Sunday, January 23, 2011

Audience, or lack thereof

I'll admit, audience isn't something oft-discussed in my classroom.  The little thinking about it we do (actually, it's probably more implied than explicitly contemplated or discussed) is usually in reference to state mandated tests or future teacher-audiences my students will have.  I'm more concerned about what kind of writing they will produce for the 11th grade teachers than I am about what they produce (sorry, process) for me.

How much do you talk about audience with your students, and in what capacity?

Elbow's article, "Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience" (which you can find on NCTE, if you're a member) talks about how the concept of writing for an audience influences students, usually to their detriment: when students are too focused on audience, their ideas tend to balk and/or qualify, altogether too concerned about meeting the audience's expectations.  Audience needs to be taken into account in the revision state, but perhaps not before.  A writer should allow the draft to fully consummate without any hindrances; after allowing himself the opportunity to play with and explore his ideas, then the writer may revise his medium for the intended audience.  Several pedagogical implications weave through this article, most especially the value of student choice.  I liked his take on audience.  By and large I agree that students benefit from private, independent writing.  In my own classroom, I feel like I worked pretty well to incorporate the social aspect of composition but perhaps didn't allow for enough private audience-less writing; I believe in moderation in all things, and if I'm developing social outlets for writing, I need to make sure those private reflections are nourished, too.

Of course, as secondary teachers, our immediate reaction is, "OK, but how do I grade it?  How do I make this work?" How do we encourage (read: make) students keep private journals, a valuable writing practice, without holding a grade over their head (which would imply some level of reading, and thus, an audience)? And unfortunately, the article didn't fully answer the question of practical application for me.  He sold me the house, but didn't give me the key.

As I read, I considered my writing workshop, and I actually felt pretty good about what I managed to do in my first few years of teaching.  Though goodness knows I can see all the places I could have improved I also feel like I did well to attempt to balance the social aspect with some personal, safe writing (occasional writing workshop prompts as "bellwork" that I graded by participation - were students active during the appointed time or not?  I never read these, so there was a "safe" place for audience-less writing [which could be a possibility of student safety, maybe worth another day's discussion?]).  Interestingly enough, as I began thinking about writing workshop, I thought of additional social practices:
  • establish writing groups like literary circles, where students can approach peers and talk through an idea or ask for advice
  • leave 5 minutes at the end of class to share (no comments, just reading)
  • do more verbal pre-writing, model as a class with my own writing
The social aspect seems easy enough to come up with.  How do we provide students with opportunities for the audience-free, "safe" writing, and get them to treat it as the beneficial tool it is?

source: photo by ~Cin~

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