I believe students engage most fully and produce their best work when they have an authentic audience in mind.
The first year I took my high school Latin class to Italy in 2014, I continued the tradition of students reflecting in a journal each night. When I collected the journals halfway through the trip, I was appalled at the content. Not a single student had completed the requirement of journaling each night. The few entries they made were scribbles, incomplete sentences, or incoherent babble. Shocked (and new to teaching), I lectured the students on the importance of reflection, the value of each entry on their final grades,* and my disappointment in their lack of work ethic. As the words came out of my mouth, I felt a deep sense of hypocrisy. After a long day of sightseeing, hanging out with my friends in the hotel, I wouldn’t want to write in a journal either.
So I spent the following summer completely redesigning the curriculum around the trip. I realized that when we were out sightseeing, the students had been reflecting verbally with one another. The conversations rarely strayed from the present – observations about the statue before us, comments that the painting reminded them of a family member or friend, suggestions about where to eat for lunch. And, being teenagers, they snapped endless pictures and videos, eager to Instagram or Snapchat them for family and friends to see. These were all reflections, but the students wanted to share them with one another, not bury them in a private journal.
These students wanted an authentic audience. So with that in mind, our new curriculum was designed entirely to document student learning in a way that they could easily share with their family and friends. Before the trip, we built a website in Google Sites, modeled upon TripAdvisor. Each week, students researched a site or artifact that we would visit in Italy, and they would write a short blog post on our “TripAdvisor” site. When we visited the artifacts they researched in Italy, they were the experts. Suddenly, I did very little talking/lecturing/teaching! At the end of each day, students typed a “review” for the day that I previewed before it posted to our site for family and friends to view from home.
The reviews that students posted were incredible! With an audience to address, they were thoughtful and excited to showcase their expertise, share their photos and videos, and tell about their day. I was so impressed, that I let each student choose their favorite review and we posted them to the real TripAdvisor. They loved watching the feedback roll in from other users of the site!
This experience highlighted the process and importance of including an authentic audience in our learning. Between the 2014 and 2015 Italy trips, very little about the reflection requirement changed. We were still exhausted at the end of the day, we still preferred to hang out with friends at the hotel, and the reflections carried the same weight in the final grades.* The only changes were the medium and the presence of an authentic audience.
By creating opportunities to interact safely and responsibly with the real world, we are fostering digital citizenship and building confidence in our students.
Identifying an authentic audience and curating appropriate media to share are two incredibly important skills in our society that is driven by social media. By creating opportunities to interact safely and responsibly with the real world, we are fostering digital citizenship and building confidence in our students. Even better, our students recognize and appreciate the authenticity of the experience and, excited to engage with their audience, produce their best work with drive and passion.
* Nota bene: I wouldn’t recommend formal grading of student reflections, but I was required by the Language Department to include the reflections in the grades.
* For those in a standards-based environment, here is the full alignment of this project to the following standards: Common Core (CCSS), International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and American Council for Teaching Foreign Language (ACTFL): Project Alignment to Standards
Don't miss my next post!
Enter your email to have my next post delivered right to your inbox.