from The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner
The Fifth Survival Skill: Effective Oral and Written Communication
Communication skills are a major factor highlighted in dozens of studies over the years that focus on students’ lack of preparation for both college and the workplace, and these skills are only going to become more important as teams are increasingly composed of individuals from diverse cultures. The ability to express one’s views clearly in a democracy and to communicate effectively across cultures is an important citizenship skill as well. …
When I asked Rob Gordon [former director of the American Politics Program at West Point] what advice he had for teachers today, he was emphatic: “Teach them to write! Effective communication is key in everything we do – people need to learn to communicate effectively with each other and with external communities. Even enlisted men need to communicate effectively via e-mail. … I saw the importance of this in Iraq when I went back in January of 2004. When we asked a brigade commander what he’d learned, he talked about the importance of relying on soldiers who understood not only what they were seeing on screens that showed near real-time combatant movements but also how to interpret and communicate what they saw.”
Mike Summers [vice president for Global Talent Management at Dell Computers] also spoke forcefully on this issue: “We are routinely surprised at the difficulty some young people have in communicating: verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills. They have difficulty being clear and concise; it’s hard for them to create focus, energy, and passion around the points they want to make.” …
Listening to Summers’s comments as a former English teacher myself, I was surprised by the list of skills he thought important: not only the ability to communicate one’s thoughts clearly and concisely but also the ability to create focus, energy and passion. Summers and other leaders from various companies were not necessarily complaining about young people’s poor grammar, punctuation or spelling – the things we spend so much time teaching and testing in our schools. While it’s obviously important to write and speak correctly, the complaines I heard most frequently were about fuzzy thinking and the lack of writing with a real voice.
This is important information for teachers and librarians. What is disheartening, though, is that standardized tests don’t typically test this kind of writing and teachers have very little time to teach it. Any ideas for giving students opportunities to practice this kind of communication?