Written Communication Skills for the 21st Century: By Teaching the Skills Needed in Today's Workplace, Technical Writing at Baltimore's Eastern Technical High School Has Become a Model for Technical Writing Instruction in Maryland Schools
Kemmery, Robert J., Cook, Harry James, Techniques
Taught in a state-of-the-art PC computer lab, technical writing at Eastern Technical High School in Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland, has drawn wide student interest because of its practical applications. Students use acquired skills when completing the senior independent project, a yearlong research project required for graduation, and in preparing them for writing tasks they will confront in business and industry and in higher education. Working in teams, students learn the cooperative model to produce high-quality documents.
Eastern Tech Senior Derek Lynch (Engineering), when interviewed about his experiences in technical writing this semester, had this to say: "In my engineering courses at Eastern, I constantly have to create documents that explain in detail the projects I am working on. I know that this will be a major communications requirement throughout my college career and later when I get a job. I am glad I selected technical writing as an elective this year, because it has helped me tremendously with my senior independent project, and it makes significant connections to the real world."
Tenth-grader Shannon Hagerman (Allied Health) said, "Depending on what job field I finally land in, I will probably have to write reports and enter data into a computer. The key thing I've learned in this course is to be precise and to the point when doing projects. As Mr. Kramer, my instructor, tells all of his students--`Less is more.'"
Teaching Real-World Skills
Eastern Tech students who were interviewed for this article stressed the practical nature of the course's content and its direct applications to the world of work. Technical writing at Eastern Tech has become a solid bridge to the needs of the business community and a prime example of how a high school, with vision and goal setting, can adjust quickly to the changing demands of the marketplace.
"The course is exemplary in that it focuses on real skills for real work situations," said Joe Long of Verizon Corporation, one of Eastern Tech's key business partners.
In a September 6, 2001, Baltimore Sun article entitled "Business Leaders Decry Md. Graduates' Skills," writer Howard Libit reported that, "Maryland's business community delivered a stinging indictment yesterday of the quality of the state's high school and higher education graduates, saying the lack of qualified workers is hurting the economy."
Scott McBride reported to members of the Business Roundtable for Education that 73 percent of Maryland companies, who hire many employees whose highest academic credential is the high school diploma, complain that many recently hired employees lack good attendance, punctuality, adequate writing and problem-solving skills.
In response to those complaints, State Superintendent of Education Nancy S. Grasmick pointed to Baltimore County's Eastern Technical High School as a high school that graduates students prepared for today's challenges in the workplace. According to Robert J. Kemmery, Eastern Tech's principal, programs at the school aim to ensure that graduates are prepared academically and with specific technical skills. "We set high expectations, just like they face in the workforce," says Kemmery.
An Economy of Words
A showcase program at Eastern Tech, technical writing addresses concerns of the business community with respect to written communication. Offered by the English department, the program currently enrolls more than 200 students each year in the semester class and has the highest enrollment of all English electives.
The program began as a suggestion from Harry Cook, Eastern's English department chairman, to Principal Kemmery in the spring of 1998. According to Cook, who saw a specific need in this area of language arts instruction, "Students need to be taught how to write for the business community. How many times is a boss going to ask for a poem, short story or literary essay? …