What Are We Really Preparing Students For?

I just started reading “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key” by Kathleen Blake Yancey, and she discusses how “never before has the proliferation of writings outside the academy so counterpointed the compositions inside” (298).

I couldn’t agree more.

As a high school teacher, I am constantly having to invest students into the idea that these literary analysis papers will “count” for something outside of school. They get that this is a reading skill, the characters and themes apply to life, yada yada, but I feel that we as teachers do not do a remotely good job of educating them for different genres of writing, especially preparing them for “proliferate” pieces.

Each time I have assigned an assessment, I give them a prompt, but I have never stated HOW the assignment should be turned in. Yancey hits on the point that students write in many genres that are not required–it’s all for the love of writing. Secretly, I wait to see which student will break the mold, and although it’s only my second year teaching, I have not seen anyone do it. Every time I collect the assessment, I get your typical five paragraph essay, questions about introductions and conclusions, what kind of phrases do you want in the paper. How do I break the mold?

As much as I hate the standards and structures of the K-12 education system, I can’t exactly buck it with the kids’ SAT scores, GPAs, M-STEP, and not to mention my own teaching evaluations. I know that in college writing and composition are different, but I don’t know how to change my classroom and then also the rest of my department.

There is such an emphasis placed on how to read literature and informational texts in my department that you forget there are so. many. genres. out there that the kids have never been exposed to.

I feel guilty.

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