At the beginning of Seeking Diversity, author Linda Rief recalls sharing an editorial with her students. One of her students wanted to know where he could send his response to the opinion piece. Rief had to tell the young man that he couldn’t send it because the editorial was several years old. As she states, “It was just an exercise to get you to write a persuasive piece.” The student replied that he had never heard of anything so stupid; he wanted the editor to read his response. From then on Rief “concentrated on making the writing [in her class] real—for genuine purposes. Not simply a ’stupid’ exercise.”
If your students seem to go through the motions when they write, perhaps you need to make your assignments more authentic, just as Linda Rief did. This blog will show you how.
Ensuring Authenticity: At the Front End
Students can pretty much say what they want in their personal writing. They’re doing it because they want to, because they have “issues” to sort out or experiences to reflect on. Writing that originates in the classroom is quite another matter. They must approach this writing with much more care and deliberation to make it real. Otherwise, their classroom writing will just be another “’stupid’ exercise.”
To ensure authenticity, have students establish the dynamics for each new project. Students can do this by answering four simple questions about their writing.
The Dynamics of Writing
Subject: What topic should I write about?
Purpose: Why am I writing (to inform, to entertain, to persuade)?
Audience: Who is my intended reader?
Form: What form will my writing take (essay, letter, poem)?
Answering these questions takes the “practice” out of classroom writing. It gives students a context for each new project and makes it real and purposeful. Their essays, articles, and stories will always be on track if they establish their rhetorical stance right at the outset.
Ensuring Authenticity: At the Back End
On another level, you can make writing real in your classroom by expecting students to publish their finished pieces (or at least most of them). Think of publishing as the driving force behind writing. It makes all of a writer’s prewriting, drafting, and revising worth the effort. Publishing is to a writer what a live performance is to a musician or an exhibit is to an artist. It is why they have worked so hard in the first place—to share a finished piece of writing that effectively expresses their thoughts and feelings.
The easiest and perhaps most helpful form of publishing is simply to have students share finished pieces with their writing peers. As writer and educator Tom Liner says, “[Students] learn ways to improve [their] writing by seeing its effect on others.” Make sure that your students know all of their publishing options. Here is a list of publishing ideas that you could share with them.
- Sharing their work with peers
- Reading to other audiences
- Creating an audio podcast
- Performing on stage
Submitting (in school)
- School newspaper
- School Web site
- Classroom collection
- Writing portfolio
- Personal blog or Web site
- Family newsletter
- Greeting cards
- Bulletin boards
- Display cases
- School or public library
- Clinic waiting rooms
- Literary/Art fairs
Submitting (outside of school)
- Community newspaper
- Local arts council
- Writing contests
- Church publications
- Online publications
The Bottom Line: Your students’ writing will be authentic if they (1) write about subjects that truly interest them, (2) establish a rhetorical stance for each new project, and (3) know that they will be publishing their work.