High school students who can’t communicate their ideas thoughtfully and persuasively might as well not have ideas at all. This will be true across verbal and written modes of messaging, and in all facets of their lives. Consider how command of language would help in these situations:

  • Putting a case together for why you should be promoted.
  • Explaining your curious absence from another boring family gathering.
  • Writing a naughty text to the person you just starting dating.
  • Talking fast to defuse a sticky situation.
  • Answering an off-script question at a town hall.
  • Setting up a Go-Fund-Me page.
  • Briefing your team on a task.

High school students need a lot of help in this area

This was clear from looking at the average adolescent social media feed before the pandemic, and a year off school didn’t help. But the problem spans generations. Recent StatsCan findings show about half the adult population falls short of being able to digest lengthier and more complex texts while processing the information accurately. Combined with the $12B shortage in provincial education funding over the next decade, we’re heading for an inflection point the intellectual economy can’t handle. So, what do we do about it? It’s going to take a societal recommitment to prioritize communication for high school students, but we’d start here:

No more multiple-choice tests

All these do is teach students to memorize facts. But in 2021 and beyond, (a) anything you need to know is a click away and (b) facts aren’t what they used to be. The real world needs people who can use facts to support a position, so that’s how students should be evaluated. Besides, in the real world, your actual multiple choices are far more nuanced.

No more minimum word counts

When you’re hit with a “TL;DR” after working all night on a long, fiery response to someone’s social media post, you shouldn’t be mad at the person who sent it because all they can do is respond to what they’re given in the context of what they want. They want brevity. We all do. So why are we forcing students into loquaciousness? If the word-minimum is 5,000 and the student makes a convincing case in 2,500, should they be penalized for that? What does a punishment for adding fluff to an argument teach anyone?

Everyone takes drama

Regardless of your job, the ability to think quickly, improvise on the fly and feed off other people’s energy will be key to success in the 21st century. Drama trains these three skills better than any other course. And it has the added benefit of thickening students’ skin by putting them under the lights for their peers to judge. We think high school students will be better communicators if they do these three things. Ultimately, high school students need the confidence to find and use their voices, A good education in the language arts lays the foundation for confidence-building. And a good teacher will get their students to share their ideas proactively, understand how to not take feedback about the work as a personal attack, consider the target audience of every piece and learn how to communicate effectively on the fly.

Additions to this list?

We’d love to hear them. A problem like the one we’re solving will never be solved by one person coming up with rules; This is societal, and it requires everyone’s input. And we’d especially also love to hear from educators. You’ve all done such a tremendous job over the past year; especially for kids in the younger grades. Your opinions about writing matter to us because you matter to our children. And we want them to feel the joy that you feel for them as their teacher. Good luck to everyone this week.