Making The Connection Between Standard Curriculum Grammar And Writing For The World Of Work
Donna Andreozzi, CCRI
From November 1996 to May 1997 I was employed by CCRI as the academic and office procedures instructor for an office technology program that served AFDC recipients from Aquidneck Island. It was designed to support high school graduates and GED recipients with an opportunity to develop new skills, improve upon current abilities and gain relevant work experience through internships. The multiple partners of this program, later named by the students as Computer Technology to Independence (CTI), worked with the ultimate goal of permanent employment in mind.
From the first day I knew the students hated to write. CCRI curriculum required an English pre-assessment that tested knowledge of grammar, punctuation, capitalization and writing through the use of a writing sample. The latter caused students the most stress and required the most time. It was clear to me and the students that their writing needed attention.
After a settling-in period all students regularly scored in the 80s on standard curriculum grammar quizzes though they did not perform nearly as well on short writing assignments. Most learners still met writing tasks with a sense of dread. I was concerned that this could be a potential roadblock to future employment and job advancement. Midway through our six month semester one woman made her feelings clear (and provided me my favorite quote) by announcing to the class, "I HATE WRITING!" just after I announced that we would do some writing that day. After some consideration, this lead to my inquiry question and subsequent goal.
"How can I help learners make the connection between standard curriculum grammar and writing for the workplace?"
It was (and is) my goal to help learners build upon present grammar successes in order to enhance developing writing skills. Learners would develop their own strategies that they can carry with them to the workplace and beyond. When students see improvement their confidence will increase and they will be more likely to consider writing an ability rather than the weakness they see it as today.
* A self-assessment that measured attitude toward and perceived skill level of writing was administered to the five participating learners (see attached for sample).
* They were asked for a pre-writing sample in the form of a cover letter.
In the preceding weeks we reviewed elements of various business letters.
Therefore, they were all to start with some prior knowledge of how a letter
should appear and were familiar with the related vocabulary. Learners were
asked to find an interesting job in the classifieds and write a corresponding
cover letter. They were provided a basic sample cover letter and given
some instruction regarding the
body but knew that there were many "correct" ways to pen a letter.
* During the following weeks learners had the opportunity to continue writing letters typically found in the office, such as letters of request, thank you (for the interview) letters and interoffice memos.
* A final writing assignment regarding their recollection of the first day of class was used as the final evaluation.
* Remaining students were asked to again assess their writing abilities and attitudes with the same learner assessment inventory mentioned above.
I am pleased to say that there was improvement in the quality of letters written by the learners. Whether the improvement is attributable to improved skill, increased confidence or both, is unknown. From the more recent samples I get the sense that they are more comfortable with writing than when they began. When asked if they felt more comfortable they were not entirely certain. They believed they improved in the last several months, not just during the weeks of the inquiry, but seemed to require hard evidence. The learners also said that all the writing was not as bad as they believed it would be. That is a beginning!
I firmly believe that the increased quality and interest, in part, is due to the meaningful content of the writing assignments. Previous curriculum writing was (far too infrequent and) not directly related to job search (cover letters, etc.) or office procedures (memos, etc.) and too academic in nature.
There was little difference between the pre- and post-inventories. This is most likely attributable to the rather small amount of time (4 or even 3 weeks in some cases) between assessments. In hindsight, it would have been most useful to have given this inventory in November and follow up in May.
I would like to pursue this topic when I have more time to implement the curriculum and measure differences in ability and attitude. It is necessary for me to develop increasingly challenging and meaningful writing tasks that occur throughout the program. It may also be wise to narrow my question toward attitude or abilities or development of own strategies, depending on the time constraints. Overall, I am pleased that this group of learners gave it their best effort and showed themselves that they could write well. That alone has made this a worthwhile effort for me. However, I am concerned that they will forget their successes. Next time, the learners can chronicle their improvements by creating a pamphlet or a sheet of strategies tailored to their writing styles. Something that not only shows the writing samples they have done from day one (which they possess) but an analysis, the Òwhy and howÓ of the progress they made should prove to be very useful.
Please indicate your responses to the following statements as they relate to your opinions or feelings at this time.
strongly disagree  disagree  neutral  agree  strongly agree 
Overall, I am pleased with my writing skills.     
I wish I could write better than I do now.     
In class, given the choice, I'd prefer making an oral report over a written one.     
I like to write.     
I think I write well.     
In general, I prefer written communication over verbal communication.     
I'd rather write a letter to a friend than call on the phone (assuming both would cost the price of a .32 stamp).
    
In school I enjoyed writing.     
On my own time I write for pleasure.     
My writing sbilities need improvement.     
I am uncomfortable writing brief notes to others (to child's daycare or school, for example).     
I am sensitive to criticism about how I write.     
In school we were free to write creatively without criticism.     
With practice and effort my writing skills will continue to improve.     
Being able to write effectively is important in the workplace.     
My writing skills do not need improvement.     
Since I have started this class my writing has improved.     
Since I have started this class I feel more confident in my writing abilities.     
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