Google+ Badge

Friday, December 27, 2013

Got a Job? Get Language.

“There is a persistent and growing mismatch between the skills that U.S. workers possess and the skills that U.S. businesses need.” 

--Business Roundtable, an association of the nation's leading CEOs

The technical term for navigating a workplace effectively might be soft skills, but employers are facing some hard facts: the entry-level candidates who are on tap to join the ranks of full-time work are clueless about the fundamentals of office life. As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency.

The annual global Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup finds that nearly 1 in 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with soft skills. Specifically, companies say candidates are lacking in motivation, interpersonal skills, appearance, punctuality and flexibility.

"A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack 'communication and interpersonal skills' — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

"Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, '44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.' Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the 'pain' point.

"The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list."

(Martha C. White. "The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired."
 Time. November 10, 2013)

Why doesn't this surprise a retired high school language arts teacher like me? For so long, my English instructor colleagues and I lobbied for fewer classes with more intense instruction, increased time for evaluation, and less emphasis on simple objective test questions because the language arts of reading, writing, and critical thinking require time, patience, and constant feedback.

We language arts teachers knew consistent improvement required time to read, to digest, and to write about assignments that challenged students. Learning advanced language skills such as strategies for composition challenges young minds and requires constant practice for perfection. Many American high schools have curricula that do not afford the time for reading novels and writing compositions.

By the time young adults enter high school, most realize although English is their native tongue and a yearly study, they still need to tackle the "tough stuff." Just because they have studied the English language since kindergarten, many assume they need no more expertise. There exists a huge gap between the students’ perceptions of their abilities and that level of command required in the adult, work world.

Most students also develop bad conventions and mannerisms early in life. It’s just harder to teach these skills, experts say. “It is hard to correct a lifetime of bad habits in a short period of time,” says Roderick Nunn, vice chancellor for economic development and workforce solutions at St. Louis Community College.

English teachers are often saddled with all the burden of teaching methodology and theory as it relates to critical language use. Too often students write "differently" across the curriculum. When they answer essay questions or formulate answers in classes other than English class, they often revert to employing sloppy, inferior language and stark development  In the world of work after high school and college, they soon learn that managers in all fields require constant attention to organization, critical thinking, and creativity.

Meghan Casserly of Forbes writes about the most important job skills. The top four skills are considered career-path agnostic, not technical skills but rather core skills essential for most any job. Here are the four top skills of the ten Casserly cites:

* Critical thinking –  being able to employ a rational, logical approach to sorting through the pros and cons of various proposals, points of view, or conclusions.

* Complex problem-solving -  knowing how to tease apart a complicated issue and come to a workable and efficient solution.

* Judgement and decision-making -  being able to weigh the costs and benefits of a situation and make a clear decision based upon that assessment.

* Active listening -  fully taking in what others are saying, asking questions for clarity, and demonstrating your understanding.

(Erika Andersen. "The 4 Job Skills Most Likely To Land You a Great Job." 
Forbes. December 12, 2012)

English Class and Diminished Career-Path Agnostics

The bastion of language arts skills is changing. English class, requiring students to articulate acquisition of critical thinking and problem solving, has long been saddled with instruction and mastery of these career-path agnostics. Multiple choice, true/false, question and reply, rote, factual parroting is all too common in many other disciplines.

Face it -- English teachers are supposed to be the "ONES" responsible for everything relating to reading and writing. Now a change is occurring -- a change for the worse. Instead of spreading out responsibility across the curriculum, English teachers will be pushed ever harder with less time for instruction of classic literature and intensive writing.

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University who helped the team develop the new Common Core Standards Initiative, has now parted ways with Common Core mainly because he disagrees with attempts to standardize learning. Part of  the Common Core Standards Initiative is a sweeping curricula change that integrates nonfiction text into the English program.

In Massachusetts, for instance, the Common Core reduces the amount of literature students will study by more than half compared to the former Massachusetts standards. The literary content is being replaced by non-fiction reading material. Among the items missing from Common Core are a list of recommended authors and titles, British literature apart from Shakespeare, and any study of the history of the English language.

The English program? Is it the Language Arts Teachers alone who should be teaching the intellectual worth of Lincoln's second inaugural address and Martin Luther King's letter from the Birmingham jail? Often, English teachers do parallel the study of fiction with important nonfiction; however, to charge the English department to be the center of nonfictional study seems ludicrous. In effect, Common Core yokes the English curriculum to a test of general reading ability

Bauerlein says the standards pile so much onto English teachers that the cultivation of critical, passionate reading is in jeopardy. "When you interpret these standards at the state level ... one can interpret them so broadly that we end up with weak practices," he says.

According to Bauerlein, because of the additional pressure on English teachers to teach nonfiction writing and research skills, even less time will be spent on works of fiction that are still part of the new standards.

"I worry that we are going to find that teachers will teach shorter works, they will spend less time on those classics and they'll tend to orient them more toward topical, relevant concerns," he says.
Another concern, Bauerlein says, is the end of what he calls the "free-floating, open-ended literary intellectual experience" that doesn't quite fit in the achievement-oriented system of standardized education. He wonders what conditions will prompt students to continue reading and thinking.

For example, Bauderlein questions if students who are curious about The Sound and the Fury or The Brothers Karamazov would have a place in this new standard.

(NPR Staff. "New Reading Standards Aim To Prep Kids For College -- But At What Cost?" January 19, 2013)

The new standards and low reading scores? Will school districts force high school government and science teachers to devote more time to reading instruction? Please... are you conscious? Ask English teachers how much time and effort and tough "mind changing" instruction are involved in expanding reading skills. Intensive reading and formal writing must be required across the curriculum.

Common Core’s standards for English language arts, their organization, and their division, in
effect, make it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of culturally and
historically significant literary works in high school and learn something about their own literary tradition before graduation. The stress on more informational reading in the English class will also likely lead to a decreased capacity for analytical thinking in all students.

Mark Bauerlein has seen the light of educational reality:

"Instead, it is more likely that English teachers will be expected to diminish the number of their literary selections and align readings with test proportions. In any case, so far as we can tell at this point, English teachers are to be held accountable for an unknown percentage of the high school ELA test of college and career readiness."

(Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky. "How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk." Pioneer Institute White Paper. No. 89. September, 2012) 

Please read the White Paper by clicking here:


I thought you might enjoy a little appendix from Bauerlein's White Paper:

British Columbia High School Exit Exams Specified Readings List

Anglo-Saxon and Medieval
• from Beowulf
• Geoffrey Chaucer, from The Canterbury Tales “The Prologue”
• “Bonny Barbara Allan”
• from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Renaissance and 17th Century

• Sir Thomas Wyatt, “Whoso List to Hunt”
• Christopher Marlowe, “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”
• Sir Walter Raleigh, “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”
• William Shakespeare, Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”)
Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”) 
Sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”) 
Hamlet, King Lear or The Tempest
• John Donne, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”; “Death, Be Not Proud”
• Robert Herrick, “To the Virgins”
• John Milton, “On His Blindness”; from Paradise Lost
• from The Diary of Samuel Pepys

18th Century and Romantic
• Lady Mary Chudleigh, “To the Ladies”
• Alexander Pope, from The Rape of the Lock
• Jonathan Swift, “A Modest Proposal”
• Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”
• William Blake, “The Tiger”; “The Lamb”
• Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”
• William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up”; “The World Is Too Much with Us”
• Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
• George Gordon, Lord Byron, “Apostrophe to the Ocean”
• Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind”
• John Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”; “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be”

Victorian and 20th Century

• Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”
• Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43 (“How do I love thee? Let me count the
• Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess”
• Emily Brontë, “Song”
• Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”
• Thomas Hardy, “The Darkling Thrush”
• Emily Dickinson, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”
• Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et Decorum Est
• William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
• T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
• Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”
• Stevie Smith, “Pretty”
• Margaret Atwood, “Disembarking at Quebec

Sample essay required:

Value: 30% Suggested Time: 40 minutes
Choose one of the following topics. Write a multi-paragraph essay (at least
three paragraphs) of approximately 400 words
Develop a concise, focused answer to show your knowledge and understanding of the topic. Include specific references to the works you discuss. You must refer to at least one work from the Specified Readings List. The only translated works you may use are those from Anglo-Saxon and Medieval English. Write your answer in ink in the Response Booklet.

Topic 5

The presence or absence of loyalty is often a theme in literature.Support this statement with reference to at least three literary works.


Topic 6

A journey of some kind is important to many works of literature. Support this statement with reference to at least three literary works.


Topic 7

The meaning of a literary work may be enhanced by its reference to another work of art or literature. Support this statement with reference to at least three literary works.

(Dig into the work, American brothers and sisters ... if you think you have the skills.)

Post a Comment