have a real-world application, what changes can occur to allow for more practicality? The following practices offer some great starting points:
Resumes- Nothing says real-world preparedness like building a resume. A great practice point would be having students develop resumes for literary characters or historical figures. Students are able to practice a real-world writing format while also applying research and analytic skills to glean the necessary information.
Procedural Descriptions- It’s time to amp up the how-to speeches. Life isn’t done by picture descriptions only (unless IKEA assemblage is occurring). Precisely detailed descriptions for tasks and process completion offer a host of multi-faceted uses. The ability to communicate processes and expectations is highly valuable.
Connectivity- Effectively communicating connectedness helps students to think outside of the box and display an understanding of the big picture. By determining the interconnectedness of people, places, events, and abstract concepts, students are able to draw on a variety of experiences and knowledge bases. By sharing this connectively in writing, they are able to apply problem solving and critical thinking skills to develop practical solutions.
Emails- Emails are a key communication piece in professional settings. Students are often lacking in structuring emails with relevant content that takes audience/recipients into account. By practicing the construction of emails and the proper language and tone to be used with applicable audiences, students are gaining a major life skill. Emails serve many purpose in the real world and learning to properly compose them will definitely give students a leg up. Students can create mock email threads between key players in a variety of subject areas.
Succinct Descriptions- Extrapolating information from images, charts, and diagrams is definitely real-world applicable. Students need to be able to both interpret found images and succinctly describe those of their own creation and/or usage. While a picture may speak a thousand words, it is necessary that an explanation for its choice can be communicated.
Persuasive Writing- Being able to structure an argument and/or convey an opinion is pivotal to professional communication. The role of the audience and the importance of presenting facts are necessary skills to master in regards to persuasive writing. The more opportunities students have to develop their persuasive writing skills the better.
Finding relevant ways to incorporate writing into every curriculum is necessary for preparing students to join the workforce and world outside of the classroom. Writing plays a pivotal role in future successes, but it’s not a skill to be taught or mastered in isolation. When writing development occurs via practical and real-world applications, students are better prepared to showcase their knowledge and positively contribute to their professional endeavors.
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