Teaching writing, at first, was a struggle for me. It was a struggle because the kids seemed to detest it. When I asked them why I received all sorts of answers, but one answer that kept coming up was that they didn’t feel like the writing was “real”; they turned in all their writing to me even though the writing was a complaint letter to a company or a persuasive essay to the principal on a dress code policy change. While I knew the importance of writing for me, the teacher, I also wanted to listen and value my students’ voices. I wanted to figure out a way to make the writing more real for them, and for them to engage in the practice of writing and be motivated to put their best foot forward.
So, I did what I always do when I’m faced with a problem in need of a solution: research.
I found many books and articles that detail the importance of a real, authentic audience for students’ writing. To quote one of the founders of our wonderful blog, Rebekah O’Dell, in this New York Times post, “Students have the strongest BS meters — they know if something is fake and ‘just for school’ or if it is authentic. Sending student writing out into the world is the ultimate step of authenticity — it not only shows students that their writing has weight in the real world, but it also gives them authentic audiences to write for!”
How do I give them that real, authentic audience? I found a variety of web-based platforms to allow students to showcase their writing (there are so many!) but I’m most familiar with these three: Edublogs, TeenInk, and NaNoWriMo.
Edublogs is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: it is a blog platform used within an educational atmosphere. Edublogs is part of CampusPress and WordPress (the blog you are reading now is a WordPress blog) and is a free blogging platform.
Teachers can sign up or create an account, and then use the code generated in Edublogs to get students signed up and logged in to the teacher-created blog. Once students have joined the blog, teachers can regulate as much or as little as they want. You can choose to monitor comments among your class or from other people in Edublogs. You can also monitor what posts are public in the Edublog realm. There are many safety and security features teachers can utilize to ensure all students are getting an authentic audience while staying safe.
In addition to other Edublog users being able to see your students’ writings, you can as well. Teachers can comment and leave feedback on student writing just like you would if you were grading it on paper or a learning management system.
How to use this in the classroom: Blogs are a great way to encourage low-stakes writing while also motivating students to write their best. When I used Edublogs, I had students do a daily writing entry on their blog platform. I gave students designated time in class to read each other’s blogs and comment. I also had them post their final writing products on their blog for others to read and comment on. Students appreciated others reading their writing and giving some feedback. It was a great opportunity for students to connect and build community.
I think Teen Ink’s subtitle on their website captures the essence of their purpose the best: “By Teens, For Teens”. According to their website, Teen Ink “offers some of the most thoughtful and creative work generated by teens today. We have no staff writers or artists; we depend completely on submissions from teenagers around the world for our content. Teenink.com has over 460,000 registered users and continues to grow everyday.”
First, students need to sign up to join the Teen Ink community, and then they can submit their work to be published online. Teen Ink’s editors review submissions, and if they approve, the work will be published online.
There are many different categories for students to choose from when submitting a writing piece: fiction, nonfiction, reviews, poetry, and they even have an art/photo category. Those categories are further broken down into genre subcategories, such as historical fiction, fan fiction, bullying, discrimination, and free verse.
How to use this in the classroom: This was a great resource for students to submit their final writing piece. This went beyond their peers, beyond me, beyond a small blogging community into a massive network of other teens who would read their writing. Students want to be published, so they are highly motivated to do their best work.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and this occurs every November 1-30. According to their website, NaNoWriMo is a “fun, empowering approach to creative writing. The challenge: draft an entire novel in just one month. Why do it? For 30 wild, exciting, surprising days, you get to lock away your inner editor, let your imagination take over, and just create!” One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is that there is no age limit; anyone can write their novel and submit it on their website. With that being said, they do have a young writers program specifically for students 17 years and younger.
Young writers can sign up on their website to create an account, create and modify their profile, and then write their novel. Students can also customize their writing “space” with different fonts and color schemes. The NaNoWriMo online program also gives students a writing community to connect with as well as writing resources and challenges to keep them motivated as they write their novel. Even if students don’t finish their novel by November 30, they can still log in and write more and more as long as they have their account. When the students are finished writing their novels, they can publish them through NaNoWriMo’s partner, Blurb.
How to use this in the classroom: NaNoWriMo is a great extension or challenge activity, and this is how I used it in my classroom. As students got further into writing their novels, they became more excited at the opportunity to be published and share their work with their peers. I allowed time for students to share previews of their novels with their classmates and they were always really supportive of each other. If I had enough students submit or publish their novels, we would celebrate by having book parties with author signings. The students loved having this experience and celebrating each other in this way.
In his English Journal article “Real-World Writing”, author Grant Wiggins said, “The point of writing is to have something to say and to make a difference in saying it.” As writing teachers, this is what we want for our students: for them to realize the power in their written words. We want them to be able to use that power for good. Having an authentic audience gives students the motivation to live out this goal.
How do you get your students to connect with an authentic audience? You can connect with me on Twitter @shawnaeaston03 or on Facebook at facebook.com/movingwriters.
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