Writing Skills for Successful Transition to Postsecondary Education

Dolore Perin

Professor, Psychology and Education

Teachers College, Columbia University

Writing Skills for Successful Transition to Postsecondary Education

Today I talked about writing for post secondary transition and so just trying to say some things about the writing demands at the college level so that adult basic education instructors could have a sense of helping their students prepare for the writing that the students are going to have in college. The idea was, the main theme was college readiness and how writing instruction fits into that.

Writing Demands in College

Writing demands at the college level are rather intense. As students are preparing for their GED’s, they should also be preparing for the writing requirements of college, which are sometimes a little different from what they’re getting in adult basic education. First I talked about the fact that writing is an amazing achievement that we have as human beings and it’s been in existence for over five thousand years and now it’s a very important part of academic life and when students are in college they’re going to have to write all kinds of very complex papers. They’re going to have to make arguments in favor of certain positions, they’re going to have to write summaries, they’re going to have to write narratives about things and analyze information. They need to be ready to write those types of papers on their own when they get to college.

Writing Education in College

In college writing is usually not taught, it’s just assigned, unless students go to a writing center or are in a writing class, but there’s writing in every course, but the instructor is not going to teach writing, the instructor will teach the content area. Students need to be able to write in order to learn and benefit, but many can’t. So I think the opportunity to get ready for college by learning writing skills at the adult basic education level can be very helpful.

Knowledge Transformation

Writing is a very useful vehicle for developing knowledge so that when we write we’re not writing just to demonstrate our writing skills, but we’re also trying to promote and develop our own understanding of things and often college instructors will ask students to write papers, not so much because they want to see their students writing skills, but they want to know how much they know about something. Just the act of writing helps us develop our knowledge, so I focused on that quite a lot. I made a distinction between something called knowledge telling and knowledge transformation, which some researchers, a researcher called Scardamalia proposed in the 1980’s as a useful framework to understand students writing. When we write about something we know already, that’s called knowledge telling. Knowledge transformation is when we use writing as a way to expand our thinking about something, and that’s very important at the college level.

State of GED Standards

One of the interesting developments in writing has been the development of standards, they’re called core state standards. There are standards for literacy, for history, science and technical areas. Within those standards are a list of criteria and competencies that students should meet to be ready to enter college and I think this is really a new development because it’s a national initiative and many adult basic education instructors are becoming aware of these standards and they will be represented in the new GED test when it comes out in I think 2013 or 2014. There will be a much closer alignment between the GED exam and college entry requirements. So I went over some of the standards for argumentative writing and summarization that students would need to meet in order to be ready for college.