When I was a student, I always valued schoolwork and projects that felt like they had some sort of “authentic audience.” Why was I writing a paper that only my teacher would read? I would consistently put more effort into assignments that would be peer reviewed and shared with the class, and even more into ones that I knew would be viewed by the larger community.
Now that I’m a teacher, I try to give my students as many opportunities as possible to feel like they are doing meaningful work, work with a purpose. Almost every extended project culminates in an elaborate “gallery walk” or “gala” or “exhibition,” where the students set up their work and then take a tour of everybody else’s, filling out feedback slips as they go (I also like giving them lots of opportunities for feedback and constructive criticism…which is usually good, except for the time that Kyle and Trevor gallivanted around the class with the aliases of “Pigster” and “Squag,” writing snarky, negative comments on everything. Luckily, I have uncanny handwriting analysis and I immediately knew it was them, confronted them, and had them rewrite constructive comments.)
I’m realizing the power of authentic audiences even more now, as I have my 6th graders work on wetland brochures. We went on a field trip to a local wetland last week, and we’ve been learning about plant/animal adaptations, as well as the important functions that the wetland ecosystem serves. Back in class, we began to brainstorm reasons why someone might create a brochure: to inform, to educate, to persuade, to raise awareness, etc. Then I mentioned that some of the high quality brochures would get to be linked onto the town’s wetland website, or hang in their downtown office where hundreds of people pass through each month. As soon as I said this, they all started producing really high quality work! There’s something about knowing there’s a purpose to what you’re doing, some greater reason to do it, that sparks people to stepping it up a notch.
Also, I was excited about showing them brochure templates on Microsoft Word so that they could experiment and produce some really cool, professional looking creations!