On Demand Writing: Applying the Strategies of Impromptu Speaking to Impromptu Writing

On Demand Writing: Applying the Strategies of Impromptu Speaking to Impromptu Writing

On Demand Writing: Applying the Strategies of Impromptu Speaking to Impromptu Writing

On Demand Writing: Applying the Strategies of Impromptu Speaking to Impromptu Writing

Synopsis

Lynette Williamson is an English teacher and speech and debate coach at Analy High School in Sebastopol, California.

Excerpt

I know that I was expected to shudder in horror at the advent of on demand essays required on both high school exit exams and the new SAT I. As a 21-year veteran of the National Writing Project, I have been a devout proponent of the multipledraft writing process. Yet, I have to admit that I was thrilled that many of the writing skills I’d been expecting of my students would finally be inspected on standardized tests. To be sure, I still believe in the writing process. Drafting and revising are tried-and-true practices for polished pieces of writing (just ask me how many times I revised this intro). However, I also find tremendous merit in being able to respond to a prompt in an organized and succinct way in a limited amount of time (just ask me how many times I dash off a quick e-mail, memo, or letter of recommendation without the luxury of editing).

We are expected to perform on demand constantly. Employers evaluate our ability to respond on demand from the moment we first meet in the job interview. Later, we need that ability for conferences, phone calls, and for presentations and meetings. What do all of these situations have in common? They all invite us to prepare ahead of time. Sure we’ll never know the exact questions that will be put to us in an interview, but we’d be fools not to do a little research about the company or think through a reply to the “tell us a little bit about yourself” question. While it’s not uncommon for us to pre-think before going into a situation where we may be required to speak on demand, it is uncommon for us to prepare for a situation where we may have to write on demand on an unknown prompt. This is where I turn to speech and debate students for proof that preparing for an impromptu situation—oral or written—is not only possible, it’s imperative.

In addition to teaching English, I coach my school’s speech and debate team. Some of my students compete interscholastically in impromptu speaking. Impromptu speaking demands that they think for 2 minutes on a randomly selected topic, then stand and deliver a 5-minute seamless speech. It requires that they de-

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