SCHOOL-BASED AND WORKPLACE WRITING
H OW DO THEY COMPARE? WHAT CAN WE LEARN BY LOOKING AT BOTH? Sue Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
Adapted from Dias, Patrick, Freedman, Aviva, Medway, Peter, & Paré, Anthony. (1999). Worlds apart: Acting and writing in academic and
workplace contexts. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
Following school’s gate-keeping function, a school must Writing enacts some purpose in the world; each writing task
demonstrate a spread among student writers; can’t give all As done as best workers can do it at the time, by as many as need
School writing is for the learning of the student, not for the Workplace writing responds to a changing business situation,
teacher (happy surprise when teacher learns from student) so cues come from real world
Plagiarism is forbidden, citation is required Borrowing is frequent—citing is political and complex
Teacher responds to justify the grade, explain how the Workplace texts are action-oriented, other workers as readers
student fits into the classroom conversation; suggest ways to make the text more useful to primary readers,
Most teacher comments don’t lead to revision who have different places in hierarchy from the writer
Teachers are absolute judge; sometimes reading with poor or Co-workers and manager must read document, decide where
changing criteria, may be swayed by student persona; revision is needed, begin collaborative revision
students struggle to figure out how much material must be Workplace writing must speak to the audience’s level of
included (“Shakespeare is a famous playwright. . .”) knowledge, and must not give more info than needed
Problems assigned tend to be solvable and limited Problems are messy, uneven, and must be negotiated
Academic is always read in relation to academic calendar Deadlines determined by outside elements, short or long
School writing looks back over work, not a conversation that Workplace refers forward to future context where other
will continue readers/workers will respond
Teacher /student pair: one has knowledge, other Newcomer/Oldtimer pair: Experienced person shepherds
demonstrates knowledge accumulated, not the same stake new person through process, different stakes, but win-win
HOW CAN WORKPLACE WRITING INSPIRE WRITING CLASSES?
1. Ask students to formulate criteria for their own work. Students may have stereotypical or inappropriate ideas
about what should count in school writing. Teach them to name qualities in writing samples, and have them
make rubrics. “If you can’t name it, you can’t fix it” means that knowing what you aim for helps.
2. Invite more advanced students to come talk about writing with your students. Or, consider using older students
as writing-buddy resources. Give groups meaningful tasks and require written records.
3. Devise ways to make student writing be useful for someone besides the students. Outside clients who need
writing can enliven student projects (handbooks, procedures, brochures, letters, and so on). This makes the
teacher more like the oldtimers at work—teacher and student work to achieve the best result for the client.
4. Write most of your comments on rough drafts, when input may be used by the student to change writing. Give
only a grade to final drafts. Test grading skill: put a sticky note over names on papers before you grade.
5. Give students multiple opportunities to determine genres they want to participate in, then analyze the genre and
talk about criteria. (I start with thank-you notes. Then we talk about what goes into a letter of application, letter
of apology, and so on, in daily 5-minute writing tasks. Ask a group to choose one interesting piece to talk about
with the class by copying it on the board or on an overhead.)
6. Write three or four sample minutes of class sessions, then have students deduce the criteria for the assignment.
Assign minutes to a different student each class period. Keep in a notebook or post on a listserv. Absentees and
those needing reminders get what they need, and you don’t get the question, “Did I miss anything?”