English Class – WIIFM?

In response to Extend Activity “WIIFM” on the Ontario Extend Module 1.

I remember asking my math teacher in high school, “Why do I need to learn trigonometry? I’m never going to use it in my career.” Here I am, 18 years after graduating high school and have yet to use trig! I get it – students, especially adult learners, want to know what we are using class time to teach is going to be useful to them outside of class.

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When I first started teaching English class at the college level, I was baffled at how many students would ask why they had to be taking English. I thought to myself, “Duh, so you can read, write and verbally communicate appropriately.” But, I realized that the students wanted more concrete answers (just like I did back when I asked my teacher about trig) — What will this assignment teach them that they will be able to utilize in their future? What will this lesson provide them that will benefit them as adults? Why is it important to learn to write essays when they likely won’t ever write an essay in their chosen career field? I had to become a salesperson! I had to sell them on the fact that I’m teaching them skills that they will use in their life, not just making them do work for the sake of doing work.

Here is my list of WIIFM when assigning an essay in my College Communications class:

  • learning how to use the library and its databases – this will help you be able to find information and sources for my class and other classes during your academic career
  • pre-writing and brainstorming – this helps you learn how to plan your writing but also helps you to start organizing your thoughts before speaking
  • learning how to critically evaluate sources – this will help you to weed out those pesky ‘click bait’ articles on social media and Google searches (plus, when someone uses one of those fake articles, you can argue and prove how wrong the fake news is!)
  • critical reading and analyzing sources – you will need to make judgment calls while reading as to what to note as important and relevant to your argument or explanation, you will likely need to do some sort of critical reading as part of your job or it is a great skill to have to be able to critically read news articles or to critically view news/talk shows/etc.
  • how to argue – essay writing helps you learn how to critically argue using evidence as backup; this is a vital life skill to be able to argue using evidence to backup your opinion in both your professional and personal life
  • learning how to communicate clearly and concisely – you will learn how to use language in a way that gets to the point using clear and concise language which is useful in any argument or explanation (you don’t want to bore your audience with fluff)
  • consolidate ideas – this is a great skill to have to be able to take information from a variety of sources and consolidate them into one idea or evidence for your opinion

I would draft this WIIFM list based on the cohort of students I was teaching. I would be able to draft specific examples for students based on the program that I’m teaching in. I may start introducing my students to the WIIFM idea at the beginning of every assignment (or even at the beginning of class). I could have student write how they think my class or content will benefit them going forward in their careers/lives.

How would you incorporate WIIFM into your class?

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