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Managing Writing Assignments

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 -- Stephanie Abbott

Last week, Scott Sterling posted a blog on writing assignments for the real world: Writing Strategies for the Real World. Scott pointed out that the typical writing assignments from teachers, like the five-paragraph essay, were never used once he left school. He offered suggestions for more realistic assignments that meet academic requirements while providing the opportunities for developing writing skills that will provide pertinent experience after students leave school.

I wanted to expand Scott’s suggestions with a few of my own by proposing that educators meet students in their world. You can still develop writing skills that are aligned to content standards, but do it in such a way that your students will find relevant.

Summarize: Let them tweet! Think about a work-related summary. The best are concise and to the point. Coworkers don’t want to read the next American novel when they need information to make timely decisions. A tweet, by definition, is 140 characters. So, a student who can clearly explain why we need the order of operations in a tweet understands the concept. Are any additional words, sentences, or paragraphs necessary when 140 characters will do?

Opinion: You think what???? Post an article in a blog or Twitter feed that you think will provoke a strong reaction from your students. Then, have your students defend their point of view. Better, have “sides,” telling students that they have to support a specific belief. I am occasionally included in a text chain with my twenty something children. I am amazed at how persuasively and succinctly they express their opinion.  I suspect they are inspired by the other responses. The public forum of the blog or Twitter stream would be similar to a work email. You are facilitating the conversion of academic proficiency which translates into a professional skill.

Final Suggestion: Use an online writing tool. I clearly remember my fourth grade teacher telling the class that a BIC pen was not a real writing instrument. We were expected to use a refillable fountain pen (yes, I am truly dating myself). I wonder how she would react to a file sent in an email or uploaded to the cloud, instead of receiving assignments in a neatly stapled paper packet. Nothing will reflect the real world more than an online writing tool where Outlook, MS Word, and Salesforce are used more than paper and pen. Not only will your students gain practical skills they need to operate effectively in the real world, but also you’ll get assignments that are typed. Oh, you’ll still have to deal with spelling and grammar errors. However, you won’t have to see cross-outs, Wite-Out, or …. ink spots!

Like my fourth grade teacher experienced, changes are challenges. However, if we embrace new approaches, we are doing more than preparing our students for the world they will experience after they leave our classrooms. We are also teaching by example, using change in an appropriate way in order to be prepared for the future.