Social Composition and Authentic Audiences
Making student’s work meaningful
Let’s rewind backwards to our days in grade school. Put yourself in any classroom that comes to mind. Where are you sitting? At the front of the room? At the back? Next to a friend? What are you concerned about? Picture the events happening outside of the classroom. Is there an election? A war? A pandemic going on? What are your interests? What social issues do you care about?
Now, imagine that you have an assignment coming up. The topic is something you’re passionate about. You’ve researched the many layers of this issue and weaved in a connection to your own life. You’ve spent hours working on this project, both in the classroom and outside of it. Now think of this:
- Option 1: You know that your teacher is the only person who will see your work on this assignment. You do what you have to do to get credit. Your work earns a grade. And then you never interact with, nor think of the project ever again. How does your audience (the teacher) affect the quality of your work? Are you thinking about how you have the power to change and connect and interact with issues that matter to you?
- Option 2: You know that this assignment is going to be seen by your teacher, your peers, your parents, and the community at large. Yes, your teacher will grade the assignment… but the focus is on audience, authorship, content, digital technology, and your use of text pairing and commentary. How much effort do you put into the work, knowing that there will be a diverse group of people interacting with it? How do you want them to see what you’ve produced?
This is the power of social compositions and authentic audiences in the curriculum. When students have genuine opportunities to demonstrate their learning, the content of their work is richer, more meaningful, and makes an impact beyond the classroom. As educators, we must reevaluate our priorities when it comes to students’ work.
What deserves an A+? An error-free, five-paragraph essay on Lord of the Flies that teachers have been assigning in their classrooms for decades? Or a multimodal composition about mob mentality that demonstrates understanding through layers of making, composing, and producing?
Both assignments require that students display state and school required skills. Both assignments will be assessed by the teacher. But one assignment is surface level and doesn’t push students to become active in their own learning. One assignment focuses on the product (an end grade), while the other focuses on process, depth, and critical understanding.
Laura Bradley, a teacher at Kenilworth Junior High (where I did my student teaching!), understands the value of social compositions and a meaningful audience. Her students participate in NaNoWriMo contests where they write and publish their own novels. They also work on hosting a daily news production that is viewed by the entire school and community. She explains on The Current that her students “quickly learn that the quality of the show depends heavily on the quality of their efforts in class. This is a healthy kind of pressure that motivates students to do their best work in an environment where their peers are partners in the same production.”
The Current also provides a list of ways that teachers can incorporate authentic audiences in the classroom. They suggest and provide links to the following:
- TED-style talks
- Google Docs/Slides
- Padlet (digital bulletin board where students can post and respond with text, images, video, audio, and docs)
- Video production and film festivals
- Skype/Google Hangouts, etc.
The possibilities for introducing social compositions and authentic audiences are endless. When planning for these opportunities, it’s crucial to consider the background and diversities of your students. Are they reading multicultural texts? Do they see themselves reflected in the content that they interact with? Are they engaging in their learning in a meaningful way while also being challenged by the standards?
Authentic audiences encourage students to care about their work for reasons that extend beyond their final grade. And that’s our goal as educators, right? Not just that students earn good grades, but that they are learning, connecting, creating, demonstrating, and beyond…
Teachers, how do your students respond to authentic audiences in your classroom?