One of the most frequently asked questions in my writing class concerns itself with the intended audience of a text. When we analyze informational articles, we determine to whom the author is writing. When we analyze biographies, we analyze who might appreciate the organization of the text the most. And when we craft our own argumentative or analytical texts, we decide for ourselves who our readers are and what they want from us.
This last question, especially, hinges upon the idea of authenticity. My students crave real writing and real writing opportunities. It’s what makes a RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) writing assignment so intriguing. They like to occasionally take on new personas and voices, and they certainly like knowing that their writing is real and that it matters.
With the notion of “realness” in mind, I recently turned to Academic Gifting as a way to create both authentic writing opportunities as well as an opportunity for collaborative learning.
The Materials: Envelopes, Note Cards, and a Classroom Timer
I began the Academic Gifting exercise with the guiding quote of our unit:
“When the wind of change blows, some build walls while others build windmills.”
Students were tasked with responding to this quote on the front of the envelope. For six
minutes straight (building that writing endurance), pens and pencils could not leave the envelope. Students made “I wonder…” statements, asked questions, and connected the quote to the four major texts of our unit. Importantly, they did not write their names on the envelopes. Instead, while they were writing, I walked around with a sharpie and numbered each envelope according to my seating chart. This allowed me to shuffle the envelopes throughout the room but to still be able to identify the author of the envelope at the end of the lesson.
On a note card, take four minutes to respond to the author’s response using the 1-2-1 protocol:
- 1. Give the author your gut response. How does their writing make you feel?
- 2. Ask the author two clarifying or probing questions about their writing.
- 1. Connect something that they wrote to one of the four major texts we read.
Notice how students are replying directly to the author. And notice further, how students are always referred to as “the author.” Several times throughout the exercise, students would ask which author I was referring to. Was it John Steinbeck? Toni Morrison? John Green? When they realized that they were the authors, they walked a bit taller and their eyes became brighter. This was authenticity at its finest. They were authors responding to, asking questions of, and analyzing other authors. The empowerment that came from this exercise was enlightening: treat it like an author, and it will become an author.
After completing their 1-2-1, students inserted their note card into the envelope and traded the envelopes for a total of 4 rotations. I then collected the envelopes and returned them to their original authors. Now, each student had four responses to their original thoughts that not only validated their thinking, but also affirmed their identity as an author. This was the true gift of the exercise.
I have used this exercise in a multitude of ways, and I have found that, in order for a text to be conducive to the Academic Gifting exercise, it must include the following three attributes:
- It must be complex enough for students to be able to ask probing questions.
- It must be applicable to students’ daily lives.
- It must be a relatively novel text so students’ first impressions are genuine and unique.
Texts I have used:
Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison (novel)
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (novella)
“Magic Island” – Cathy Song (poem)
Metamorphosis – Peter Kuper (graphic novel)
“Nick, from All Things Considered” – John Green (radio broadcast)
The beautiful aspect of this exercise is that it is meta-authentic; it is authentically authentic. Students are treated as authors, and their ideas are given serious weight and merit. It is amazing to see how this small exercise yields more authenticity than I’ve ever experienced in a writing class.
How do you create authentic writing opportunities in your classroom? How do you give students the space and confidence to own the title of “author”? You can connect with me on Twitter @MGriesinger or on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters.