By Ann D. David, Dorothy Meiburg Weller, and Amber Funderburgh
As we discussed in our post about college readiness in writing, we have spent some time thinking about what it means to write beyond the bounds of the K-12 classroom. When we first started our inquiry, writing in the world of work was something none of us had studied or, frankly, thought much about. Being career ready often gets short shrift in the readiness conversation. But we wanted to have a conversation with colleagues about writing in college, career, and for life, so we knew we would need to dig into the world of work.
While our exploration of college writing was well-grounded in books and articles, we were less sure where to begin with writing for work. We started by reading “Everyday Writing” from NCTE’s Council Chronicle. The article presents 10 vignettes about people in the world and how they write. Our key take-aways from that article:almost everyone writes for work, and a lot of that writing involves digital technology. That got us thinking about what a collection of work writing from our friends and family would look like.
So we asked people in our lives for writing and were amazed at the range of what we got:
- A press release about an upcoming concert
- Photographs and captions
- Speeches to trade organizations
- Computer coding
- Client/patient progress reports
- Emails including discussions of manufacturing specifications and quotes for customers
- Email conversations with supervisors
- A contest essay
- Scientific reports
- Field notes
- A redacted police report
- A graph about soil samples made by a geologist.
In preparation for our workshop about writing, we laid all of these samples out to discuss them, categorize them, and put them on display boards.
We were overwhelmed with the variety. We immediately saw the importance of supporting students in becoming flexible writers who can address a variety of audiences for a range of purposes. In discussing our collection, we also noticed how almost none of this writing looked like the type of writing we did in our classrooms with our students.
We used these samples in a teacher workshop about post-secondary writing.When the teachers at the workshop saw these examples, they also noticed how these samples looked nothing like the writing they were asking students to do. Further, they realized that if students were asked to list types of writing, few would come up with the types of samples we had collected. And we all agreed that standardized writing assessments would do little to prepare students for this range of writing.
We encourage teachers to build similar collections of writing from their students’ friends and families, and we’re sure the results will be just as diverse, interesting, and enlightening. Parents could even collect writing samples from their work and share those with their children and their children’s teachers. Students who are exposed to such a range of texts would have a much different perspective on what writing can be.
To be prepared to write for their careers, students need to have opportunities to write for real audiences in authentic genres (as Brad Currie explained in an earlier post). Finding those audiences and genres often means teachers, parents, and community members working together to build opportunities for students to do that work. And these authentic writing experiences at the K-12 level can help students move into the types of thinking and writing expected in college settings too. Moving away from test-centered writing to world-centered writing better engages and prepares students for the worlds of college, work, and life.
Ann D. David is an assistant professor in the Dreeben School of Education at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, TX. She is thankful for her former high school students who gave her so many good stories to tell her preservice teachers.
Dorothy Meiburg Weller has been a writing tutor for middle school and college students and has taught high school English for four years. She has been the intrepid leader of our study group for the last three years.
Amber Funderburgh has been teaching middle school English language arts for seven years and loves recommending the next best book to her students. She is also the co-director of the Heart of Texas Writing Project.