I am trying to devise more authentic audiences and assignments for my students--beyond, "I'm writing this for the teacher because she'll be the one grading it."
Any suggestions will be appreciated.
I completely affirm #7 - if you have to present or teach your topic yourself, it really clarifies the mind and the work at hand, because no one wants to look like an idiot in front of their peers! Also, have you thought of allowing students freedom to select their own working title (perhaps within given perameters)? This might enable them to select something that they are really passionate about and have experience in, such as a society or club that they are involved in out of school.
I've found that an excellent way to ensure an authentic audience view is to have the students prepare to TEACH the thesis, rather than write an essay about it. There's something about the teaching process that lets the author's true voice prevail. One of the keys is to insist on an outline with every paper. Because I teach from an outline, that format has credibility with the students. Most of the editing work is actually done in the outline stage, so that by the time they write their rough drafts the voice (and audience) is firmly understood so that the final papers ring true.
For many of my writing assignments in upper-level classes, the identified audience is the class. When papers are completed, they are then shared in peer editing exercises before they are revised and rewritten. Final papers are read to the class as a whole. Students may choose to present their own papers, or have other students present them, giving credit to the writers. I've had really good results with this approach. My students seem to take special care knowing that they are writing for each other and will be sharing their work. There is always lots of spontaneous applause, too, which is good for everybody.
What lies behind the concept of an authentic audience? I think it is publication. All of the examples from the fourth comment are forms of publication. Given even the most simple technological resources, most teachers can easily "publish" in innumerable ways. A handbook for next year's class would be a valuable publication, or a brochure marketing the school. A collection of poems, essays, illustrations, and stories could be published just for the students and their parents. Your students could create their own book jackets for books they own, including blurbs and brief information about the book and author. I have also seen classes write letters to themselves in the future. Teachers mail these letters as the students graduate. I had one group that wrote and illustrated a children's story. We copied it and they shared it with their families, including younger siblings. Perhaps if you focus on the idea of publication, more ideas will come to you. I think this is the fun part of teaching!
I've also considered letter writing to a companies who have products the students would like improved. i.e. Writing a Skateboard company with ideas on how to improve speed or balance. I want them to realize writing is something they can (most probably will) use to change or improve their lives outside of high school.
Designing writing assignments with a larger audience is critical. Assignments that ask students to write a speech to a targeted audience could be one approach. There would have to be certain elements included if the audience was clearly specified. Perhaps, assigning writing that will be read aloud to a specific person who has a rubric or some type of assessment tool could also work.
The idea of a letter to companies can be expanded to letters of many different types. Following are some suggestions.
- Letters asking for information on products, prices, uses and other related matters that can be addressed to manufacturers or marketers of these products.
- Writing letters to the editors on some currnt topic.
- Letters congratulating people on their successes and achievements.
- Writing letters of thanks and appreciation for help received.
- Making complaints to government department about some problems you are facing and want id redressed. This can also take the form of suggestion for improvement.
- Letters of sympathy and condolences.
- Sales letters.
- Employment applications.
- Making reservations in a hotel or some such place. Such letters could include request for special preferences or service.