When I assign writing projects to my students they often respond with a chorus of

vociferous complaints inquiring about the length of the assignment as well as why they have to
complete such a demanding and irrelevant task. I understand why the development of their writing
skills is imperative, but I have never been able to get this essential understanding across to my
fourteen-year-old students. After talking with my co-teacher, I discovered that she felt much the
same way and we realied we needed to find a way to demonstrate to our students that writing is
an indispensable skill they will need for the rest of their lives. !hroughout the remainder of the
school year this issue quietly nagged at us but more time sensitive issues took our attention away
from this imperative task. !his idea of "reating "onnections came to mind when we discussed the
collaborative project in class because it was something I was really invested in but just couldn#t
find the time to begin.
!his project came about because of a real need that I am faced with in my classroom
almost daily. $tudents have a very difficult time understanding how academic assignments prepare
them for their careers and do not believe they will need strong writing skills once they are
employed. %y primary goal is to help students understand that writing is an essential skill that
they will need for professional purposes in almost any field. !hey need to see that the writing
assignments they complete for my class build a foundation for the writing they will be doing in
their careers. A secondary goal of the program is to e&pose students to several different types of
real-world writing in order to spark an interest in a career field. I am principally concerned with
students seeing the impact of writing, but if I were able to help some students find areas of interest
I would also consider the program a success. !his school year the students will participate in two
sessions each focused on a different career field. 'e&t school year, my goal is to have students
(
participate in two real-life writing e&periences each trimester with a total of si& different career
areas by the end of the school year.
While determining the vision and scope of the project I worked closely with my co-
teacher, but once I started the concrete planning I needed to use other connections in order to
create the best possible e&perience for my students. I began my process with a conversation with
my principal because I wanted to be sure I could bring in outside speakers and I thought he might
be able to help me find speakers to come into the classroom. After e&plaining the project to him,
he provided his approval and suggested I send an e-mail to the members of the parent-teacher
committee. I had not thought of utiliing this communication channel and I was grateful for the
suggestion. %y co-teacher and I crafted an e-mail to the )!" and requested they share our project
with other members. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of responses I received back from
parents or community members that would be willing to give up a day to present in our
classrooms. In addition to finding speakers through the )!", I spoke with the local police and fire
departments as well as several local businesses. I used several different methods of contact
*including e-mails, phone calls, and in-person visits+ because I wanted to find a wide variety of
careers and speakers that were from the community in addition to parent volunteers. In eighth
grade students do not always find their parents to be the most appealing role models so I wanted to
find adults the students would look up to and enjoy. I also wanted to provide several careers that
students would not necessarily think involved a great deal of writing on a daily basis *police
officer, for e&ample+ in order to highlight the fact that writing is a part of every career.
As I spoke with potential volunteers I e&plained that I was starting the program on a small
scale this year *due to the fact that the end of the year was not too far away+ and would need more
speakers for the upcoming school year. I wanted the first speaker to be someone whose personality
,
and career could keep the students# interest. I also thought it would be interesting to have a speaker
from a career students would not assume had a great deal of writing. !hese two factors led me to
ask my fianc- to be the first speaker for my students. .e has worked with children in the past and
he has also spoken to groups of school children as a police officer. I knew that a police officer
would be an interesting figure to all of my students and I know some of my students have had
negative interactions with police officers in the community so I chose him because he is a police
officer in a different area.
/nce I started discussing the upcoming visit with my fianc- and communicating with
potential speakers, I realied I needed to provide speakers with a more concrete agenda so they
understood the time commitment I was looking for and so they would also be prepared with all
necessary materials on the day of their presentation. I created a lesson plan template *that I have
attached to the paper+ that provided some guidelines on what I would like them to say and it also
provided a suggested order for the presentation. With a standardied template I would have some
control over what the speakers were saying and I would also know the general content of each
speech before the speaker arrived in class that day. Although guest speakers are an enriching
addition to the curriculum, they can be unpredictable with their content and time management
because they are not accustomed to speaking to larger groups, especially children. /nce I created a
lesson plan template, I reviewed it with my partner teacher to get any feedback from her. !he
template was revised with these changes and then I reviewed it with my fianc-. !he fact that my
fianc- was the first speaker was helpful in this aspect as well. .e could give me honest feedback
about the lesson plan template both before and after his presentation to the students.
When the time for the first presentation came I think I was more e&cited than the students.
I had discussed the upcoming visit with each class period and told them the purpose of the visit as
0
well as what they would be doing during the speaker#s lesson. !he actual presentation went very
smoothly and the students were e&tremely well behaved. I could tell they were engaged in the
presentation through the way they were acting as well as the thoughtful questions they would ask
at different points. After my fianc- spoke and showed them several actual police reports, they were
given a scenario and then they had to write their own report. It was obvious the students enjoyed
this activity because they worked diligently during this time and were eager to share their writing
pieces with each other. It was great that my fianc- was able to stay while they were working
because he circulated among the students and gave them tips as they wrote. !hey really took his
suggestions seriously and many of them would ask for him to check over their work each time
they finished a paragraph or section. I truly believe I could start to see results after just his visit
because they had a homework assignment in connection with the presentation and the ne&t day
every one of my students had the assignment ready to hand in. I know this should not be
impressive but there are only a handful of times each year where this occurs, so I was pleased that
they were really motivated to complete their work. !he presentation took place just about two
weeks ago and since then several students have enthusiastically inquired about when the ne&t
speaker will be and what type of job they will have. I have not assigned a lengthy writing
assignment since the speaker, but I am interested to see if the class reacts differently than they
typically do when I begin talking about our large project. I know I will be watching closely when
we come back from spring break to see if there is any difference in their behavior or attitudes.
As I look forward to ne&t school year I hope to get the services of speakers from a variety
of careers. At this point I would like to have speakers from si& very different career paths in order
to peak the interest of as many students as possible. It might be interesting to give the students
some sort of career inventory or survey at the beginning of the year and I could use that data to
1
determine what type of speakers I should select. I would also like to e&plore the option of turning
this e&perience into a multi-day lesson where students learn about several careers in the same field
and then the culminating activity can be a speaker representing that field. I think it would be
helpful for my students if we spent some time discussing the field *e&. health care, law
enforcement, sports2sports medicine, or the arts+ and some of the many career opportunities in the
field so they have background information when the speaker comes to class.
In addition to spending more time preparing for this lesson, I think it would be e&tremely
helpful to spend time debriefing with both the speaker and the students. I would like to meet2
speak with the presenter after the lesson in order to find out what worked for them and what I
should change in order to help the ne&t speaker. It would be great if my class could stay in contact
with the speaker for several reasons. I would like each class to send a thank you, but it would be
great if a few students could send their work over to be critiqued by the speaker. I know the
students would value feedback from a professional in the field. I would also like to discuss the
lesson with the students to see if they thought it was interesting or helpful. !here could always be
additional writing activities so it would be helpful to discuss those with the class as well.
/verall I have been e&tremely pleased with the great strides my co-teacher and I have
made with "reating "onnections and I am eager to see the evolution of this project throughout
ne&t year. I will be having the two speakers a trimester and I am also considering sharing the
project with the rest of my grade-level department in case any of the teachers are interested in the
program. I sincerely appreciate that I was given the push to finally turn an idea into reality and I
am already seeing the benefits with my students. I found that the use of connections and
collaboration really do make a daunting undertaking much more tolerable and that an amaing
product can be the result.
3