I read quite the inspirational educational story on The Atlantic this week, about a high school in Staten Island, New Drop, that was facing closure due to low performance. It had tried just about any trick in the book. It was down to a head teacher to investigate and find out that the students found it difficult to express themselves in writing. That meant that students were unable to write compelling (or even coherent) arguments as part of essay questions.
The majority of New Dorp’s student population is that of poor or lowers class backgrounds, whose parents were less likely to have the background, time or education to support their children. It all fell to the shoulders of the school. And so, it was here, in New Drop, Staten Island, that the Writing Revolution that is about to sweep the US over the coming years, had started.
Writing and Career Education
In my view, this Revolution is not a far cry from the notion I had mentioned in previous posts about exploring the complex vocabulary surrounding the world of Further Education, Career and Work. It isn’t a far cry from what is fondly nicknamed “Career Literacy”.
The Writing Revolution is about bringing back critical and analytical thinking, about being able to explore an issue from a multitude of facets. It is about being able to articulate the different points of view and take a personal stand as to which point of view is most appealing to the student and why.
This concept rang a familiar bell to me: much like the study from the University of Derby suggested, teaching students a “correct” meaning of a term linked with careers is not solving the ambiguity of the term for the student. As a result, students are left with the wrong impression or the wrong interpretation of the concept.
It was argued that Career Literacy isn’t about “solving” the problem, but – rather – teaching the students how to understand it. Not only that, but also be able to methodically explore it using language skills.
So – if we are embarking on a Writing Revolution – why not use an accessible vocabulary that is within everyone’s reach, regardless of their background to help hone these skills? The Career Education framework has so many objectives that can be met by engaging with it.
And – whilst you are doing that – you are probably meeting objectives for your English curriculum as well!
…and what’s become of New Drop? It didn’t close. In just 2 years (between 2009 and 2011) the portion of students who passed the English Regents Exams (a sort of cross between GCSEs and A Levels) rose from 67% to 89%. It meant that New Dorp could re-allocate teaching hours, because they didn’t need to have so many Regents-Focused “cram” classes: those reduced from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20.