Adults communicate in writing on a daily basis through notes to children’s teachers, work activity logs and forms, e-mails to family and co-workers, online service forms, shopping lists, and so on. Adults in postsecondary education or technical training courses face expectations to produce a variety of writing products from lecture notes, summaries, and critiques to research papers and essays. The pervasiveness of writing in daily life underscores the need for learners and their instructors to focus on adults becoming flexible, fluent, and confident writers.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that many adults in America are not flexible, fluent, confident writers. National reports decry that nearly 40 percent of community college registrants have skills below the college level and are referred to developmental instruction in reading, writing, or mathematics (Strong American Schools, 2008). Similarly, reports document that the writing demands of most jobs—even at the entry level—are increasing, and businesses are stressed to provide the remedial writing instruction that workers need (Business Roundtable, 2009; Casner-Lotto & Barrington, 2006; Graham & Perin, 2007).
The urgency of this situation is further heightened by the introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) framework’s College and Career Ready Benchmarks. CCSS is an initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to write academic standards that are “(1) research and evidence based, (2) aligned with college and work expectations, (3) rigorous, and (4) internationally benchmarked” (CCSS Initiative, 2010, p. 3). These standards have been adopted in 46 states and will be the basis of student K–12 assessments, as well as the revised GED tests, to be released in 2014, in cooperative development with two consortia of states and publishers.
The CCSS Initiative represents the latest of many national efforts to increase standards and expectations for K–12 education and to elucidate the lack of alignment between secondary and postsecondary expectations (ACT, 2008; CCSS Initiative, 2010; National Commission on Writing, 2006). For adult education, the adoption of CCSS represents a significant increase in the expectations for learners and writing instruction. The CCSS description of College and Career Ready writing includes the following:
To be college- and career-ready writers, students must take task, purpose, and audience into careful consideration, choosing words, information, structures, and formats deliberately. They need to know how to combine elements of different kinds of writing—for example, to use narrative strategies within argument and explanation within narrative—to produce complex and nuanced writing. They need to be able to use technology strategically when creating, refining, and collaborating on writing. They have to become adept at gathering information, evaluating sources, and citing material accurately, reporting findings from their research and analysis of sources in a clear and cogent manner. They must have the flexibility, concentration, and fluency to produce high-quality first draft text under a tight deadline as well as the capacity to revisit and make improvements to a piece of writing over multiple drafts when circumstances encourage or require it. (CCSS Initiative, 2010, p. 41)
Preparing adult learners for further education or work advancement requires that educators help learners improve their writing skills, increase confidence in their ability to write, and embrace the goal of writing well as a means of communication and expression.
ACT. (2008). ACT’s college readiness system: Meeting the challenge of a changing world.Iowa City, IA: Author.
Casner-Lotto, J., & Barrington, L. (2006). Are they really ready to work? Employers’ perspectives on the basic knowledge and applied skills of new entrants to the 21st century workforce. New York: The Conference Board, Inc.; Partnership for 21st Century Skills; Corporate Voices for Working Families; and Society for Human Resource Management. Retrieved December 27, 2011, from http://www.p21.org/documents/FINAL_REPORT_PDF09-29-06.pdf
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved December 27, 2011, from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf
Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high school. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
The National Commission on Writing. (2006). Writing and school reform. New York: College Board. Retrieved December 27, 2011, from http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/writingcom/writing-school-reform-natl-comm-writing.pdf
Strong American Schools. (2008). Diploma to nowhere. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved December 27, 2011, from http://www.broadeducation.org/asset/1128-diploma%20to%20nowhere.pdf