George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Whenever I start talking about the importance of revising our writing with my classes, I show them this photograph: an over-the-shoulder shot of Barack Obama holding a copy of his Inaugural Address from 2013. It's a printed page covered with his handwritten edits. Words are crossed out, arrows go every which way, and there are notes everywhere.

My point in showing this to students has always been: "Look how important revision is -- even the President of the United States takes the time to work on writing revision!" However, I used to overlook one key question when discussing the photograph with students: "Why did Mr. Obama care enough to revise his speech so much?"

Undoubtedly, the answer is that millions of people around the world would be listening to the speech, and thus he wanted his writing to be clear, precise, and flawless.

It should come as no surprise, then, that students care more about writing, revising, editing, proofreading, and perfecting their compositions when given a real-world audience. It's not just something that they've written for practice or a grade. It's a real piece of writing that will be read by real people in the real world.

5 Inspiring Strategies

Here are five successful writing strategies that I've used in my classroom to give students authentic audiences and motivate them to revise with gusto:

1. Self-Publishing Fiction

The world of self-publishing is more than just fan fiction and esoteric sci-fi. There are whole communities out there of budding writers sharing stories, giving each other feedback, and practicing the art of writing. Whatever kind of creative writing you do with your students, they can self-publish and connect with readers all over the world. Two of my favorite sites for students to self-publish are Wattpad and figment.

2. Recording Podcasts

This one comes with the added bonus that it forces students to read their writing aloud, which alerts them to all kinds of writing issues that would otherwise go unnoticed when reading silently. They can create podcasts about anything, but I've had students base them on National Public Radio's This I Believe series. Giving students the opportunity to literally voice their opinions is powerful stuff. Getting to share those opinions is even more powerful. PodBean is a great place for students to upload and share their podcasts with the world.

3. Blogging

As a blogger myself, I clearly value the power of writing short pieces concerning things that I'm passionate about. And guess what? So do students! They can create blogs about anything that interests them -- video games, sports, fashion, anything they choose. Not only will this passion-based writing energize them, but their words will also reach an audience that cares about the same things. I teach at a Google Apps for Education school, so having students create a public blog through Blogger is super easy, but edublogs, which is Wordpress' site targeted toward teachers and students, is also free.

4. Writing Correspondence

Learning to write letters, email, and other correspondence is an important skill in and of itself, but actually sending the correspondence to real people takes the lesson to a whole new level. I've had students write to prisoners of conscience around the world, with much success, as part of Amnesty International's Write for Rights campaign. However, students can also write to any public persona, such as a letter to their state governor about an issue facing their community, or an email to the author of a book they're reading. You could also go the old tried-and-true route of getting your students pen pals. Whatever you choose, the real power of this practice comes when students receive return correspondence. You can almost see their faces light up when they realize that their writing is deserving of a real-world response.

5. Making Videos for YouTube

The beauty of YouTube is that anyone can upload anything they want and instantly have an audience of millions. I've had students produce short, creative films based on books they were reading, but they can also create scripted how-to videos, screencasts, or interviews. This one is also great for giving students a chance to become amateur video editors and filmmakers -- not a bad bonus!

The Bigger Audience

Let’s face it. Most of us middle- or high-school teachers are only one of about eight that our students will have during the course of a year. We might build great relationships with them and they might respect our opinion, but for most of them, they have a limit to how much they care about our assessment of their work. And can we blame them for this? Of course not. After countless assignments throughout the school year, the motivation for students to really care about impressing teachers with their writing must be pretty difficult to muster by the time, say, April rolls around.

For conventional writing assignments, students are usually trying to meet the expectations of one person -- the teacher who assigned it. However, with an authentic audience, students are driven by the knowledge that their writing will leave the school, go out into the world, and be judged not for their ability to respond to an assignment, but for their ability to reach other people through their writing.

Do you give your students authentic writing assignments? Does it motivate them? Please elaborate in the comments below.

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Michael Paul's picture

Thanks Dylan for this post! It is amazing the power of an authentic audience to bring out the best in the students. I especially like the idea of using a Podcast, since it forces them to reread their work. Great article and one I will definitely pass along to my colleagues.

Dylan Fenton's picture
Dylan Fenton
English Teacher

Thanks for taking the time to read it! And yes, couldn't agree more about the Podcasts. I read aloud almost everything I write and it helps so much with clarifying and refining one's writing.

Russ Ewell's picture
Russ Ewell
Parent of 3 and Android + iOS Educational App Developer

You couldn't be more correct. What has impressed me most is watching kids with special needs get the opportunity to communicate using blogs. This is something more schools should utilize, not just with typical kids, but giving those with special needs a voice. When kids with special needs blog, then typical children can understand them through their own words. What I have not seen and will recommend is the podcast. Now that would be a big hit for kids with special needs.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Great suggestion Dylan! Love the idea of podcast as a way to help them revise their ideas. My friend recently did podcasts with her kids to discuss racism and it was fabulous, here is a link if you're interested: http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25920011&item=http://api.edweek.org/v...

I think other than the added benefits of a wider audience, these modes of writing still help students to follow a specific writing structure that contains a point of view, literary elements etc. So it's a win for everyone involved.

Dylan Fenton's picture
Dylan Fenton
English Teacher

Russ: Doing these strategies with students with special needs is a great idea! I think one of the greatest things about technology is that it allows all students to have a voice and share their perspectives. Giving these students a platform with which they are comfortable to share their ideas with the world would've been so much harder 25 years ago!

Dylan Fenton's picture
Dylan Fenton
English Teacher

Rusul: Thanks for sharing that link - that project sounds amazing! And couldn't agree more - these strategies aren't about the strategies, they're about helping to develop stronger thinkers, creators, and communicators.

Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

Dylan,

In theory I love the idea of students reading their work out loud to themselves because I believe that our ears are our best editors. But it has never really worked out it practice. Students are always self conscious about reading their work out loud, even if everyone else is doing it. Any tips on how to make them more comfortable?

Dylan Fenton's picture
Dylan Fenton
English Teacher

Hi Brian. This is something that was definitely done as homework. I suggested that kids go home, find a quiet place in their house, then record and revise. Like you, I've found that kids tend to be very self-conscious about their writing when it's read aloud, so I didn't even try it in the classroom!

(1)
klwilson12's picture

Thank you for this post! An authentic audience can make a huge impact on student motivation and overall writing. Providing students with opportunities and experiences of writing to outside sources, such as the state governor and online blogging communities, can introduce authentic writing applications students can use outside of a school setting. Students can learn to voice their opinions, become active participants of various communities, and write and revise for a self-driven purpose. Authenticity can make a huge difference in our classrooms!

Dylan Fenton's picture
Dylan Fenton
English Teacher

Thanks for the comment - I absolutely agree. The more schools do to create authentic learning situations, the more relevant they will be for students!

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