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Can I get your attention please. Please… everyone… attention please. If you find yourself repeating something along these lines often, then odds are, your audience isn’t all that into you, or more accurately, what you have to say.

Students, believe it or not, have the same issue. I truly believe that students want to write. The problem, they don’t always want to write about what you want them to write about. How can we really know what level our students are writing on if they don’t really care about what they are writing?

Audience. That is what matters to our students. When the person who is reading what they wrote is actually reading it because they want to, it makes a huge difference. The audience must be authentic. For decades, we have tried to get kids to think they had an authentic audience. We would hang papers on the wall. We would make them trade papers to read. We would do everything we could to try to force the writer to have an audience. What we have utterly failed to realize is that there was already an authentic audience… we just didn’t want to admit that we were not that audience.

Pop quiz… what is the first thing you do when you catch a boy passing a note to a girl in your class? Odds are, you snatch it and trash it. Or, if you are really cruel, you read it aloud to the class. You just, quite possibly, intercepted an example of writing for an authentic audience. Perhaps it was a poem, being written to that special someone. Regardless, you just trivialized the writing. Rather than trivialize it, perhaps we should try channeling it. I am not saying to let kids pass notes, I am just saying don’t throw their work away. Besides, odds are they are texting under the desk anyway, and you never catch them.

It seems harsh. The reality is, most kids don’t care about our opinions regarding their content. They do it because we tell them to do it. Its a grade. Ouch. What would happen if we allowed kids to have more freedom in their writing? I can tell you, because I have encouraged it. Now, let me warn you, I am not selling the elixir of authenticity. It won’t work for everyone. But, if it works for some, is it not worth investigating for them?

Enter the world of the internet. Now, there is an audience for just about everything. Let your kids write. Don’t judge them for the content, it’s theirs. Judge it for the quality. You will notice a big difference in the amount of effort that goes into a work that others are going to read. Readers can comment and make suggestions. Writers can be heard. I regularly encourage my kids to put themselves out there. Wattpad is a great site. Anyone can post stories. Be sure to teach good digital citizenship before going there. Like I said, there is an audience for everything.

For those with bigger aspirations, let them publish their own book. Amazon allows you to publish a book for free. In fact, students can make money each time their book sells. Granted, this one requires some parental input, but I think it is worth that little extra effort if a student wants to push themselves that far. I let my daughter publish her own book when she was 8, just because she wanted to.

Now, I am a middle school English teacher. Obviously, I tend to push toward the writing aspect of things. But what about those musicians? You see, music is poetry, as I explained HERE. If a students wants to write their own music and sing it, what resources are out there for them? The first one that pops to mind is YouTube. A student can have a song out there in minutes. Lately, my daughter has been on a singing kick, so yes, she put her songs on YouTube. She focuses much harder on what lyrics because she knows others will see it.

EDIT: After posting this, I was contacted by Amy Rever-Oberle (@areveroberle) and John Churchville (@johnchurchville) who told me about a website that allows artists to post their music called BandCamp. I have taken a quick glance at it, and it looks great. My daughter is experimenting with it now. Thanks Amy and John for sharing.

The point here is, there is an authentic audience out there for everyone. Yes, it requires you admitting that you are not the most important person in that student’s world. Once you come to grips with that and start encouraging them to write or perform in a way that is meaningful to them, you will see exactly what abilities these kids have. Once you know that, you can motivate them to work in class much more easily.

So, repeat after me…. “I am not the most important audience in __________’s life.” There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?