When asked to respond to essay questions, my students are all too often willing to only provide basic simple answers. I remember this trick from my early days in high school as I just wanted to answer the question to make my teacher happy, then turn and run as fast as I could to avoid focus on any of my half-inspired sentence fragments. I use the word "fragments" since that's all they were at the time. I just needed to give the teacher what they thought I knew, then skedaddle back to other busy work without expanding on any ideas...and no doubt it drove them nuts! Now I find myself on the receiving end of such a strategy and I sense that I need to attack this mindset.
After handing back student exams, I pulled out my stool and asked every freshman to look me straight in the eye in order to concentrate on what I was about to say. I paused until every face was focused at me, maintaining silence until there was total calm in the room. "How many of you are going to look for a summer job in the coming weeks?" An overwhelming majority of hands went up and I knew I had captured their attention for the next que. "Are you aware that when you approach a potential employer they ask you to fill out a job application which in many cases includes a question or two about WHY they should hire you? Several employers also ask questions about your life goals and even a question about how you interact with people. They ask those questions in order to see how you will respond...and if you answer with words rather than sentences, your application will go into their trash. It's the cold hard truth, and if you can't construct a sentence, you will NOT be given any consideration for employment."
I explained how my past career was involved with the hiring of people for an assortment of jobs, be it management, salespeople, truck drivers, warehouse personnel, and high school youth helping us out for the summer. I shared how I reviewed their writing skills to get a sense of how much they wanted the job. It made sense for me to hire the best candidate and if they couldn't communicate their feelings in writing, I didn't want them to waste my time nor theirs. They listened and I sensed that most of them 'got it' for what it was meant to be...a moment of greater awareness of what Mr. D wanted (and expected) from his students. "With that being said, I assure you that we're going to keep working on your writing skills in the days to come...count on it. This can be a learning experience for you in more ways than you think, so work with me!"
In the coming weeks I have every intent on allocating more time to improving their writing skills, not with huge assignments but in simple tasks which will inflict little pain or traumatic stress. In an age when young people text in abbreviated acronyms, there is all the more sense of urgency on my part to make sure they are aware of the need to have the ability to write good sentences...not just for unit exams and the accompanying essays, but for life itself.