“I am done, where should I put this?” Pablo calls across the room in the middle of writing workshop. I painfully pull myself away from a conference wanting desperately to address Pablo before these words put a stop to others’ work. Before I can reach Pablo, he has already put the crumpled paper in his writing folder.
“I’m done” is a scene played out too often in the early days of writing workshop. Writers diligently work to create a piece of writing, but why? Who will read the story? Why are we writing? Then what? Put our papers in folders for safe keeping? Take it home for mom and dad? If it leaves the classroom how will I assess the student’s progress and next steps? These questions have haunted the back of my mind for most of the 24 years of my teaching career.
To write well, writers need purpose; they need to know they have an audience who will read and respond to their message. When students feel safe with their audience, they open up to feedback and are willing to share their writing with others. Writing takes bravery and the power of a trusted audience makes a writer feel fearless.
The Power of Audience:
The audience brings energy to writing. Without an audience, our writing can seem almost invisible. An audience provides students with, new ideas, questions to push the writer, and a reason to write. Audiences engage with the author and make writing social. The power of knowing your work is consumed by an audience changes a writer. Imagine the potential of an audience beyond the folder, the teacher, and the walls of the classroom. An audience beyond the classroom brings new perspectives, new standards, and motivation to a writer.
For the past seven years, my class and I have worked to build an audience in and outside our classroom. Each year our attempts pay off. Year after year the students are peppered with new opportunities for expanding their learning. We began reaching out to a global audience using Twitter. Twitter allowed us to find to an audience as far as New Zealand and as close as our own homes. Connecting with a global audience opened our minds to new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking and communicating. Primary Perspective: Global Classroom, shows our global audiences and our learning. In our classroom, we have a Twitter wall (pictured right) where students can post work or thinking they would like shared on Twitter. Some students choose not to share all year long, but the opportunity is open to everyone.
After reading Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, Elijah responded to the book by drawing and commenting on the Stars Wars reference in Aaron Reynolds’s illustrations. He posted his thinking on the Twitter wall, and I sent the live tweet of Elijah’s work. Dana Murphy caught the tweet and reached out to us for a Skype visit! Mrs. Murphy explained she was writing a book review on Nerdy Birdy, and she would like to hear our thoughts about the book. The kids were empowered when they learned a grown-up was reading a book they had read and that she wanted to listen to their thinking. Although this was the work of one, Elijah’s work was powerful enough to lift the entire class. Once an audience is established it becomes omnipresent in your classroom, the effects aren’t limited to the one sharing; they reach the community as a whole.
Over the years, my students and I have made several powerful connections. Each one has pushed us toward developing our identities as writers. This year we had the pleasure of connecting with @Mhaseltine’s sixth-grade class through the Classroom Slice of Life Story Challenge. The influence this class had on the first-graders is unmatched! From the first comment, our class was electric! “A sixth grader commented on MY blog, Mrs. Frazier! A SIXTH GRADER!” Chad shouted across the room. Later that day, I heard Luke mumbling to himself as he walked to lunch, “Man, I can’t believe a sixth-grader would leave me a comment; he’s like a teenager!” A mentorship was born. My class was in awe of sharing and receiving feedback from sixth-graders. Our relationship with Ms. Haseltine’s class was reliable; comments were exchanged between the classes almost daily. As the community between our classrooms grew, parents began to take note. Some parents started leaving comments for our sixth-graders! The parents wanted these kids to know how much their son or daughter loved receiving comments from them. As this relationship continued, I noticed the students took more interest in including more key details in their posts. They wanted resources to support their spelling, and the use of correct ending punctuation was on the rise. The writing was becoming more personal, purposeful, and more conventional.
Guidelines for Finding and Nurturing An Audience:
Finding an audience requires perseverance, the willingness to take risks, and regular attention. As the teacher, reach out into writing communities. Once connections are established, be active! Connect regularly! Make reading the posts or comments of your audience a part of your minilessons, shared readings, and read alouds; you can even use these posts or comments as a mentor text. Tweet the class (or the teacher) to let them know you have left comments. The students will learn they can count on each other for feedback and support. With an active audience as a member of your classroom community, the abstract idea of ownership and authors writing for others becomes concrete.
Getting Started: Reach Out
- Twitter (Ask for retweets by typing Pls. RT in your tweet and use hashtags to reach a target audience. #KidsWritingLife, #1stChat (or your grade level). Find more education hashtags here.
- Primary Blogging Community hosted by @mrswideen: Writing communities will begin in October.
- KidBlog (When choosing blogging platform, remember to look for one with a global reach to build an audience beyond the classroom.)
- The Global Classroom Project
Keep it Active: Nurture Your Audience
- Teach students how to make a comment on a post.
- Ziemke and Muhtaris provide great information to help you use these tools to lift the level of learning in their book Amplify! .
- Teach students how to check for comments and to reply to comments left on their blogs.
- Encourage students to invite a particular audience directly to their blog via email, Twitter or a tool from above.
(Use a variety of tools to communicate with your audience. Choose tools that work for you, your audience, and your purpose.)
When I reached Pablo’s seat, I asked him who he thinks might be interested in reading his story. Pablo paused for a few minutes and then decided it might be good for his little sister in preschool. In these early days, Pablo and I worked together to share his story by snapping a picture and uploading it to his blog. Pablo titles his story, For Claire. I email mom and tell her all about Pablo’s post for Claire. Pablo is experiencing the power of audience, and the class is listening.
- This giveaway is for one copy of The First Six Weeks of School, 2nd Edition. Many thanks to Responsive Classroom for donating a copy of this book.
- For a chance to win one copy of The First Six Weeks of School, 2nd Edition, please leave a reaction to any post in the blog series, including this one, by Monday, August 8th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Dana Murphy will use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT POST on Tuesday, August 9th at 11:59 p.m. EDT.
- You may leave one comment on every post in our Starting with What Matters Most in Writing Workshop blog series, which runs August 1st – 8th.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Dana can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Responsive Classroom will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- Responsive Classroom will only ship the book to a winner in the United States. If you live outside of the U.S. and wish to be considered for this giveaway, you must have a U.S. mailing address.