Give Them an Audience

empty-chairs

“Ralphie” writing

For a long time the process of school-based writing was short, sweet, and linear.

  1. Student writes the thing.
  2. Student gives the thing to the teacher.
  3. Teacher (eventually) returns the thing to student with a grade and/or corrections.
  4. Fin.

Unless you’re Ralphie imagining your teacher clutching your composition to her chest in wonder and amazement, this process is neither motivating nor exciting. An audience of one. Perhaps more, if students get to share their writing with some peers. Maybe it goes up on the classroom wall where no one will have the time to read it.

That’s the way it’s been; what other choice did we have? Until now. With the advent of the internet and Kidblog, students can publish for the world. Teachers can break this traditional process wide open and, in doing so, make student writing more relevant and exciting.

The whole internet?

Let’s face it, kids will write for their teacher. But for the whole internet? A fifth grade class in Texas or Arizona or even the far off land of Hawaii might read their writing? They might even leave a comment! A comment from the teacher is great, but a comment from someone else sitting somewhere on the other end of a far-away computer is way cooler. (And contrary to typical internet “comment sections” that are cesspools, by letting them publish globally and comment globally maybe we’re solving that problem too.)

A global audience is motivating. We can use that motivation to help students revise their writing. “This is a good first draft.  Remember, this post is going out to the world. Does it match you the way you want to be represented?” Kids like pleasing others. Let them. A real audience is the best way to get my students to revise a draft more than once.

Risk and reward

There’s risk here, though. So, we turn on comment moderation, we share widely but smartly, and we pay attention to what our kids are writing and who is writing back. But the reality is our students are already publishing to the world. They’ve got Instagram and Facebook and social media apps I’m too old to know exist. The door is open. So we have a choice—tell them everything outside the door is scary and they should stay inside (which won’t work), figure they’re doing it anyway, it’s too late and let them run (which is contrary to our job as educators), or be guides, helping students navigate their sharing with the world. We can teach them about messaging and meaning and the might of words. Kids still need to learn what to say and how to say it. So we show them the door to the world and we help them organize their thoughts.

We should allow students this chance to speak to the world. Students’ voices matter and they can be loud. They have stories to share and things to teach. If teachers can let their students speak to the world, they might hear the world speak back. Thus, the world gets smaller and differences become understood instead of feared. What can from each other?

The world might be listening

Take advantage of the opportunity to publish to the world. Student stories, essays, reflections, poems, whatever they want to write. By sharing their words they’ll see the value in them. They’ll believe that yes they have a voice, and yes they can use it, and yes that gives them power. Start with small steps, using the world as a carrot to motivate editing and revision. Hopefully, before long, editing and revision become something they want to do because they know the world might be listening.

And so the linear process we talked about at the beginning is now cyclical. There is no more fin. The teacher plays a part, but is not the purpose.  By training students to write for themselves and the world, and to see the value in it, they won’t stop.

About the Author
Doug Robertson is an eleventh-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the novel The Unforgiving Road. He is also an active blogger and the editor of the CUE blog. Doug regularly speaks at teaching conferences, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words). Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.

4 comments

  1. Debbi Lisack

    I loved your article! Do you ever skype with other 5th grade classes?

  2. Gordon

    Doug, What’s your kidblog url?

Leave a Reply to Doug Cancel reply

For individual teachers, memberships are $54 $44/year with promo code JANUARY18 or $12/month.

Enroll your grade level/school/district, priced per student. Discounts may apply.