(Practice) Publishing, Authentic(ish) Audiences

If you delve into the teaching of writing, you find all manner of high-minded advice about “writing for authentic audiences.” Students shouldn’t, the experts admonish, just write for their teachers.

The problem is that, if we’re going to be totally honest here, there isn’t a huge, ravenous audience for kids’ (or even, usually, teenagers’) writing. We, as teachers, are left to come up with situations in which our students can write for someone other than ourselves, their parents, or classmates. The dirty little secret is that these authentic writing tasks are often more contrived than just saying, “write me a personal narrative.”

I mean, yeah, you can have your students write something and then “publish” it… but let’s be honest, here. They’re writing something because you told them to, and the act of publishing is pretty much just putting together your final draft and adding some finishing touches. You can “share it with your audience,” but for the most part, that audience isn’t an organic, natural audience. From the student’s perspective, it’s usually still the equivalent of taking your writing home and making mom and dad read it.

Students are smart, teachers. They know (or many of them know, anyway) that their audience is reading their writing piece because they were asked to. They didn’t wake up and think, Huh. You know what I want to read today? A fourth-grader’s essay explaining the plant cycle. We owe students a certain amount of honesty. These aren’t organic audiences. They’re audiences we’ve hunted down and set up in the name of teaching young people to be better writers… and that’s not a bad thing.
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