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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Common Core in Action: Writing for an Audience

Rebecca Alber

Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

What is new and different in the Common Core? When it comes to the writing standards, a heavy emphasis on audience for one thing, and this is very good news. The "audience" for student writing was once the lone teacher sitting after school with her cup of coffee, a red pen, and a stack of essays or other writing projects. And sadly, she might have been the only one, besides the student writers, that ever read them!

Let's take a look at the Common Core Anchor Standard in Writing that highlights audience.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4: Produces clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

When asked, many kids, and even adults, might tell you the main difference between "school" writing and real-life writing is that the latter has an audience and the other does not. And why has it taken so long for education to catch up? That's another topic. I will stick to the topic at hand since you are the audience of this piece of writing and I want to serve your needs. (I'm guessing you are a teacher, or school leader, and like many of us in this field, working hard to get yourself acquainted with the new standards.)

Keeping It Real

Back to anchor writing standard 4. Even though writing for an audience is less expected in lower grades than it is in secondary, it's important elementary teachers set their emerging writers to task with real writing scenarios.

So let's consider then some ways to engage students in real-life writing, starting in second grade:

  • Second grade: Ask the children to write about one of their favorites (person, pet, place). When they are finished, they can pair up and read it out loud to another student
  • Third/fourth grade: A student crafts a letter to a family member giving reasons for and describing why this person is important to her/him
  • Fifth/ sixth grade: The teacher finds a sister school in another state, assigning each student a penpal and the child writes about five things that make her/his community special (e.g. local food, customs, festivals, sights to see or monuments, etc.)
  • Seventh/eighth grade: Brainstorm a list of things the students would like to change or do to improve their school. Then each student self selects a topic from the list and writes a letter of persuasion to either the principal, assistant principal, school counselor, or perhaps district superintendent
  • Ninth/tenth grade: Have students select and research a local or state official. They then examine the official's campaign promises and accomplishments (or lack of) since taking office. Students can then pen a letter of congratulations to the official, or a letter calling him to action
  • Eleventh/twelfth grade: Have students read aloud their college entrance essays in small groups, and then after peer editing, create an event where they read their essays to a larger audience and invite family members, school faculty, and administrators

For secondary grades, a really excellent writing task comes from NPR's essay contest, This I Believe. Watch a video a high school senior made for her "This I Believe" essay:

Ready, Aim, Focus!

The beauty of having students write for an actual audience is that it puts them in a situation of having to really think about purpose, organization, and word choice. They aren't just doing it for the sake of a grade or because "we have to." Once teachers transform traditional writing tasks into real-life ones that include audience, they will see the "have-tos" turn into a desire to get it done, make it good, and the excitement of getting a response from their reader or readers.

I used the following pre-writing tool, RAFT, with my high school students each time we began a new writing mission (and I say "we" because I wrote with them). It helped them develop a strong purpose and vision before writing:

Role: What is your primary role in this writing task? Friend? Daughter? Concerned citizen?

Audience: Who is your reader? What do you know about your reader(s) that is helpful?

Format: Which will be most effective? A letter? Essay? Speech? Poem?

Tone: How will you convey your feelings and your position? What words and phrases will you use to do this?

Remember, for struggling writers, and for English learners as well as students with special needs: graphic organizers, shortening a writing assignment, modifying it in some way, or giving a child additional writing time increases the opportunities for all learners in your class to write with success.

What are the writing for an audience tasks you assign your students? Please share with us in the comment section below.

Common Core in Action Series

Comments (12)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lisa Mims's picture
Lisa Mims
5th grade teacher /Education blogger
Blogger 2014

Blogging is an excellent way to give students an authentic audience! I use Kidblog, it's extremely safe!

Doug Silver's picture
Doug Silver
Former teacher, reformed administrator, and now digital developer.

I think the focus on more rigorous writing in K12 is long overdue. States that are backtracking away from the CCSS also seem to shying away from the complex writing that is expected. I worry that the result will be the reliance on the same old state test of short, constructed response items being the performance measure. Writing helps teachers understand thinking - how students got to the conclusion - more than any other process. It is through that act that teachers can better understand the way a child thinks as much as what they think. Understanding an individual student's process is the key for differentiation and individualized learning. We need to have tools that support that mission. Thanks for raising this issue and please keep it at the forefront.

chemtchr's picture
chemtchr
chemistry

It escapes me what this has to do with the Common Core writing prompts. I did it in elementary school, and I'm 64.

For the Common Core, we can say, "You will be told to pretend you have a target audience, but this essay will be scored by a computer algorithm. No human eyes will see it, and no human mind or heart will respond. ".

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Community Manager at Edutopia
Staff

I want to second Lisa Mims' suggestion about blogging. Not only do students get practice writing for an audience, but they get to develop digital citizenship skills at the same time.

Mart Grams's picture

Agreed, Common Core is so wishy-washy that it says nothing. Even the example given supra, well duh! As you say, we did this as an elementary student, and never could enter jr high if not competent. No one would be in HS without being able to. CC is about weak teachers, expensive equipment, and mediocre standards.

Becky Fisher's picture
Becky Fisher
Education Consultant

I love the idea of the "audience" being different. It really opens up students to a world of possibility. It also invites opportunity to teach about digital citizenship, because as digital citizens, students will need to know how to write for different audiences.

Blogs are a great way to practice writing for a public audience. It also teaches great discipline and is a fun way for students to share their work with others.

It's great to embrace these new aspects as an opportunity to create new assignments, especially for a digital age!

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

We love finding ways to provide our students with a real-world audience. Blogging is an excellent one, as our first graders love to show off their blogs to parents and grandparents. It can also be powerful to convert writing into other formats such as video. My kids will always step it up when they know they're making videos that will be posted to our school's YouTube channel.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think finding a real audience for writing is key. So many times, writing becomes a rather restrictive and dull conversation between a teacher and student- even having them imagine a larger audience, and even a very specific audience helps students find that voice they need.

I think the common core standards are trying to make sure kids have key skills that are built on year after year, and there are many ways to approach them. While I have heard many people are upset because they require more of teachers and students, my response there is basically that life expects more as well, and no one ever said this was going to be easy. What we have to do is find a way to let kids practice skills nd get real feedback- like from a blog- so they can see the work they do has a life beyond the page.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England
Facilitator 2014

Audience means everything when writing and it can really help motivate students. Last year my second and third grade students were studying bears. We shared several current events about bears getting into trouble through interactions with humans in NH. We wrote several letters to the editor which were printed in many newspapers throughout the state of NH. The students wrote about the bear safety tips they had learned about in school. We wrote the letters collaboratively using the Smart Board. We started by using Kidspiration to get our thoughts organized. Then using the outline mode students took turns suggesting sentences, editing previously written sentences, and revising and reorganizing the letters. The interactive white board proved to be a great tool for the collaborative writing. While we were writing on the next to last day of school, the students knew it was recess but didn't want to go until the letter was complete and had included everything they knew about bear safety. I believe they were very determined to write such a finished piece because they knew the community was going to read it.

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