How Writing for a Global Audience Transformed My Students Into Passionate Writers

At Flocabulary, fostering a love of learning in every student is one of our biggest goals. We believe that motivated students are successful students. Our Student Engagement Series features stories from real Flocab-using educators on their practices, lessons, and ideas to get students excited about creating, writing, learning and dreaming.

“When children create for the world, they make it good. When children only create for their teachers, they make it good enough.” -Rushton Hurley

“My precious. My precious.” Many of you may recognize the phrase from The Lord Of The Rings. It’s a phrase spoken by Gollum, the crazy creature who hides deep in the caves. He craves the ring. He wants the ring. It’s all he can think of. What if I were to tell you that this creature exists in every school in the country? What if I were to tell you that this creature is you?

I am Typing by Adikos, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

I am Typing by Adikos, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Now, I don’t really mean that you are Gollum. You are not some hideous creature hiding in the caves of some excessively violent land. However, your students view you much like we view Gollum. They view teachers as creatures who want nothing more than to hoard their work and keep it for themselves.

In today’s day and age, students are global already. They are on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and a whole host of other social media outlets. These students have a global following before they leave elementary school – and there lies the problem. In most classrooms around the country, students work on assignments for hours and hours only to “share” their work with a single person. This isn’t good enough anymore. They’ve put time and effort into their work and it needs to be shared with more people.

During my 12 years as special education teacher for 5th and 6th graders, I realized students really hated writing. They hated writing because there was no authentic reason for it. Writing was only for the teacher’s gratification and the student’s grade. How could I help students write with a more authentic goal in mind? How could I get students excited about writing without using canned writing prompts the kids cared little about?

The answer came from unlikely sources. Almost four years ago, I was introduced to a few tools that would allow my students to write and publish books for the world. Two of the tools we’ve used are Book Creator, an app on the iPad, and iBooks Author, a software download on Macs. Both allow for the easy creation of eBooks.

My students were used to being given writing prompts. As they looked to me for answers and prompts, they were given none. I wasn’t going to tell them the ideas they should write about this time. After struggling with topics for much of the class period, the ideas started flowing. Before long, the students developed the main prompt and were focused like lasers because they knew their work would be seen by many more people than just me. The fact that they were producing content for a global audience gave them more ownership of the writing process, created an authentic purpose and ignited a buzz of excitement in the room.

At one point I had to drag a kid out of my room to eat lunch. He was so excited about writing for the world that he didn’t want to eat. Another student who hated writing was told by his mother that they would be changing school districts. He was so upset because the new school wouldn’t be writing books. He threw enough fits about staying that he convinced his mom that he should remain. One of the best things that happened was when our first batch of downloads began coming in. The students wanted to graph the downloads and pin countries where the downloads occurred on a map. The students were making their own cross-curricular connections without me telling them what connections should be made.

I have organized several projects called The World Is My Audience (or #twima,  #twima2 and most recently #twima3), and the goal of these projects is simple. I want one classroom from every state and country in the world to collaborate on a single eBook. We haven’t gotten the entire world involved in the project just yet, but it will happen. From the feedback I have received from teachers, one thing is certain about these projects: Writing for the world has changed their kids.

I’ve worked with dozens of classes and hundreds of students at this point, with 72 eBooks published and 38,000 downloads. I can say with 100% certainty that changing the audience from teacher to world makes a huge difference in the quality of work students do. Not only does it increase the quality of work but it increases motivation. When students are given an authentic audience and the teacher steps back to let the ideas flow, amazing things can and do happen.

Jon Smith
By: Jon Smith

@theipodteacher
Jon Smith is a technology resource teacher for Alliance City Schools, an Apple Distinguished Educator, Book Creator Ambassador and a Flocabulary MC Educator.

Molly Cronin

Molly's love of education began when she landed her first job at age 17 as a preschool teacher's aide, where she changed countless diapers and led groups of toddlers in many a nursery rhyme. She studied communications, marketing, and education at Cornell University, where she wrote articles for university publications, co-hosted a radio show and led PR for a children's advocacy organization. After a stint in the crazy world of agency PR, she now blends her background in communications and her passion for education in her sales and partnership work at Flocabulary. When she's off Flocab duty, she can be found scouring food blogs and old cookbooks or traipsing around Alphabet City.

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