The first tip I sent out to schools was one that was quick to put in practice, but big on return: impose a NO TEXT rule for student presentations. This week's tip is like it:
Publish student work online.
If your students are creating something - anything - for your class, a growing body of research is demonstrating that students learn more deeply when they are working for someone other than their teacher or the peers in the classroom. If someone were to ask your students, "Who are you doing this project for?" and their answer would be, "Our teacher", a few simple changes to your assignment could dramatically affect your students' motivation and engagement.
Students create all the time, in school and outside it. They create for their peers, for their family, and for themselves. In the last ten years, they've been creating more and more and more content, filling up terabytes of space on the internet with everything from profound reflections on identity to absolute drivel. Why the increase? Because it's easy. Technology, especially mobile technology, has lowered the threshold of effort required to share with the world.
But the threshold hasn't just lowered for personal publishing - it's lowered for educational uses, too. There are compelling reasons to leverage these publishing media in our approach to teaching, and the number of those reasons is growing. Recently, Derek Bruff, the director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, wrote,
"Social pedagogies [approaches to teaching that leverage social reasons to learn] can provide sufficiently strong motivations since representing knowledge for authentic audiences can satisfy students desires for connection and sharing." [1. Social Pedagogies as Framework for Online Learning]
Publishing work online connects students to real people who aren't in your classroom, imbuing student work with a sense that the product ought to be worth viewing.
Publishing in this way raises student anxiety about work, a condition that can actually promote learning, and brings a new context to the role of a teacher. Bruff illustrates this with the picture below.
Publishing for an authentic audience produces the stress of performance, a somewhat negative emotion, but couples it with the positive experiences of making connections and sharing. When students are placed within this dynamic, the "teacher" is cast in a different light. Instead of the sole evaluator of a student's product, she is now the keeper of skills that will help that student perform well in the eyes of an authentic audience.
Will this work for all students? Of course not. Each of us views the task of performing for others a bit differently, but teachers at West High and West Middle have found that adding "audience" to their teaching toolkit has changed the way students are approaching their work.
A few 'homegrown' examples
The slides below outline 3 different levels of authentic audience.
Low-stress: A teacher groups students in one of her classes with the students in another of her classes. No teaching partner is needed.
Collegial: Two or more teachers in the same school building or school district combine efforts and direct students to view and/or collaborate on required work.
Distance: Two or more teachers, located across the States or world, connect their students, opening up opportunities for discussion not only about content, but about culture and perspective as well.
Authentic audience isn't just something good for students. As adults, we understand how creating for others drives us to work harder, think deeper, and make connections so that our creations are something we can take pride in. Oddly enough, we often call this "teaching."
What audiences might you open up to your students this year?