Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Authentic Audience

We use the term "Authentic Audience" a lot when defining what our Manaiakalani cluster is about. We talk about our students having an authetic audience for their writing and for the digital learning objects they produce from their writing. It is at the heart of our vision statements defining what we are about. One of the ways we are endeavouring to improve the literacy outcomes of our decile 1 students, many of whom are from non Engish speaking backgrounds, is to motivate them to write by helping them establish an authentic audience for their writing.
I was pondering this as I prepared one of my presentations for ULearn08 recently. As I was looking through my slides a discussion popped up on Twitter briefly about the use of this term. It is not something we 'carelessly fling around' as we describe what we are setting out to achieve with our students.

We have a very simple definition and a deliberate plan of attack to help students grow one.

An authentic audience is people who choose to listen to you.
And if they pay to listen to you then I guess they are even more authentic!
By this definition most audiences for student literacy outcomes in particular at school are not authentic; they are captive audiences. The class who is forced to listen while a student reads out a story, the assembly of students who have to watch what is happening on the stage, the staff who have to listen to the principal at a staff meeting...

But when we start talking about their work published on television, an area I started working in a decade ago, or the podcasts/movies/blogs etc published on the web - then we are talking about an authentic audience. This audience has the power of the remote or the mouse to surf on the second they lose interest. They are an authentic audience. And if they linger long enough to leave some feedback or a trace of their presence then they are a powerfuly authentic audience.
Last year when I had the opportunity to research the impact of the KPE podcast on student learning the survey responses over and over referred to the significance of knowing people were choosing to listen to them as a motivator for the reading and writing they needed to do to create a podcast episode. And it should not be surprising to us in this YouTube (subtitled 'Broadcast Yourself') age that the global and unknown audience was the most important to the students in the research sample.
There is a lot teachers can do to help our students reach an authentic audience with their writing or the digital learning objects they produce. We have co-constructed a pathway over a number of years which builds a foundation for this to occur. Within the school there is the daily television show where they can begin to experience an interested audience, though that is not an authentic one by our definition. The next stage, parents and community, are more of a proud audience - but they are definitely the beginning of an authentic audience. It is when their work appears on public televsion, on iTunes and on their blogs that students really begin to experience this. People who have chosen to listen to them.
If you haven't left a message of encouragement for a kid recently, start today. There are a number of student blogs on the sidebar to the left and oodles more out there. Take up a 30 day challenge. For thirty days visit 30 different student blogs and leave them a comment. You could change their lives - or at least their attitude to literacy.