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Real-World Experiences in English Language Arts

26 May 2015 by Scott Sterling

The Common Core State and other next-generation standards call for students to engage in reading, writing and research in ways that better reflect the work they’ll be asked to do in college and their careers. This equates to a few shifts from traditional instruction — shifts made easier through real-world experiences through technology:

Reading and research: More informational texts

New standards require students to read more nonfiction and instructional books. As much as 70% of the reading material needs to come from those sources by the time students graduate.

In the past, the primary means of information for English and language arts teachers was the local newspaper through donations to schools. With shrinking profit margins, newspapers have cut back on these programs. But that’s OK because teachers have many more options for nonfiction reading material in their classrooms these days.

Although you might prefer to look for materials from news sources, such as or The New York Times Room for Debate series, don’t shy away from blog content. The new standards call for students to be able to differentiate reading and judge validity based on point of view. Separating the signal from the noise might be the most valuable reading skill they can learn in the 21st century.

Writing: Scale the products

College- and career-readiness writing standards involve much more than essays. Students need to be able to “scale” their writing: from a 140-character Tweet up to a 10-page report, sometimes at the same time and about the same subject. This is to help students boil down a complicated topic into a condensed form, since that’s what bosses ask employees to do all the time through emails, executive summaries and the like. When you give students a writing assignment, require multiple sizes for the same information. Also, consider having students post short pieces in various versions to see what works best in what’s called A/B testing.

Speaking and communicating: It’s not about speeches

That’s not to say a student shouldn’t be asked to give a speech or presentation sometime in his or her school career. Depending on their fields, some employees do public speaking on a regular basis. In some vocations — mainly technical in nature — those communication skills can make a worker much more valuable.

The new standards, however, simply focus on how students communicate with each other. Can they see various points of view? Can they find middle ground? These skills are just as easily developed in small groups and working in pairs as they are in large presentations. With some circulation during group work, you can swiftly see who’s making progress and who needs help. Then give students a wider audience via videoconferencing with other classes.

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