Oct 23, 2019

Writing High

College students lack writing skills, leaves them underprepared for school, job market

Student writing skills these days at California universities are a far cry from what they were in previous decades.This begs the question: Why?

One suggestion is that a reduced value has been placed on conventional subjects such as English before the student ever arrives at the university. Lisa Weston, English professor at Fresno State, believes that too much significance is put on testing during the student’s primary and secondary education, with not enough emphasis on grammar.

“I don’t think that the elementary schools, middle schools and high schools are doing as much traditional grammar as they used to,” Dr. Weston said. “It makes learning so passive.”

Certain students may develop bad habits that result in apathy towards their writing. These students give in to the impression that writing is not their strong point, and never will be, and are content to leave it at that.

But with roughly 90 percent of business communication now being done electronically- mostly through e-mail these apathetic students may be one of thousands who graduate every year, but are unable to find a job.

Virtually every business employee must have the ability to write well. At a time when employers need employees with good writing skills, those who have substandard skills can make their employer look less professional and are often turned away after interviewing for a position.

An increasing number of new students are children who learned English as a second language (ESL). Some of these students immigrated to the United States while they were in elementary school, and others were born in this country but grew up speaking a language other than English at home.

“They spoke one language at home and another language at school,” said Kirk Stone, Assistant Director of the Fresno State Writing Center. Stone also said that writing assignments, such as essays, are often taught differently in high school than they are at the university level, which only adds to the uncertainty that ESL students face.

Fresno State English Professor Chris Henson said that certain students have the ability to learn to write well, but their backgrounds make it much more difficult.

“These things were not stressed at home,” Dr. Henson said. “A student whose inaccurate grammar was never corrected at home can cause him or her to be a step behind other students.”

Dr. Henson added that, “Different kinds of advertising programs and video games could teach young people a language, but not one that will help them at Fresno State. People might have language skills, but not academic language skills.”

Reading literature often has the effect of enhancing the teaching of composition skills by giving students access to the precision and capaciousness of well-written English.
Dr. Weston is in complete agreement.

“They never get to experience simply reading for pleasure. Language has its own rhythm, which helps as you develop your own writing skills. You don’t get that when you’re just reading a textbook.”

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