Imagine, if you will, that two 5th Grade teachers are tasked with teaching the American Revolution. It’s not hard to do, it’s part of the official curriculum here in Maryland. (Residents of other countries may of course substitute the American Revolution for a culturally significant historical event of their choosing. I’m going with what I know here.)
(Paper cutouts are optional.)
The first teacher assigns a research report, allowing students to select a topic from an approved list. The twist is that students each write their “report” in the first person, from the perspective of someone who would have been alive at the time of the American Revolution.
The lesson goes over well. Students submit their work to the teacher, who then grades it and hands it back. If the students are lucky, maybe their reports are hung on the wall in their classroom.
The 2nd teacher assigns the same project … sort of. Rather than submitting their work to their teacher they post it to Edmodo, a website that allows work to be submitted in a safe, moderated environment. The “reports” are posted in such a way that other students may comment on them, BUT they have to reply in character. Celebrity guests (George Washington, Ben Franklin, etc. … making an account in Edmodo is free and the user name doesn’t have to match the display name) might appear and offer comments as well.
Students reply to the replies, then get replies in return. Classroom time is not spent reading reports aloud, but on class discussion about why their character would reply the way they did.
Suddenly it’s not a report. It’s a conversation. It’s role-playing. It’s engaging.
As an art teacher I frequently remind my students to focus on their target audience. I will routinely remind them that in my classroom, the target audience is frequently me. This isn’t wrong, I’m the one assessing their work. It’s been this way in my classes (and I imagine many others as well) for as long as I’ve been a teacher. If students make something that has what I’m looking for (as shown in my provided rubric, of course…), it’s going to get a higher score.
But it doesn’t always have to be about me – or at least not just me. Once the target audience is expanded, particularly when students are given proof that it’s expanded, they become a lot more interested in performing. This is true with text, games, audio, video, and anything else with an audience.
At my Creative & Performing Arts Academy I’ve seen countless OK rehearsals (we have high standards) followed by phenomenal performance nights. Why? Mom, Dad, Grandma Josephina, and Grandpa Joe were in the audience, and they knew it.
Now imagine that same 5th grade class posted their “reports” to a WordPress Blog, and historical reenactors were contacted online and asked to comment in character.
Imagine instead that the students made a news show covering the Boston Tea Party and posted it to YouTube.
Imagine instead that the subject wasn’t the American Revolution, but a novel and the author was asked to provide feedback.
Imagining is only the first step. Now decide what comes next and join the conversation at 9PM EST this Thursday, April 16th in the #BYOTchat tag on Twitter.