Preparing Adolescents for the Literacy Demands of the 21st Century Workplace by Anne Beaufort

In this article, Beaufort argues that “adolescents need an expanded set of liberate behaviors, and even more important, the ability to learn independently the new literacy skills required in the varied jobs they will hold” (239). That is to say that in order to succeed in college and or the workplace, students must obtain skills beyond high school. Those skills that they learned in high school are not enough to survive on in the real world.

Now for my response to this article. By the time I got to the fourth page, I was saying “It’s another-make-me-say-WOW article.” A few years ago I was having a discussion with a college instructor who said that some of the high school grad students who attended his first year writing course had middle to high school writing level composition skills. He said that those skills were not adequate enough to comprehend his course. He stressed that he needed to teach or re-teach basic writing skills such as narrowing the focus of the paper, creating a thesis statement, writing a topic sentence and paragraph, how to know when to create a new paragraph, etc. Nonetheless, I have to agree with the author when she states that “texting, blogging, emails, social networking sites pose no problems for the students, but still is not adequate enough for the written literacy beyond the classroom” (239).

Continuing on, as stated in the section entitled “Importance and Pervasiveness of Writing in the Workplace,” writing is done on all levels, from management to clerical (241). My own life’s example fits this article perfectly. After getting a job as an administrative assistant, my supervisor asked me how my note taking skills were. I told her that they were pretty good. She immediately informed me that I would be the note taker at the department’s next meeting. Little did I know that those skills that I learned in middle and high schools and then perfected them in college would come in handy for the new job. My point is the same as Beaufort’s point in which she states that adolescents need an expanded set of literate behavior . . . and literacy skills for various jobs that they will hold” (239).

Furthermore, if I had relied only on my high school written literacy skills, there would have been no way that I would have applied for a job as an administrative assistant. For example, after coordinating one of the department’s programs, the director wanted an analysis report that included topics such as what the students learned and how beneficial was the knowledge to the students. To help me gather this data, the students in the program took a pre and post survey in which I collected and analyzed data to put it in a report form. Without a course on how to take collected data and put it in a report form, I could only wonder if I could have produced a report that was adequate enough for what the director wanted. Fortunately, my report was exactly what he wanted. This is one example that proves that schools must prepare adolescents for the literacy demands of the 21st century workplace.

Kristen Krug Response:
Goldie, I couldn't agree more! The more we read and talk about how writing has changed, the more I realize I need to approach teaching of writing much differently. I still believe that teaching the five- or 40-paragraph essay is important because it helps to teach students how to organize their thoughts, but I think we also need to teach them how that essay is different from writing they may do elsewhere in life and eventually in the workplace.

So often I have students work in groups, and many of them complain about it in some way. Sometimes it's just their body language, and sometimes it is just outright complaining that they "hate" group work. I have always just had the attitude that it's "good for them" without really thinking of why other than they need to work well with others. I hadn't realized that teaching the essay could in fact make it harder for students to adjust in the workplace where so much of the writing is collaborative. Writing the essay is autonomous. The writer has control of the text. Writing collaboratively is not autonomous and the writer has to let go of the control of the text. "It seems that most writers have to go through a period of psychological adjustment to the loss of control of 'their' texts" (242).

I am sure my students are mostly annoyed with having to interact with people they don't know, to work with people who won't pull their weight, or others who will just do too much, but I hadn't considered that some of my students might rather work on the project alone in order to have control over "their" text.