An Audience Beyond the Teacher
We require our students to read, think, respond, write, and rewrite. But generally their hard work has only a one-person audience, the teacher. For students to succeed as writers, they should have an audience beyond the teacher. We teachers can help students have a safe place to write and then propel their words into the world.
In creative writing class we are constantly interacting with ideas, writing prompts, lists, and new skills. These generate ideas worth sharing. We may occasionally encourage peer review and sharing, but what if we'd give our students a nudge to move beyond their normal audience? Have you ever read a poem or anecdote written by one of your students to a co-teacher? Have you ever posted your student's work on the hallways at school? Let's explore a few reasons why you should create a larger audience for your students and some ways to do it.
Students discover their ideas and opinions are interesting and meaningful to others. Their feelings and beliefs and experiences are validated through other's responses to their work. This helps students realize that no one lives in a vacuum.
Students work harder. If more people will be reading it, they want to present their work in a thoughtful and careful way. They may feel like they are doing something "real" that matters. The energy and expectation level rises as they prepare pieces for those beyond their classroom walls. This new purpose motivates students in a healthy way and I'm delighted to see what they come up with over and over.
Students are more likely to move on to bigger things. Offering their simpler words, stories, poems, lists, and articles to a larger audience can boost self-esteem and reduce the fear of rejection. They'll be more accustomed to putting themselves "out there" and be ready to try again. And again. As they mature in writing, they won't fear so much to send out more weighty pieces. Let's fuel the fire!
Across the grade levels there are a couple easy ways to provide an audience for your students.
Post student's work in the hallways before parent-teacher meetings. Perhaps you can have a bulletin board dedicated for weekly writing assignments that everyone can read and interact with.
Post student's work in the school newsletter. The secret joy of reading your own work in print gives anyone a boost.
Share student's work with another classroom. The student can read or recite their own poem to their peers. Creating a culture where student's regularly share their work will reduce the painful awkwardness of presenting. It's healthy for students to learn the tricks of lifting their heads, talking clearly, practicing etiquette, and offering their work to others verbally.
Host a writing contest complete with rules, challenges, prizes, and a compilation of all the pieces submitted. This takes teacher time, but I think it can produce some stunning results.
As students mature and reach upper-grades, I like to encourage them to write for publications. Students so often think their work isn't worth anything or that everything has already been written. Sometimes that could be, but not always! I always encourage students to write in a fresh way and have an opinion. Help them learn how to follow guidelines and submit their stories and articles to church publications, local newsletters, and critique groups. It's good to learn how to ask someone to point out weak spots. Learn to revise and edit. I think a mixture of acceptance and criticism is healthy for any author. Acceptance of their written work motivates them to keep writing. Criticism motivates them to learn the skill better. Perhaps you could challenge your students to all submit a piece of writing to a publication outside of their school programs. Throw a big celebration once everyone has done that and make a big deal out of their bravery. It's a big world out there, and occasionally it is scary, even for us grown ups. :-)
Speaking of what an audience can do for a writer, I think we should do better at giving verbal and written response to public work. We do poorly at acknowledging someone's art or writings. Did you read something that inspired you or resonated with you? Send that note in the mail, drop the sticky note on someone's desk, or tell them to their face what you like about it and what caught your attention. Authors and artists need feedback and it only takes a few minutes out of your day. Give a comment on a blog post, send an email of thanks and appreciation, text someone saying that you saw their article. Just respond! Generally, writing is a thankless job like many other jobs. We do each other a kind service when we show up and interact with what other people do. Go ahead and buy one of our card & stationary packs and use it specifically for responding to people's work.
Whatever you do as the teacher, be a safe place for students to be able to present their writing to you. Help the student out with a little editing if needed. Then gently propel their words into the world. Your new audience may make all the difference for a budding author.