Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Opposite of 'The Secret File Folder' - 10 Ideas for Authentic Audience

Let's follow the life of two assignments:

The first: I'll call it 'the poster'. 'The poster' is a go-to assignment. After a PowerPoint-aided lesson about modern day issues and controversies related to the Unites States Constitution, students create a poster to explain their opinion. On 'the poster' students need to list facts of the controversy, explain their position, cite evidence to back the claim, and finally draw a picture. Students will be graded on evidence, analysis, strength of argument, creativity, and overall fit and finish of the poster.

When students turn in 'the poster', the work sits motionless on the teacher's desk. For weeks. Eventually one brave student asks, "Did we ever get a grade for 'the poster'?"

"I'll put those in tonight!"

The teacher returns to his desk, looks over 'the posters', and assigns grades. The grades get inputted into the grading system, and 'the posters' remain on the desk. The next day in class the teacher announces to check the online grading system, "The grades for 'the poster' are up."

'The posters' soon find their way into the teacher's 'secret file folder', the trash.

Image Credit - User Nemo,

The second: I'll call it the 'the presentation'. The teacher creates a larger project with a project based learning pedagogy. She poses a challenge statement for the students to work through - "Find a problem in your community and design a realistic solution." Students are motivated to deeply study local government, budgets, community, cost-benefits, and sociology. At the end, students will show 'the presentation' to an authentic audience of community stakeholders and city council members. Students must also be prepared to answer audience questions and defend their solution.

What assignment is more meaningful, more relevant, more engaging, more powerful? What assignment calls for deep learning, cross discipline study, and problem solving? What assignment is more authentic? Door 1 or Door 2?

Image Credit - User Geralt,

The answer should be clear, assignment #2 - 'the presentation'. 'The presentation' is so powerful because students are accountable for the assignment to an authentic audience. The assignment will be seen by people outside the classroom. 'The presentation' means something, it is for something. There is a purpose. Students see a relevancy to their work. Students see how their work matters and how their work impacts the world around them.

Providing an authentic audience can be a game changer, but it can also be overwhelming. Truth be told, it is much, much easier to resort to the 'secret file folder'.  I worked at a school where the teachers openly joked about the 'secret file folder'. Students even asked about whether assignments were destined for the 'secret file folder'. It became a big joke for everyone. It's hard for me to admit that I succumbed to peer pressure and joked about it myself. I hate that. No wonder students viewed their work as a joke.

This last year, I recommitted myself to providing an authentic audience for my student work. Whether it was posting student work through CrowdSchool or arranging events like 'the presentation', I pushed myself to create opportunities for students to share their high quality projects. It's no surprise that authentic audiences increased motivation and engagement. I think it is one of the most underrated components of curriculum. If you are looking for ways to build authentic audience for your students, here are 10 ideas:

My students present solutions to a community problem to friends, family, and city council members. 

1) Use the Web
Sometimes we forget how powerful the web actually is. We get caught using devices to simply consume information. Google this. YouTube that. The Web is more than a place for consumption, it provides many rich platforms for creating. Students are more than capable of creating the Internet they absorb. The Web opens up a worldwide audience for students. Students can blog, create a website, make a YouTube video, record a podcast, or start a hashtag. Students can embed a Prezi, a Google Presentation, or an eMaze into a site or blog. Teachers can share student work with their PLN, on Twitter, or with their larger community. Some creative teachers are even using tools like Medium to publish student writing in an authentic and relevant way.

2) Hold a Mini-Conference or Symposium with Experts (professionals, community stakeholders/organizers, and/or academics)
At first glance this seems like A LOT of work. Here's a bit of advice - don't shoot for the moon. Find a date well in advance and simply ask people to come. Aim for 5-10 respected people associated with the topic of your assignment or project. Email is great for this. Throw in a couple pictures of smiling kids working with the assignment and you'll be surprised at how many 'yes' responses come back. Many companies will jump at the opportunity to interact in the classroom, and local college professors typically enjoy sharing their passions with an excited audience. You can also ask the kids themselves. Allow them (depending on age and safety) to invite experts to attend. Often, children will have a family member who shares some interest or professional skill in a subject area.

3) Hold a Film Festival 
Kids love movies. Kids love making movies. Kids are good at making movies. If a project or assignment calls for making a movie, why not hold a film festival? A couple years ago, my students created Public Service Announcements about a genocide of their choosing. We made popcorn, rolled out a red carpet, and listened to groups explain their pieces. It was an experience I will never forget. You can do the same at your school. Pick an evening and invite friends and family to walk the red carpet. Sell some (healthy) snacks and turn the event into an educational fundraiser.

Students can create amazing movies right from their device

4) Web Video and Live Stream 
The great thing about live video streams is you can control access to who sees them. You can create a closed Google Hangout and invite a select group to watch students present or explain their work. You can also use a live streaming app live Periscope to open a presentation up to the world. There are all sorts of options in between. I love being invited to watch other classes present their work. It is inspiring to see groups of teachers watch another classroom. Many services like Ustream also allow for messaging to aid the live stream.

5) Other Classes and Students
I have heard some people complain peers and other students do no constitute an authentic audience. I beg to differ. Students really enjoy interacting with, and sharing their work, with other students. It is a point of pride to share a project with younger and older students. It is also motivating to feel like an expert. Often times, it proves mastery of a concept because students must adapt their work to different audiences. Making children's books, filming videos, or explaining complex topics in simple terms are ways to build projects to connect with other students. You can also use web tools like Skype to virtually share with classrooms around the world. Something as simple as contacting a colleague at the other school in town for 'an exchange' is certainly doable.

Students in Maryland show bullying prevention campaigns to other students

6) Launch a Campaign
Depending on the project or assignment, students can build campaigns to advocate for a change or bring awareness to an issue. Creating a campaign and delivering it to an authentic audience is easier than ever. Students can create a petition on, start a social media hashtag, or create websites to share with a worldwide audience. You can even go "low-tech" by writing letters to the editor or presenting student ideas to the school board or city council.

7) Invite the Community for an Open House
There are many things the traditional science fair does wrong. There are also many things the traditional science fair does right. One of which is the opportunity to showcase work to friends, grandparents, parents, community members, and local stakeholders. Set up student work for a day or night and have students explain it to attendees. Students can present findings with the typical trifold, or share posters, powerpoints, animations, videos, and other creations. It doesn't take much added work to have students design an invitation for community members. You can also invite local television, newspaper, or public radio to cover the event.

8) Hold a Pitch Day
Hold a day where students need to pitch their projects, ideas, or plans to local leaders. Students love Shark Tank and it can be a fun experience to recreate an event like this at school. Students can also 'pitch' ideas to the principal or administration. Supportive administrations jump at the opportunity to listen to student concerns and ideas.

9) Create a Book 
When I was a kid, my school put together a recipe book every year. Each family submitted a favorite recipe and they were compiled into a spiral book. The recipe books were sold as a fundraiser. Although I never directly produced parts of the book, I was excited to see my family's name and recipe in the book. It was fun to see what other families submitted, and I felt that I was an integral part of the book. It was personal, and something physical I could go back to. Long story aside, it is possible, and fairly easy, to create books today. How powerful would it be for students to see their work published? Jeff Robin, a teacher from High Tech High in San Diego, uses to create large books of student work. There are various services that do similar printing if you are going for a more professional look. There are also many places to publish work and create digital books. I used Issuu in the past to create a digital magazine from student blog posts. You can also use myriad apps to create digital books and content.

10) Enter an Event or Competition
Design competitions. Robot competitions. Writing competitions. Media competitions. Video competitions. There are no shortage of competitions to enter. While I am not generally a fan of competitions (I want students to create their own meaning and value rather than a third party), they can drive interest and structure.

Whatever the way, giving students an opportunity to showcase their ideas, projects, or assignments to an authentic audience is empowering to all involved. Students rise to the occasion, teachers push their comfort zone, and the outside community is impressed. A well crafted authentic audience is certainly a mark of 21st century learning and drives students to see a relevancy that is often lacking in school. Like everything else, start small. If that doesn't work, dive right in :)

At CrowdSchool, we are working to provide teachers and students an authentic audience to share projects. Sign up for free today.

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