A Real Audience

“Oh my gosh, he wrote me back!” squealed one of my students today. Five or six other students gathered around the computer screen.

“Wow, he really considered your response.”

“He made some good points.”

“Should I respond?”

“[my audience] hasn’t written me back yet! Ugh!”

My students’ enthusiasm was catching today as they started to recieve responses to their writing. And, no, these were not girls writing love letters to Justin Beiber. This was something better. 

The assignment: Persuade a real audience of anything you find important.

The learning: While every student wrote about a different topic to a different audience, we all worked on improving our word choice, ideas, and organization, as well as incorportating persuasive strategies such as rhetorical questions into our writing. 

Products: Topics ranged from exempting exams, to the dress code, to switching cell phone service providers, to changing school rules, to building sidewalks in our community. Audiences included school administrators, teachers, parents, the DOT and state representatives.

Notably, I was not anyone’s chosen audience.

Students are never surprised or excited when I (the teacher) provide a response to their work. Despite the fact that I often put in hours responding, I have long stopped letting my feelings be hurt by their lack of enthusiasm.  I know I’m not an authentic audience.  Writing to me is something they have to do. A hoop to jump through. An assignment to cross out as complete.

 But today, the surprise and excitement permeated the air as students not-so-patiently awaited responses from their real audiences. Even though I saw their pieces and provided formative feedback, my job had moved from final judge to helpful editor.  A nice switch since my feedback now seems useful. Finally.

Lesson for me: learning with purpose outside the classroom is the best learning of all.

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4 Responses to A Real Audience

  1. John says:

    This is awesome, and I’ve been thinking about something similar a lot. There was a great TEDxNYED by Alan November, where he mentioned a girl who had developed a huge following on the internet by writing Harry Potter fan fiction, but was failing English, mainly because she wasn’t doing the work. When Alan asked her about this, she said something like “every time I get up in the morning, I have to decide if I’m going to write for my teacher or write for the world.” I also remember reading something on a blog about a student who decided in high school to start posting everything he wrote on a blog, because he decided that he didn’t want to just write for his teacher.

    Your post and these ideas have me thinking that maybe we need to reform our courses a bit so that students don’t have to make these choices. I’ve been meaning to write a post about an idea I had to add an element to my grading system so that if a student wants to earn an ‘A’, s/he must produce a work of lasting quality that is seen by/commented on/affects more than just me. Thanks for pushing me to dig that post out of my drafts folder and do some more writing.

  2. Pingback: Real! « It's About Learning

  3. Bo Adams says:


    What an interesting and compelling writing experiment. I have written a response-post at It’s About Learning. I am curious about the anon student approach. Can you write a post about that decision?


  4. Pingback: Raising the bar for an ‘A’—Capstones « Quantum Progress

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