“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.