I used to think that we could pretend and imagine who our audience might be: write a letter to your grandmother, or write a persuasive essay to the principal. Although this may have helped students to think about word choice, it didn’t do anything to motivate them to do their best work. I was still the only one reading students’ writing, and my students weren’t in awe of me, so their writing was simply good enough to hand in.
Having a real audience is what makes doing any task motivating. I recently took a university course where we had to create a collaborative inquiry project within a group. As a teacher, I wanted the information to be purposeful, something I or other teachers could use. It took some reflection and some discussions to create a project not just for the mark, but to truly consider our purpose and audience. Otherwise it would be a chore to complete and something I’d forget about the moment it was submitted. This was a good reminder for me to view life like one of my own students, and it solidified the importance of creating opportunities for authentic audiences for students.
When students share their work in a public manner, with a real audience, their attitudes shift. They work a little harder to impress, and they connect and engage in the task with more pride. I don’t think this results solely from the fear of being judged by others. We thrive when we are trusted to produce something real and purposeful. I’ve witnessed kids making adjustments to blog posts because a friend has pointed out a mistake or misunderstanding – not because of marks or feedback from me. Comments they receive on their posts motivate students to justify their thinking or change their thinking all together. But I think the biggest benefit happens before the writing even begins.
Watch the buzz of excitement in the room when students start talking about the possibilities of an assignment which ends with real people being entertained, persuaded, or receiving information from them. A person will be able to offer an opinion of their work, or possibly apply the students’ ideas. Suddenly, what they are doing has meaning and value. They are being given an opportunity to share their learning, or to teach someone else, and they are being trusted that what they create will be worthy, and worthwhile. They are being told that what they have to say matters, and at any age, kids can contribute to society and build relationships.
So while I will continue to bring in experts to talk to my students, or take them on field trips to have authentic experiences, I feel like there is something more important to remember. Our students have a distinct “expert” perspective of their world, and their voices need to be heard. I will give my experts, my students, a chance to show the world what they know. And I will watch them thrive.
Photo Credit: Blurred Mood by Martin Fisch; CC BY-SA license via flickr