Academic journal article English Journal

Toward a Readership of “Real” People: A Case for Authentic Writing Opportunities

Academic journal article English Journal

Toward a Readership of “Real” People: A Case for Authentic Writing Opportunities

Article excerpt

When teaching English methods courses, I (Luke) have the pleasure of working with individuals who are passionate about the English language arts, excited to teach adolescents, and eager to explore teaching, learning, and literacy. Knowing they are rich with ideas drawn from their assigned and self-selected readings, classroom experiences, and other coursework, I ask prospective teachers enrolled in my methods courses to keep their future classrooms in mind, to forgo a deficit perspective, and to envision all that's possible. I ask them to consider, for example, how they might teach grammar in conjunction with writing, design conceptual units of study, and incorporate texts from popular cultures into the curriculum.

Over time, though, I have noted that one possibility I ask prospective teachers to consider is met with more resistance than others: engaging students in authentic writing opportunities. When this topic has come up, some prospective teachers have been quick to raise logistical challenges that come with coordinating such efforts. Others have expressed concerns about protecting students' identities and suggested that taking students' work beyond the classroom stands to violate their privacy. Still other prospective teachers have voiced concerns about student writing being polished enough for a greater audience and, if it's not, how such products might reflect on them as teachers.

With such skepticism and resistance in mind, we aim to make a case for engaging students in the production and distribution of media that target audiences beyond the teacher. Recognizing "media" as falling into one of four increasingly blurry categories-print, visual, sound, and digital (Hobbs 9)-we make that case by documenting Brian's efforts to engage 99 eighth graders in collaboratively writing, revising, editing, and publishing a middle grades novel. But first we present a review of scholarship highlighting the value of providing students with opportunities to write for an authentic audience.

The Push for Publishing Student Writing

Scholars have long encouraged teachers of writers to provide publication opportunities. Donald H. Graves, for example, recognized writing as "a public act, meant to be shared with many audiences" (54). According to Graves, publishing contributes to a writer's development, creating a record of accomplishment and a point of reference. Additionally, Graves argued, publishing enhances a student's sense of audience and presents an opportunity to address surface-level concerns (e.g., spelling, punctuation) as students prepare to put their writing into the world. Moreover, Graves asserted that publishing student writing stands to serve as an act of "literary enfranchisement" (55) for all students, not just the most advanced writers in the classroom.

Like Graves, Donald M. Murray promoted the publication of student writing. Murray argued specifically for publishing beyond the classroom: "There is simply no comparison between the artificial, academic situation of classroom publication and the chance to achieve a readership of 'real' people" (192). Noting the sense of achievement students feel when reaching a wide audience, Murray recommended venues for publication: student magazines, newspapers, and publications that cater to students' interests.

Echoing Graves and Murray, Nancie Atwell made publishing student writing an essential component of a writing workshop. She asserted that "student writers need access to readers beyond the teacher if they're to understand what writing is good for, and if they're to write with care and conviction" (102). Atwell described providing a range of publishing opportunities. Beyond Murray's ideas, Atwell's recommendations included displays at fairs and festivals; petitions to local authorities; personal correspondence; and submissions for local, regional, state, and national writing contests.

As newer technologies have emerged, publishing student writing has been made easier. …

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