While we English teachers can't always make every writing assignment available to a real, outside audience (nor do we always want to), we can strive to offer a variety of writing assignments that introduce types of writings which are common in real jobs and academia. My juniors are writing proposals for an imaginary research grant to the Smithsonian. We discussed the wide variety of proposals including research grants in graduate school, building business opportunities and seeking new clients, and even my husband's sponsorship proposal for his road racing team. For my assignment, they are required to write a formal business cover letter and a proposal that is at least one page, including a concise proposal statement, details from their research and a bibliography.
One student has already talked with me about finally understanding why business letter format is so picky and precise, even though he wrote them all summer for his father's business.
Another student recently told me that she will have the opportunity to use her new skills in writing a grant for money and supplies needed to start up an art therapy program for refugee children that she has been working with.
As I was creating this project and working through stages of writing it with the class, there was a lot of push back. I even joked one day and suggested that they would just prefer writing another essay, but to my surprise several of them said "yes!" It's hard to try new things, sometimes they don't work and sometimes it's a rocky road trying to communicate and form expectations, but as I told my students that day, it's important to be flexible and work through the problems. "Come on you 21st century learners, show me what you've got." And they have. Now they have a deeper appreciation and understanding of picky editing requirements as well as the confidence to succeed in this real world type of writing.