Effective Communicators create compelling pieces

Effective Communicators create compelling pieces
Posted on 01/31/2019
Editor’s note: Each month of the school year, Tahoma asks its teachers and students to place special emphasis on one of the nine Future Ready Skills. Tahoma Matters will feature examples of how those skills are being taught in classrooms. This month’s featured skill is Effective Communicator, which can be seen in many Tahoma classrooms year-round.

Students in Doug Lapp’s fifth-grade class at Tahoma Elementary School have been hard at work crafting persuasive letters, designed to convince colleges and universities to send them a pennant or some swag to share with their peers. It’s a fun activity that encourages the students to research schools, while also honing their writing skills, Lapp explains.

“It’s been really encouraging for the students who aren’t always the most confident writers,” said Lapp, who has been using this exercise for about seven years. “I’ve had years where it isn’t the best writer who is the most successful one.”

The students not only learn how to write in a way that will encourage or motivate the recipient, but also how to use letterhead properly, how to sign their name, how to fold the letter neatly and how to address an envelope. Lapp encourages them to select a college, trade school or university that they have a personal connection with, if possible, such as a family member who previously attended. The students are asked to pick out-of-state schools, and to try to branch out to write schools that Lapp’s previous classes haven’t already contacted.

In general, the students ask for a banner or pennant for themselves and one for the classroom, which now has walls peppered with pennants, banners and posters from around the country. They customize their additional requests based on their interests -- T-shirts, sports gear or stuffed animals, to name a few. Responses from the schools range from email replies to form letters, handwritten notes and, in a few cases, packages stuffed with necklaces, sunglasses, and other branded gear. One university did some research to find a photograph of a student’s grandfather, who ran on their track team years ago, and mailed a copy of the photograph to Maple Valley. Some students receive a response quickly, while others are still hoping to hear back.

“It kind of teaches a little bit of patience, as well,” Lapp said.

The students frequently pick a school that a relative attended, but a few narrow their search by the programs offered, such as one girl last year who only considered universities with strong architecture programs.

Dominic D., who chose to contact the University of Oregon, said it was a somewhat difficult assignment and that he spent time focusing on how to construct his letter.
“They might not send anything back if you don’t have the right grammar and everything,” Dominic added.

Kira A. said she liked the assignment. “I was excited to see if I got anything (back). It was interesting to see if you were communicative enough or if you explained well enough what you were hoping for,” she added.

Tahoma High School
Two seniors at Tahoma High School are putting their Effective Communicator skills to the test in a journalism project highlighting the story of fellow student John Reeves, who was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia in 2015 and recently had the opportunity to take a Make-A-Wish trip to the British company Pinewood Studios, where recent Star Wars films have been made. When we spoke with Sophie Smith and Ally McLoughlin earlier this month, they were getting ready to conduct an on-camera interview with Reeves and his mother, Leigha.

Smith and McLoughlin are staff members on the student newspaper and also members of the video production classes taught by Rick Haag, who gave them the idea for the news piece.

“It’s an honor to be asked to do it, because it’s a heavy topic,” McLoughlin said.

The two said they’re glad for the opportunity to tell Reeves’ story, noting that they anticipated the biggest challenges to be telling the story in an understandable, engaging way and also helping to raise awareness of the importance of regular doctor’s visits.

Asked about McLoughlin and Smith, journalism teacher Cavin Eggleston said, “I’m always impressed with their ability to tell a story in a way different than I had anticipated it being told, and in doing so, making it better than we anticipated.”

Leigha Reeves said John’s cancer was detected as part of his annual exam. By that evening, John was checked in at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, where doctors determined his white cell count was at 578,000. “The doctor we got as our oncologist said he had never seen it so high in a child,” Leigha said, noting that John was not sick, lethargic or otherwise symptomatic besides what seemed to be normal teenage tiredness. About 98 percent of his bone marrow had leukemia cells. Doctors started John on a targeted suppression medication, and at his last checkup in December, the test showed the leukemia was at 0 percent. Reeves said that their family’s faith sustained them throughout John’s diagnosis and treatment, and that she’s grateful for the chance to tell the story now in case it can help others.

Discussing the communication skills they have learned in journalism and video production classes, Smith and McLoughlin said they’ve honed their abilities for working within the constraints of deadlines, making pieces that appeal to the majority of the student body while also being understandable for all grade levels, improving at teamwork and refining their interviewing techniques. Both students said they are interested in pursuing media studies after high school. Their hope for this piece is that it will bring light to a subject that isn’t typically addressed in a school setting.

“From what I’ve heard, he’s a great guy, and (I’m hoping) for people to understand what he’s going through,” Smith said.
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