If a tree falls in the forest…

Photo by john-morgan

While writing in isolation and without an audience may not be quite the same as the old “If a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear it?” adage, but it’s got me thinking.

In preparation for a workshop, I’ve been giving thought to the idea of authentic writing opportunities for students. In Kathleen Blake Yancey, in her article “Writing in the 21st Century” concludes by saying:

Through research documenting these new models [of composing], we can create the theory that has too often been absent from composition historically, and we can define composition not as a part of a test or its primary vehicle, but apart from testing. In creating these new models, we want to include a hitherto neglected dimension: the role of writing for the public. As Doug Hesse has argued, the public is perhaps the most important audience today, and it’s an audience that people have written for throughout history. If this is so, we need to find a place for it both in our models of writing and in our teaching of writing.

We always tell students to consider their audience and purpose when writing, but so often their only audience is the teacher, and then, we are often only seen as judge. Students need authentic opportunities to write which is why I think Web 2.0 presents so many amazing opportunities for students to write for a real audience and receive feedback from peers–not just those peers in their own classroom who may have preconceived notions about who that student is, but for peers around the world. I believe that when students write for an audience and receive real feedback, they see writing not just as a task they have to complete for marks, but as a way to forge connections.

If we want to make writing engaging for our students, we’ve got to make it authentic.

Just as an aside, right now I’m waiting on some input from student bloggers about why they enjoy blogging. Thanks to Jane Smith and Nathan Toft for their help with this. Check out their class blogs by clicking on their names. You should also check out Portable PD for great information (the name says it all). These teachers are amazing and I have so much to learn from them, not to mention a local star-teacher David Carruthers. All three of these teachers are doing great work with podcasting too.

4 thoughts on “If a tree falls in the forest…

  1. Dear Danika, I totally agree with your ideas today and have seen this first-hand with our students on our blog this year. The most vivid example took place the day they posted work from their poetry anthologies and then read and offered comments. It was thrilling to see the level of engagement and the sincerity of many of the responses. (And to contrast this with the alternative…) It is so much easier to discuss “audience,” as you mention. For example, we can stress the value of writing a thoughtful comment – in order to elicit a comment in response. As you say, it’s not always the teacher…

  2. Thanks for the comment! I really like the example that you used. It makes me think about the portfolio project our board is working on. I think it would be so much better if the portfolios could be online rather than filed away in a desk or cabinet.

  3. I find that the “tree in the forest” image is rather appropriate for good and ill for me as I attempt to educate myself about web 2.0 stuff: as I mentioned to you, Danika, the other day, reaching out into the world via Web 2.0 and knowing that others are out there and that they may read and respond to my writing is both freeing because I can create and contribute my voice to the cyber-universe — but this is also paralyzing: what the heck do I say now that I have an audience? Plus there are so many vehicles for adding one’s voice (I was just exploring Tumblr) that I feel again both exciting and overwhelmed with all the possible routes I could take… (Cue single violin; image: man naked in corner of barren room crouched on the floor hugging knees, rocking back and forth, weeping quietly)
    p.s. your blog is kick a**, Danika! Good for you!

  4. Great point, Niall. I found a really great resource for blogging lesson plans complete with prompts for entries: http://langwitches.org/blog/2008/12/27/blogging-lesson-plan-writing/
    When I started this blog, I hardly ever wrote anything because I had just the same question: What am I going to write about? I think a good place to start with students anyway is to have them post something they’re already working on like an essay or journal response and use the blogging format to facilitate discussion. I agree that when looking at the potential of all the applications out there, it can get overwhelming because we’re not sure how to get there with our students. That’s why I think (imho) it’s probably best to start with something you’re already doing and just tweak it. Maybe even just make it an option for some students and see if you get buy-in from the others.