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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Dear Sir . . . LMK about WRK

Professional writing” has vanished from the curriculum, writes Ed Week‘s Sarah D. Sparks. Employers and educators are pushing for students to learn writing skills they’ll need in the workplace.

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But students don’t even know how to write an email, said Amanda Barker, a Michigan teacher who’s developed a course on professional writing. “The vast majority of my class have never attempted to write email; they only text,” she told Sparks.

When students are taught writing, the focus is on preparing them for college, said Steve Graham, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Leaders in science and technology fields “listed professional communication skills as the most important in their fields, above even problem-solving, analytical skills, and technical-writing skills,” in a 2018 survey by the American Society for Engineering Education, writes Sparks.

“As you look at Gen Z, the kids in middle and high school and those entering the workforce right now, they’ve grown up in a world of 120 characters and Instagram; that’s how they’ve learned to communicate,” said H. John Oechsle, the president and chief executive officer of Swiftpage, a Denver-based digital marketing firm. . . . “What we’re finding is, as younger folks are entering the marketplace, they have a real issue with putting together short, concise, and clear written communication about something.”

Teachers rarely assign “the kinds of writing that would be needed in the workplace, such as analysis or formal persuasive writing,” writes Sparks “In both middle and high schools, the most common written tasks were short-answer questions, worksheets, and note-taking while reading or listening. Explanations and analysis were used in high school but not as commonly as the other tasks.”

On the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress writing exam, “only 23 percent of students wrote a competent or effective letter giving evidence for or against a proposed business in a town,” she adds. The kids can’t write.

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, we learned how to write a “business letter.” I believe we spent two days on it. All four years of high school English were devoted to persuasive writing.

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