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.


  1. Dear Mrs Burt,

    Thank you for visiting our blog. We were really happy we got lots of visitors. My bean has two cracks in it from yesterday and today it has a sprout. I am excited that Miss Burt is a good gardener because my plant is cool.

    From Andre

  2. wow - that's sounds very interesting :-)
    i believe in authentic audiences, but what does that mean for me ... hmmm... thought provoking.

    KPE is my inspiration

    mRw00dy :-) still wishing i could podcast[etc] like your kids. wow

  3. Hi,

    I hope you didn't mind me using your twitter posting... please let me know if you would like me to delete the image...

    I guess it gives us more food for thought about the "authentic audience" in that they may be authentic but we have little control on what they do to the info we give them.

    Mel Gibb (aka Moodlegirl)

  4. @room 16
    You kids have made a great start to blogging. You have put some research into it to get started and it is really paying off.
    @Mr Woody
    I guess it is mutual then because while you have been making observations about podcasting from KPE we have been doing the same about blogging from Room 5.
    @Mrs Gibb
    Thanks for checking - no problem at all. The point you have raised is going to be the subject of a post in the next little while. Basically it is a good reminder of what I say to kids "Don't say anything online you aren't prepared to see on the front page of the newspaper!" Easy to forget when in a twitter flow though... :)

  5. room16 grey lynn schoolOctober 30, 2008 at 2:29 PM

    Well its sound like you have been busy Mrs Burt and you will be happy to know that Miss Burt made us take our beans home over the long weekend. Miss Meleisea was reading all the long writing on your blog about what an authentic audience was and we agreed as a class that those who pay to read/ hear and look at work posted must be real authentic group!
    My reading group talked about the books teachers give us for reading groups and wondered what what happen if we choose books for them to read.....we thought that an authentic audience was also one the had the power of choice.... to pick what we wanted to find out. Like you reading our blog and us reading your. A reall audience is about US!
    P.S keep watching our blog page ,Miss Meleisea is trying very hard to remeber what Miss Burt tell's her when its her turn to post to on our blog!

  6. I find this blog interesting, helpful and useful. I think your definition of an authentic audience as "people who choose to listen to you" is profound. The key words are 'choose' and 'listen'. All people want this but it's particularly important for children learning to read and write and, particularly, when English is not their native language. A captive and caring audience teaches students confidence, self-esteem and speaking skills that will be there's for life. Without it, no matter what the child has to say it will come out without the impact needed to get people's attention and to be taken seriously. They may become defensive when they speak. And in writing, they might proofread too much, feel self-conscious and not take risks that the imagination needs. I wish your community well with your projects and hope, as a teacher, to learn more from you.
    - Levia Shanken, New York City

  7. @Levia We appreciate your good wishes and ideas expressed here. This week a number of us have been having conversations at school about how important it is for children to participate in conversations with adults as pre-schoolers. What an observable difference there is between children who have been listened to and invited to contribute regularly to conversations when they are very young and those whose only verbal interactions with adults has been to respond to instructions or statements. We hope that through conversations on their blogs our children will be able to leapfrog some of the disadvantages this preschool experience has engendered. Thank you for your contributions to this.