create extra genuine scholar writing assignments |
An “authentic” writing task is one that has an actual purpose or goal (usually for an outside audience outside the classroom). A useful way to understand authentic writing assignments is as opposed to academic writing assignments, the purpose of which is to meet academic criteria (usually addressed to an internal classroom audience).
So how can you create authentic student writing assignments? It has to do with audience and purpose. As a background, let’s consider the content with a few premises:
I. Writing should convey something: an experience, an idea, a reflection, information, etc.
II. The underlying assumption of any writing to be published, ie to be published, is that the content is something that others (ie the “public”) may want or need to know. (Otherwise, what’s the point of making it public?)
III. Published texts also have the additional responsibility of being either useful or compelling – ideally both. So, publishable writing is something that others want or need to know, that is useful and / or imperative.
NS. In digital contexts, there is an additional burden due to “publishability”: the competition for attention. There are a functionally infinite number of media and forms of media, and those who wish to read their scriptures “compete” for better or for worse to be read.
With that in mind, let’s consider a student writing a short essay on climate change. In general, the “audience” of an essay like this is the teacher, and the goal is to meet the quality criteria communicated by the teacher – often in the form of a rubric or some sort of evaluation guide.
In this case, the “audience” (i.e., the teacher) has a strong inherent interest in the quality of what is written, but less interest in the content of what is written.
If the student were instead writing to a more authentic “outside” audience – a local company with a weak or strong record of polluting local streams, rivers, and watersheds – the reader would likely not care about quality (although, of course, quality is important) and more about the purpose and content (and tone) of the essay.
Since students often write with the teacher and / or their peers as an audience, in these cases the audience is mandatory and the feedback loop is less emphasizing the content and emphasizing “quality” (as dictated by academic standards, the teacher, etc.). Over time, students can be conditioned into believing someone wants to read what they write – which can make as much sense as a campaigner assuming everyone already wants to vote for them.
In this way, every writing has at least some compelling elements: authors try to convince the reader to accept their thesis, or suppress disbelief while reading their novels, and so on.
The easiest way to add authenticity to any writing task is to start with an authentic (to the student) audience and purpose. That is, helping the writer develop a specific purpose with a specific audience. Spend a lot of time here as a kind of prescription. Brainstorming. Look at other compelling scriptures and reverse engineer them. Ask students, “Who are you writing to and why? What do you hope the Scriptures’ do ‘?’ And if you and the student can’t come up with a precise and convincing answer together, go back to the drawing board.
Is it possible that a reader reads what has been written to the end and shrugs his shoulders and thinks: “So what?” or even ‘Okay, now what?’
Start with something as simple as a text message to a parent or friend. Who is the audience and what is the purpose? Now, make it a little more complex – maybe a nursery rhyme or a YouTube video. Who is the audience and what is the purpose? What about Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”? The American Declaration of Independence? the Pali Canon?
In How David Foster Wallace taught students to respond to each other’s writing, I quoted David Foster Wallace “
“Creative also points out that these types of non-fiction books tend to have traces of their own craftsmanship; the essay writer usually wants us to see and understand her as the author of the text. This does not mean, however, that an essayist’s main goal is just to “share yourself” or “express yourself” or whatever you learned in high school. In the adult world, creative non-fiction is not expressive writing, but rather communicative writing. And one axiom of communicative writing is that the reader doesn’t automatically care about you (the author), nor find you fascinating as a person, or have a deep natural interest in the same things that interest you. In fact, the reader will only perceive of you, your topic and your essay what your written words themselves make him feel. “
Of course, this is a less urgent burden for a first grader than it is for a professional writer like Wallace. The point is, as humans, we are constantly influencing the world. We change it through interactions, work, art and so on. And writing is a microcosm of it. In the “real world” we write to communicate – for example to inform or to convince. Informing is easier than persuading, but both require real work to be “successful”.
An example that may not be known to most, in boxing or grappling, one of the most useful teachers is a strong-willed, reluctant opponent – someone who tries to avoid and counter anything you try to do. That sharpens both practitioners. A sparring partner who just stood there and let you hit would give you false confidence and prevent you from developing real skills.
Writing is the same way. Authentic writing must be written with a “resistant” reader in mind (just as a good lesson must be written by a teacher with “resistant” students in mind).
The easiest way to create authentic writing assignments is to start with a clear and authentic audience and goal, and work backwards from there.
More tips on creating authentic writing assignments for students
1. Ask students for ideas. (You almost always have good ideas, and if not, it can be informative too.)
2. Use real-world “writings” as models and examples. Think of books, songs, video gamer stories and dialogues, scripts, etc.
3. Experiment with media shapes. You can start with text and have it converted into a podcast or short video. Or start with a song or motivational video and turn it into text.
4. Look for problems to solve – ideally “native” and authentic problems for each individual student.
5. Carry a writing case. This alone doesn’t necessarily make an assignment “authentic”, but it does make it more permanent (in the classroom) and seems to make sense beyond judging and forgetting.
6. For example, use anonymous pre- and post-assignment surveys to see how many readers have been persuaded to change their minds on a topic. (This is the approach taken by Oxford-style debates.)