Write Now: The Urgent Link Between Personal and Professional Success

We post. We tweet. We blog. We habitually check updates, emails, texts, and news feeds. Technology has flooded us with information, and given a stage to anyone with an internet connection. However, illiteracy remains a real problem in the US. Even in our information/composition/digital age, 1 in 4 children in the US will never learn to read. The National Writing Project states, "[Writing] is the currency of the new workplace and the global economy. It is essential to communication, learning and citizenship in the digital age." Writing is an undeniably needed ability for personal and professional success in the 21st century and the imperative is now.

In 2003, the National Commission on Writing, made up of teachers, superintendents, university professors, and others, released the report The Neglected R: The Need for a Writing Revolution. They acknowledged that while many great things were taking place in the classroom, students needed better writing skills to reach their full potential. From their perspective, any discussion of education reform must include an emphasis on writing.

On average, more students need remediation in writing than in reading. In 2010, in Colorado alone, 9.5 percent of students entering a four-year college needed remediation in writing, while 40.1 percent of students entering two-year institutions required writing remediation. The majority of these students need help with basics such as subject and verb agreement, proper use of punctuation, and use of dependent clauses.

While students need less remediation in reading, improving their reading skills is just as critical. In 2009, the US ranked 17th out of 34 OECD countries for overall reading performance. Broken down, the US students were 22nd in their ability to integrate and interpret text and 10th in their ability to reflect on and evaluate written material.

Why Does Reading and Writing Well Matter?

Writing may be prominent in how the average youth communicates (The average teen sends 60 text messages a day ), but it doesn't mean the art and craft of writing, critical thinking, grammar, or self reflection has developed along with it. In fact, an article by the New Jersey Record cites a study showing kids who had recently sent or received text messages performed worse on a grammar exam than those who had not.

Writing and writing well, reading and reading deeply require a different level of skill. People engage in the act of writing through text messages, instant messages, and Facebook comments on a daily basis. Much of the reading that is done comes from the same sources. However, writing well and reading deeply reach beyond these superficial sources of language.

Writing is a discipline requiring clarity to express ideas, connect thoughts, build arguments and make a case--whether the case is to persuade, inform, or simply share a perspective or experience with a reader. Advanced levels of reading require the capacity to process, retain, and synthesize new information in a variety of genres. For most, the ability to write and read well affects potential for success academically, personally, and professionally.

According to various studies cited by Gene A. Budig in his article, "Studies Show the Importance of Writing Skills," 8 out of 10 parents believe writing is more important now than it was 20 years ago. Eighty-six percent of teens believe that good writing predicts future success, and 82 percent express a wish to write better and for teachers to address the topic more in their classrooms. The highest percentage of teens who believed this came from minority and low-income groups, and a disproportionate number of these students are being remediated at the college level.

How Does Literacy Affect Employment, Salary & College Attrition?

A strong correlation exists between the ability to read well and income potential and employment opportunities. According to National Assessments of Adult Literacy, 26 percent of individuals lacking basic prose-reading skills earned less than $10,000 a year as of 2003, compared to 14 percent with basic prose-reading skills, 5 percent with intermediate reading skills, and 2 percent with proficient reading skills. Conversely, almost a third of our highest-scoring readers in America earn more than $100,000 a year.

Similarly, reading skill level correlates to employment levels. Sixty-four percent of proficient prose-readers were employed full-time compared to only 35 percent of below basic prose-readers. And on a self-reporting measure regarding satisfaction, 70 percent of those with below basic reading skills believe that their lack of ability affected their job opportunities, with half of them reporting their opportunities were significantly limited.

Studies show the reading and writing instruction many students receive in high school is not preparing them for the rigor of college-level classes. A report by the National Center on Education and the Economy found community colleges have in turn set the bar too low in math, reading, and writing to accommodate the literacy levels of incoming freshmen. The report suggests the obvious solution is to raise the standards in K12 and college instruction to reflect the demands of the world of work. However, it won't be quick. There are still students who have graduated, or who are in the pipeline to graduate, whose needs must be addressed before the standards are raised.

The need to improve writing and reading skills linked to writing and thinking is urgent; we need to improve these skills so that our future generation will have the skills to communicate whether they are fixing furnaces, fixing bridges, fixing computer hacks, or fixing heart valves.

On August 15, I will present the NROC-sponsored webinar Introduction to Academic Coaching for Reading and Writing Faculty. This webinar is tailored to reading and writing instructors in K12 and college, and will explore various academic coaching strategies to support reading, writing and critical thinking skills necessary for college success. This webinar will also speak to student services staff supporting redesign efforts in developmental education.