October 4, 2006

Writing for the real world

Posted in writing at 2:11 pm by mrsmauck

All right teachers, riddle me this: What’s the point of a research paper? What’s the point of MLA? How many people actually use these conventions in the real world? I was talking to a woman at my work yesterday, and she has a business degree, but found herself writing grants for a living. Likewise, my husband was bumfuzzled when the bank told him they needed a business plan to fund a small business loan. Any citizen can and should write letters to the editor about issues they feel strongly about. This is writing that matters in the real world, and does high school English prepare students to do this kind of writing, or is it more sink or swim? Do you think we’re responsible for giving them basic writing skills, and then they decide how to use them? Why do we give them basic writing skills through tasks that often have no real-world parallel, such as literary analysis or research paper?

I think the solution to these questions might be in teaching audience. The teacher or grader should not be the only audience for a paper. I’ve felt like this so much throughout my academic career, and it’s frustrating. You turn in what you think is a great paper, and get back a not-so-great response from the teacher, i.e., a not so great grade. So you start writing what you think they want to hear. Is this useful or counterproductive?

Writing is a way of learning; that’s for sure. That’s why we make assignments like, “Write an essay about a theme in The Great Gatsby.” But I truly believe that we will be cheating our students if they don’t learn about writing for the real world. Here are some concrete examples of what I’m talking about:

  1. Scholarship essays
  2. Business plans
  3. Newspaper articles
  4. Letters (Business, cover letters, friendly)
  5. Grants (Could students even work together to write grants for the school? It doesn’t hurt to try, right?)
  6. Note-taking

Teachers, what do you think? How do you show students the real-world value of conducting research, drafting a hypothesis, and writing an engaging, convincing research paper? I mean, we’re not training classrooms full of future professors, who will become masters of research papers. There’s the obvious reason of being able to write papers for college courses. I suppose they’re also taking ownership of a topic or body of knowledge and embarking on their own personal quest to become (at least short-term) experts in that area. That’s a valuable lesson for real life, right? I like the idea of students teaching each other what they learned, and also reflecting on their quest. Perhaps we should approach research papers this way: students are beginning a journey to becoming experts in an area in which they’re interested. The final product will be a thoughtful, well-researched paper, and the education of their classmates on their topic. But the journey is what’s important. The fact that their passion could be stirred for a cause, for an idea, is what’s important.

I guess I kind of answered my original question, hashing this out on here. Thanks for listening, and I’d love to hear your ideas on writing for the real world.

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1 Comment »

  1. Mrs. Scanlon said,

    I agree about writing for the real world, but I do think that literary analysis and research papers are good assignments anyway. I tell my students that being able to analyze is an important skill in most jobs, especially law and science, but also for auto mechanics and cooks. I teach analysis as a way to figure out how to say something clearly by breaking it down logically and supplying evidence to support ideas. Also, I tell them that literary analysis IS a small research paper, but the only thing you research is the piece of literature you are talking about. And research papers are totally necessary for learning in college classes, don’t you think?

    I have taught my seniors how to write action plans, but am not sure how to write a business plan because I am not familiar with them.

    I teach students how to write letters to the editor by expressing their opinion and supporting it with evidence. We also write college and application essays.

    You are right about teaching students writing for the real world.

    Good luck with getting a teaching job and with your baby. Having kids of your own really helps you as a teacher, besides being one of the best things that can ever happen to you!

    SS


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