U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Institute for Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development is a forward-leaning organization that coordinates and operationalizes future training and education imperatives for the NCO cohort. In fiscal year 2016, INCOPD launched a writing pilot in the Basic Leader Course with the goal of getting an overall picture of how proficient Soldiers are at writing.
During the most recent State of NCO Development Town Hall 2, a series of questions were posted on the chat roll by Soldiers asking about the writing pilot. This short blog entry gives me the opportunity to lay out key points behind this writing pilot and the future of writing assessments in professional military education, or PME.
What is the Criterion writing assessment?
The Institute for Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development, or INCOPD, purchased commercially available automated essay scoring software from the Educational Testing Service in order to assess BLC students’ writing skills at the first year of college level. This online tool provides a score on a scale of one to six that categorizes an individual’s writing level. The essay scoring software gives an overall assessment of the Soldier’s writing mechanics to include grammar, punctuation, spelling, syntax, usage, organization and development. Findings from the initial pilot in the BLC indicated that approximately 75 percent of those taking the assessment could benefit from additional coaching and practice at writing.
How is the writing pilot going so far?
At this point, 11,000 NCOs who attended BLC in FY16 have taken the writing assessment. My initial observation is that the short 45-minute assessment can easily be incorporated at the start of the course. Basic Leader Course students are eager to take the assessment to know where they stand as far as writing skills. The after-action review that the assessment gives each Soldier can be used as a starting point for improvement. The institute has a plan in place to put writing score data into the Army Career Tracker so that Soldiers can monitor their improved scores at each level of the NCO Education System, or NCOES. This pool of data will also allow us to track the effectiveness of this NCO cohort initiative over time.
Why does PME need to include a focus on writing? Are we trying to make NCOs into officers?
Within NCOES, the goal of writing in PME should not be simply to over-train Soldiers on Army writing style and their ability to use the rules of grammar, punctuation or spelling. Our goal is a much broader one of setting conditions within NCO PME for Soldiers to think about their own learning and how newly gained knowledge can be applied on the job. Writing assignments when used properly can strengthen engagement in a course. Thinking, writing, and reflecting upon what we learn is a part of the active learning process. In addition, the future vision is that Army schools that teach NCOES courses will routinely develop writing standards for their NCOs to ensure they have the ability to carry out administrative functions, counsel subordinates in writing, and to brief with authority.
When will I have to take a writing assessment in PME?
The U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy will be introducing writing requirements in BLC and the new Master Leader Course in fiscal year 2017. In addition, schools that teach the Advance Leader Course and Senior Leader Course will be encouraged to integrate baseline assessments of skills and writing exercises in the near future as a part of common core education requirements. In fiscal year 2017, INCOPD will work with schools and proponents to expand the use of the writing assessment tool into ALC and SLC. Army schools that are now interested in piloting the assessment tool should contact INCOPD.
Will I have to write long “APA” or “MLA” style papers in PME?
As part of the NCO 2020 strategy, the goal for PME is to make learning sequential and progressive. Increasing learning challenge and academic rigor in PME is also a part of the NCO 2020 Strategy. To improve writing skills, NCOs should be exposed to short writing and note-taking assignments to progressively build better skills. They should also learn basic principles of library research and constructing a logical argument through writing.
When properly implemented within PME, writing assignments and exercises should not be used to make or break the Soldier. Rather, they should begin with low stakes self-assessment activities like using the Criterion tool. Soldiers will learn about how to use American Psychological Association or Modern Language Association format at some point during NCOES. They will probably learn this even sooner if they take a college class on base or online. But again, the main goal of writing in PME is to develop an NCOs ability to express their ideas with clarity and concision, while sharing thoughts about their role as a member of the Army Profession.
Are NCO instructors trained to grade my papers?
Facilitators in NCOES will be given training to help them review student papers using a writing rubric. The writing rubric will serve as a guide to an instructor on what areas must be evaluated on a Soldier’s paper. Instructors will also meet on a regular basis to review how to use the rubrics and conduct norming sessions to ensure they are scoring written assignments accurately. Soldiers attending NCOES will also be given a rubric or job-aid in advance so that they know what areas to focus on in their writing. Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure to travel over to the Intelligence Center of Excellence at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. They have an entire set of best practices used in their schoolhouse that bring these concepts to life.
I’d like to thank Command Sgt. Maj. Davenport for this opportunity to talk about the writing assessment and to put this information out to Soldiers and their leaders. If you have any interest in knowing more about this project, please contact me here at TRADOC. My desk is phone is DSN: 501-5439.
Dr. Liston W. Bailey
The noncommissioned officer is grounded in heritage and traditions, embodies the warrior ethos, values perpetual learning, and is capable of leading, training and motivating Soldiers. Using writing as a learning strategy in PME is intended to increase NCOs’ competencies by providing them with learner-centered, activity-oriented, personalized reflection about their learning experiences and formulation of plans to apply that learning to other contexts.