In a recent survey, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education asked Massachusetts employers whether the state’s education system is adequately preparing young people for employment. Not surprisingly, the executives who responded had some significant concerns. They felt that K-12 education in Massachusetts needed to do a better job with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, vocational training, and school-business partnerships. The connections between these concerns and today’s work world are self-evident.
But another set of concerns was less obvious. Respondents also gave Massachusetts schools low scores for how well they prepare students on what the survey called “applied skills,” including “Ability to write clearly,” “Oral communication and presentation skills,” and “Independent and critical thinking.”
These are among the skills UCLA educator Mike Rose addresses in “Reframing Career and Technical Education,” a recent editorial in Education Week. According to Rose, we ignore the intellectual and cognitive demands of vocational education at our peril. Whether they are studying to be electricians or system administrators, students must learn to experiment, apply their knowledge, solve problems, and communicate effectively.
WriteBoston believes that writing is thinking, and that writing and thinking are critical to all kinds of education, whether students are learning about mitosis or dental assisting.
Many vocational educators are already doing this, like the plumbing instructor Rose observed, who “spent much of his time hovering over his students, peppering them with questions, having them explain what they were doing and why, and probing the logic of what they said.” At WriteBoston, we have found that increasing the amount of writing in a vocational curriculum can significantly enhance these efforts.
At Greater Lawrence Technical School, where a WriteBoston coach has worked for three years, a new school-wide writing program has students writing in every career area. They are describing how to repair a car door, creating business plans for salons, and writing research papers on topics from welding to healthy food in schools. The more they write, the more their writing improves, and with it their overall critical thinking and communication skills, not to mention their understanding of the specialized vocabularies of their career areas.
WriteBoston believes that writing is thinking, and that writing and thinking are critical to all kinds of education, whether students are learning about mitosis or dental assisting. As Boston looks to revitalize Madison Park High School and create career pathways at other high schools, and as Massachusetts revisits the role of community colleges in vocational education, let’s make sure not to overlook the essential role of writing in schools and the workplace.
WriteBoston is dedicated to improving the writing skills of young people. We build teacher capacity to use writing to support student learning across all content areas and create opportunities to engage in the writing process.
Our Mission: WriteBoston promotes deep learning through writing. We offer training and coaching for teachers, along with writing opportunities for students, built on the premise that powerful thinking and writing are inseparable.
Our Vision: WriteBoston believes that writing is essential to student achievement. We believe all young people can be flexible, thoughtful communicators and problem solvers when writing is embedded in daily learning.
Photos courtesy of Wonderlane and Bekathwia, used under Creative Common License.