While outside audiences must be curated, and it’s a skill rightly worth teaching, there are other considerations for audience in learning and how schools can leverage them more effectively. Most specifically, students are a built-in audience, and we could leverage better.
The schools we need realize audience is built in.
The easiest way to think about this is the English classroom. Students are assigned essays to write. Even the most traditional teacher is likely, from time to time, to ask students to share their work with one another during the editing process and peer edit. In technology deserts, this is usually the act of trading handwritten drafts, asking students to read what’s on the page and mark them up. It’s a start, and we can do better.
Simply trading papers leaves the editor with a lack of direction. She’s likely to read through, mark the most glaring punctuation errors, write “good job” and hand it back to her partner.
Without guidance, students aren’t likely to get the feedback they want or need from their pre-published audiences. They’re also not likely to reflect on what that desired feedback might be. Using a more structured approach like the writer’s memo described by Jeffrey Sommers in his article “Behind the Paper: Using the Student-Teacher Memo” asks both writer and audience to think about their focus in the feedback process and what will be most helpful to the writer.
Tools like the writer’s memo take better advantage of the in-school audience than the traditional trade-and-mark approach and ask students to reflect on what they’ve created as well.
Once student work has reached a published phase, we can take better advantage of built-in audiences as well. We can ask students to make the work useful to their audience rather than a simple exhibition of the skills they’ve been working on. The most misguided example of this is the use of social video sites for school projects.
In a math class, the teacher may ask her students to create a video explaining the concepts taught (and hopefully learned) during a unit of study. The students work alone or in groups to complete the assignment, upload their videos to the designated site, and the teacher reviews them, makes comments and sends them back. In some cases the teacher might take class time to highlight some of what she has deemed as the best productions.
These videos can be more useful.
This is surely not the last time these concepts will be taught in the school. The next year or next semester, other students will follow and need to learn these concepts. Too often the teacher will forget the video archive students have created and leave them to languish. Instead, leveraging built-in audience means realizing these new students can start their learning with the previous year’s videos and utilize the commenting function to activate the prior students as tutors or co-teachers of the content. Suddenly, the videos live on and the previous students are asked to re-activate knowledge in the service of this new audience.
A year is a long time to wait, and there’s no need. Sticking with our math video example, consider the power of teachers of subsequent math classes collaborating and the teacher of the higher-level math class asking what concepts the lower-level math class will be learning about first. Then, the higher-level students review the previous year’s content and craft learning tools to help the younger students. Given the spiraling of most math curricula, this return to more fundamental concepts is likely to shore up the higher-level students’ skills while providing lower-level students learning objects that are crafted in language divorced from the formality of textbooks.
As the Internet has opened the world up to our schools, the temptation has become to think of the world as our audience. Remembering the audience already in our classrooms and schools can help to deepen knowledge and work to create local learning communities.