College professors and business leaders are not typically in agreement about too many things. They do agree, however, that college students and young workers have deficient writing skills.
Many new college students are stunned by their poor grades in classes that require writing.
Many new employees are surprised to learn how important writing can be for career advancement.
When it comes to college admission, grades are the most important criteria — and writing is the most important skill needed for good grades.
For example, two key subjects, English and history, are highly writing-centric.
Foreign language classes, at least after sophomore year, also require strong writing ability. In addition, many electives and some science classes require writing in the form of papers and essays.
In college, the importance of writing increases significantly for any liberal arts-based class. Indeed, the vast majority of most grades will be based on papers and essay-based tests.
Writing is a complex skill.
Unlike other academic disciplines that can be taught in a concrete manner, writing requires excellence in abstractions such as communication ability, mastery of language, and writing style. Developing such skills requires time.
You cannot cram to become a great writer.
For this reason, early intervention in either middle school or 9th and 10th grade is vital.
The Learning Consultants has had great success in creating supplementary writing programs for our students.
In some cases, our initial work began because students were struggling with writing prompts. In other cases, students simply weren’t inclined toward writing.
In a surprisingly high number of cases, good students wanted to become great students and knew that enhanced writing ability would lead to such success.
For example, we recently worked with a student from East Lyme, CT. In school, he was very strong in math. His English grades were reasonably good, mostly high Bs.
But the student wanted to attend competitive colleges that required mostly As across the board. His dream schools included Boston College, Georgetown and Dartmouth — all schools that would require strong writing once in college.
East Lyme High School is an outstanding school and his writing was simply not good enough to get As without some additional instruction. Within a month, his grades improved. He now has a better chance at admission at some of the schools he desires.
More importantly, he’ll be ready for college writing when the time comes.
It certainly isn’t easy.
We have observed that many of our student-writers are unable to: 1) identify objective qualities of good writing, 2) maintain a standard process for creating quality writing, and 3) write with proper grammar.
The objective qualities of good writing. Evaluating writing is not as subjective as most students believe. We teach our students to understand standard criteria for grading essays.
Quality writing. Most students hope “the spirit moves them to write.” We teach them how “to move the spirit” and get them to start and complete writing projects in a timely fashion.
Proper grammar. Grammar used to be a year-long subject in school. Today, grammar is taught sporadically in English class. Consequently, most young writers struggle with the rules of formal writing. We offer our students a short, dynamic lesson on grammar necessary for strong writing.
We recently worked with a student from Old Lyme High School who, despite his bright ideas for writing assignments, continually lost points on his papers due to poor grammar.
The student simply had a hard time with pronouns (subject v. object) as well as misplaced modifiers. He made a few other small but constant mistakes such as pronoun clarity (changing from third person to second person.) These mistakes were easily corrected by our writing tutor and his English grades improved significantly.
We recently had another student from East Lyme High School. English was her second language. As such, her ability to master all the idiosyncracies of the English language was limited by the relatively few years she had used English as her primary language. She spent several intensive tutoring hours with our top writing coach and soon enough her writing was matching her considerable brain power.
Literacy—the ability to read and write–has always been a hallmark of academic and career success in industrialized countries.
But, today, it’s no longer enough simply to know how to read and write. The increasingly global economy and the new literacy –based technologies demand a higher level of literacy.
What is the difference between basic and advanced literacy?
Advanced literacy goes well beyond knowing how to read and write—it means being able to think, read, and write critically, and to solve all different types of problems.
To a larger extent than ever before, academic and career success today both depend on a well developed literacy. Most of the fastest growing jobs today—that pay well and offer advancement potential—require sophisticated communication and problem solving skills—in other words, advanced literacy skills.
At the center of this advanced literacy “skill set” is writing. Despite the proliferation of non-standard writing forms, as text messages and advertising slogans, the rapid communication technologies of this century have propelled critical writing skills from the periphery of literacy to the center, making it a “real world” skill of the 21st century, perhaps the real world skill.
The most desirable jobs (in terms of both income and advancement potential) of today and tomorrow involve all different writing formats, from short emails to in-depth web page content. On the World Wide Web, the highly literate writer succeeds in ways the barely literate writer cannot, in terms of credibility, accuracy, and selling potential.
Yet, many students reach high school today without realizing that critical reading and writing skills are essential to their career success. They don’t think of writing as a “real-world” skill, but consider it a specialized task of school in general, and English classes in particular. The question of one tenth grader from Old Lyme reflects the attitude of many students today: “Why do I need to learn to write, since I don’t want to be an English teacher or a writer?”
This student from Old Lyme enjoyed writing, when he signed up for individual tutoring, but dreaded writing assignments in school and wondered what purpose they served beyond academics. However, once he understood the connection between advanced literacy and writing, his whole approach to writing changed, and the process itself became both easier and more fluid for him.
So, preparing for college and career success in the 21st century means learning how to write, not just to get good grades in English class or score well on the CMTs or MCATs, but as the key to the skill set that is advanced literacy.
Students who understand that writing skills reach well beyond the English or language arts classroom can overcome their resistance to the writing process and make that process work for them.