“How important is this to my grade?” asked a student, as she sorted through the lesson plans and materials strewn across the table.

Before I could answer, her partner interrupted.  “Don’t worry about your grade.  Worry about those fourth graders we’re teaching next week,” he chided.  “If we’re not prepared, they’re going to eat us alive!”

I love authentic audiences!

Two weeks before the winter break, my Education Academy sophomores were preparing for their teaching practicum.  Using learning materials provided by the Junior Achievement organization, my students, in teams of two to four, were to take over one of our local elementary schools and becoming the teachers for the day.

It’s the hardest work and the most fun they have all year.  It is a big part of their grade for my Introduction to Education class.  While it is still four weeks until the end of the semester, this project is their mid-term exam.  In May, we go to a second elementary school and repeat the experience as their final. 

This is their first experience teaching, and as the day of our fieldtrip loomed, anxiety built. 

“What does this word mean?” asked another student, pointing at one of the vocabulary words for her lesson.

I refused to give easy help.  “You’d better find out,” I replied.  “You’re going to be the teacher that day, and your students will be looking for you for the answers.  You wont be able to ask me.”  Five minutes later, she had the answer and a smile of accomplishment on her face.

As the day of our field trip grew nearer, students spent more and more time working on their lessons.  Some groups assigned themselves homework, taking home their lesson plans to practice and refine.  Others teams came to my room at lunchtime, so they could cut out manipulatives and fill out certificates for their students. 

With authentic audiences, deadlines and consequences are real.  Our fieldtrip was Thursday the 12th.  If a student wasn’t prepared to teach, then his lesson would just suffer, or he would look foolish in front of 30 fifth graders, or his team would just have to pick up the slack.  There was no opportunity to teach on Friday or Monday with a “late penalty.”

Authentic audiences increase motivation.  For my students, the work that they did to prepare their lessons felt important.  The classes that they were visiting felt like their classes.  The students that they were teaching felt like their students. 

Frankly, I don’t know why I don’t use authentic audiences more.

When about half of my history students failed to turn their essays on time, asking how many points off they would get for being late, I began thinking about how I might use an authentic audience for them as well.  I’m toying with the idea of holding a history conference.  Alternatively, I thinking about staging debates around some controversial question, such as, “Was John Brown an American hero?”

What do you think?  Do you ever use authentic audiences in your classes?  Any ideas on how I can incorporate authentic audiences into my history class?




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