Young Voices find an Audience
As a foundational piece of our Keys to Content Writing training, we examine the 10 Common Core State Standards for writing. Standard 4 specifically addresses the importance of task, audience and purpose.
W#4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
In a recent blog post “Motivate Students with Authentic Audiences”, my colleague Shauna Cotte, posted actual response letters students received. These middle school students had the opportunity to write to people whose jobs directly related to subject matter they were studying in science, social studies, and ELA classes (paper versus plastic, energy sources, internet use). While facilitating a Keys to Content Writing training this summer, I shared the letters with participants and encouraged them to generate more opportunities for their own students to write for authentic audiences.
Two teachers in the training raised their hands to excitedly share their own recent experience with authentic audience. These elementary teachers from a local Massachusetts elementary school explained that their principal wanted students to experience friendly letter writing for an authentic audience. He thought it was important for students to have the experience of writing a letter, addressing and stamping the envelope, and walking to the post office to mail it.
So, all of the children in the school, grades Pre-K through five, wrote a friendly letter to an employee (a player, coach, office staff) of a New England sports team (Bruins, Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox), addressed and stamped the envelope, and walked to the post office.
The school, like so many others, faces serious budget shortfalls which directly impact students. Funding was dramatically cut or eliminated for music, physical education, and technology. Students wrote to these teams to explain what was happening at their school.
The response they received was amazing! The Red Sox sent a pack of tickets which included a tour of Fenway Park to be used as a raffle for a fundraiser. The Bruins donated floor hockey equipment and a few players planned to visit the school. Finally, the Celtics, after hearing of the schools’ unreliable and antiquated computer equipment donated a “state of the art” computer lab.
Of course, not every letter that a student writes will be answered – and certainly not in such a generous way, but that is a life lesson as well. (I almost feel the need to add the disclaimer frequently heard after fitness or weight-loss commercials “results not typical, various responses will occur”.)
Still, we must find new opportunities for students to write to authentic audiences. Consider businesses & corporations, politicians, younger or older students, and family members as you have students reach out to community members. Keep in mind even our youngest students have ideas to share.
In the article “Why Downt You Riyt Back to Me?” kindergarten teacher Kathryn Pole explained that she wanted to encourage her students to write while encouraging family bonds. In the year-long writing project, Pole documented increases in the amount students were writing, including more complex thoughts and ideas, and strengthening family bonds while sharing important family memories, stories, and traditions through writing.
Providing all students with the opportunities to write for authentic audience is critical. Anne Rodier of the National Writing Project (2000) makes this point about authentic audiences: “Students have to believe that what they have to say is important enough to bother writing. They have to experience writing for real audiences before they will know that writing can bring them power.”
We must teach our students their ideas matter and their voice, written or spoken, is a powerful tool. Empowering them with the knowledge that they can reach others is an important responsibility we owe our students, no matter how young or old.