Authentic Audiences

“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?




Related categories:
  • Tara Nuth Kajtaniak

    Writing to Authentic Audiences

    I believe that having an authentic audience is instrumental in both the teaching of writing and the teaching of cross-cultural communication.  The theme of my sophomore Global Studies (English 2) class is “Understanding + Communication = Trust.”  We focus on understanding the Arab World and Middle East.  For the communication piece, I collaborate with a teacher in Tangier, Morocco, to create mutual writing assignments for our students in rural northern California and in Tangier, which they complete via blog.  Students not only write from their own perspectives to an audience on the other side of the world, but they comment on each others’ ideas and ask questions.  Students are required to think about their audience,consider the way they present themselves, and explore cultural commonalities as well as differences.  Friendships are formed, assumptions are challenged, and a group of students are finding themselves part of a larger, more diverse world than they have ever known.

    • DaveOrphal

      I love this!

      So much better than a pen-pal assignment.  Students are engaging acorss culture to explore a question in addition to exploring about one another.

      Great idea!


  • Deb Teitelbaum

    Authentic Audience

    I had the exact same response from my students when presented with authentic audiences.  Instead of assigning a research paper, I had them write children’s books in answer to a genuine question they wanted to answer (e.g., Why does it never thunder during a snow storm?).  NONE of my students failed to turn in a completed book.  This has never happened before or since in my career.

    We then brought the books to the local elementary school and read to kids ranging from Kindergarten to fifth grade.  Apparently, fourth grade girls can be particularly vicious; two of my boys–both good-sized varsity football players–begged, “Ms. T., please don’t make us go back in there.  Can we go read to the kindergartners?”  I wrote the experience up for an article in the March 2006 issue of English Journal

    • DaveOrphal

      Great Idea

      I, too, did a children’s book assignment one year in Intro to ED.  The quality of the books varied A LOT.  I think the difference is – I didn’t have an authentic audience!  Next time – we’re taking the children’s books with us to the Elementary school!

      Great Idea!

  • Cathleen Lin

    Authentic Teachers, Teaching, Learning, & Students

    Thanks for reminding me the importance of having authentic audiences in the classroom. I try to incorporate that component by inviting other students and teachers to be judges of our debates. I have also asked a middle school class to learn a concept and then to teach it to an elementary class.

    I have seen history teachers at our school have students reenact an episode in modern language and have it videotaped. Have you asked your students? They might also have some creative ideas as to what might make learning meaningful to them.

    • DaveOrphal



  • Doug Barton

    Instructional Technology

    Our middle school orchestra teacher arranged for her students to perform and receive feedback from the composer of the piece they were working on live via Google Hangout.  The interaction was amazing and meaningful.