Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finding Your Audience

This year, I seem to have more students than I have had in the past who crave connections.  In general, seventh graders seek approval.  They're still young enough to want to please their teachers (most of the time), but they're old enough to also demonstrate self-sufficiency.  I feel like it's the perfect balance between childhood neediness and the angst of adolescence.  At least, it is for me.  Anyway, I have always used writer's notebooks in my English classroom, loosely based on Ralph Fletcher's model of the writer's notebook.  I think it's important for students to record all kinds of writing, from small snippets to longer trains of thought.  There are ten entries each quarter that they are required to write, but they are also welcome to use their notebook for personal purposes as often as they want.  If they want me to read their writing, they know that they are welcome to turn their notebooks in at any time, and I will write back.

In previous years, I have had an occasional student or two who took me up on this offer.  Rarely were they writing about anything too serious.  I have, however, read about and responded to some pretty interesting seventh grade love triangle stories.  This year, I have a handful of students who turn their notebooks in to me at least weekly.  This group of students writes about problems with siblings, fights with parents, and disagreements with friends.  They write about the frustrations of being in the awkward middle school phase of life; they write about the seemingly unnecessary drama that has continued to grow in magnitude and frequency among children, thanks to reality television and other outside influences.  These are real life problems. They're all things that I remember feeling at their age, but I never thought to write them down, and I definitely never thought to share them with a teacher.

I've been thinking a lot lately about why there is this shift in the way that my students are sharing their personal lives and struggles with me.  There are many possible conclusions that I could make, but beyond all of them, I think it's important to recognize that our students, more than ever before, want an audience.  Sometimes, they want an audience of one, an audience who can read and respond with empathy and understanding.  Sometimes, they want an audience of thousands.  I have implemented Instagram into my classroom as a visual literacy tool, and I am always shocked at the ridiculous number of followers my students have accumulated at such a young age.  Children have always wanted to be heard.  The writer's notebook gives them a small avenue for publishing to a narrow audience.  The Internet and social media opens a Pandora's box of publishing options, and my students seem to crave the validation of knowing that other people are watching what's going on, Truman Show-style.

This week, I read this article about how digital writing is making kids smarter.  It made me start to wonder if I can leverage my students' desire for an audience to help them create stronger, more polished writing.  I'll be attending my first NCTE conference this weekend in Boston, and thanks to the mobile app, I've already bookmarked several sessions on the topic.  I can't wait to learn, grow, and help my students find a broader audience for their lives and their writing.

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