Language Arts

Audience Activity

As you begin to consider this lesson on writing to an audience, watch the following video that retells an excerpt from the classic tale, “The Three Little Pigs.”

Who is the intended audience for this segment of the story? It was hard to tell, right? At first, it seemed like a story for young children. Fifteen seconds into the story, an obvious shift occurred. What changed? What can you infer about the intended audience for the second half of the story?

Scenario

The ability to tailor a text to a specific audience is a hallmark of skilled writers. A clear vision of audience guides the writer’s decisions about diction, syntax, rhetorical appeals, and the quantity of background information necessary to communicate ideas.

In intermediate grades, even when students are appropriately considering audience, their ability to control their language by manipulating sentence structure, syntax, diction, and other rhetorical techniques is still emerging. Students may recognize, for example, that their intended audience will be influenced by a more colloquial and familiar tone that appeals to their emotions, but may not yet have sufficient writing ability to achieve the desired effect.

The Anchor Standards of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) state that “a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience.” The centrality of audience to the writing process is reflected in the mention of writing for an audience in virtually each year’s writing standards of the CCSS.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) supports the centrality of audience in the composition process as well, going so far as including it in their very definition of writing: “The act of writing is accomplished through a process in which the writer imagines the audience, sets goals, develops ideas, produces notes, drafts, and a revised text, and edits to meet the audience’s expectations.” Further, the NCTE position paper “Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing” lists among the central goals of writing classrooms that “students should become comfortable with…strategies for preparing products for public audiences.”

Often a starting point in the classroom is to have students envision an audience of their choice, then analyze that audience, identifying factors such as the audience’s reading level, knowledge of the content, and for persuasive pieces, the types of arguments most likely to appeal to the audience. Traditionally, the teacher is an important arbiter of the students’ work and is usually the only audience reading student-generated texts, with the occasional exception of classroom peers. However, if students are to develop and demonstrate flexibility in their writing, having access to authentic audiences who can provide feedback is important. Additionally, research shows that the presence of an authentic audience can provide students with added motivation to write and may improve the quality of students’ writing.

As noted in the CCSS for writing, students can “use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.”

Easy-to-use digital technologies afford teachers of English language arts two major ways to promote students’ development in targeting their texts to specific audiences.

  1. Multimedia software allows students to create rich, multimodal texts, in which images, soundtrack, and narration can share the storytelling burden with the writing. A medium like digital storytelling—a genre in which images, a narration, and a soundtrack take much of the responsibility off of the script to tell the entire story—can provide opportunities for students to hone their ability to reach a particular audience while they continue to work on developing their traditional writing skills.
  2. Web 2.0 technologies enable young writers to make connections with an authentic audience and provide them with a means of reaching their intended audience. In addition, when students share their digital writing with a real audience, they can receive feedback on the success of their writing from that very audience.

What Do You Think?

How have you helped your students develop a sense of audience in their writing?

What specific technology tools are you familiar with that might help students achieve this learning objective?

Meet the Teacher

  • Jen Graham Wright, sixth grade language arts teacher
  • Walton Middle School

I am a certified middle school language arts teacher and have been teaching sixth-grade language arts here at Walton for nine years.

Walton Middle School is a small, rural school with approximately 400 students in grades 6-8. Of these students, 39.8% receive free and reduced meals through federal assistance. Most of the students are White (76.9%); only 13.9% are Black, 6.2% are Hispanic, and 2.2% of students have limited English proficiency.

My class featured in this case study had more females than males, which is not typical of the school in general. Of the 23 students in the class, there was a mix of student ability levels, ranging from students identified as academically gifted to those with identified learning disabilities. I believe this lesson is appropriate for all students throughout the intermediate grades (4-6). Brian Kayser, a sixth-grade special education inclusion teacher, assisted me with this activity.

Our school has implemented a 1-to-1 technology initiative that provides students with constant and immediate digital access through personal netbooks. All students are issued netbooks, which they take with them to class and to and from school each day. These devices provide students with the necessary access to many web-based tools so that they may explore and become familiar with them outside of class. This allows us to spend more class time on content, as the students are fairly competent with basic technological skills.

This is my third year working with the 1-to-1 netbook initiative, and I have realized that it is not as important for students to learn how to use one particular website or program as it is to learn how to solve problems with technology. One of the problems that I want them to explore with technology is the best way to demonstrate their learning, which also forces them to think more about the purpose of the texts they are producing.

The Activity

Introduction

Students often expect the only audience for their writing to be their teacher. In their experience, they turn in a paper and get a grade, and that is the end of it. Yet, when students realize that they have an audience beyond the four walls of their classroom, they often want to step up their game. They want to do well not only to please the teacher, but because they know that other people are going to be looking at their work.

This activity was the culmination of a unit on fictional writing and audience. In an introductory activity on audience students listened as I read two different versions of “The Three Little Pigs.” One version of the story was standard and traditional, the other more abstract and deviating from the original plot line. Students compared and contrasted the two stories, and I challenged them to think beyond the obvious superficial differences and analyze how each story was written for a different audience.

TPACK Commentary: Teachers are aware that their students’ capacity is often surpassed by their creativity. Writing can be enhanced by the technology so help students catch up with their imaginations. For example, students may want to create an eerie mood in a text, but they may lack sufficient control over syntax or have inadequate vocabularies to do so. Teachers may model these writing strategies in class, and using multimedia allows students the opportunity to practice reaching an audience as they also work in other ways to increase their traditional writing skills.

Activity

The students worked in small groups to create a digital story tailored to an intended audience—primary elementary students and students their own age. Along with the syntactic structure and vocabulary of the writing itself, students had to consider the use of imagery and a musical score to accompany their composition in the production of a digital story. I worked with the students to guide them through the steps of the writing process.

Instead of grouping students by ability level, I encouraged the students to work to their strengths. They self-selected a role in which they felt they could contribute successfully to the group; writer, editor, artist, computer user, and so on. I then grouped students who could collaborate on this project. Although all students worked together in the group to contribute to each step, students each took a leadership role in their strength area.

Working in their groups, students wrote their version of the Three Little Pigs and created visuals. In considering their intended audience, students made decisions based on vocabulary level, sentence complexity, style of artwork, and the realism of the characters’ portrayals. One group even drew a character with ketchup spilled on his shirt to indicate his laziness!

After compositions underwent sufficient self, peer, and teacher review, students moved into the phase of the lesson where they worked to present their story to the intended audience. Students used school scanners to convert their images into digital formats. These images were uploaded into the digital storytelling program of choice for the group, which in most cases was VoiceThread.

Student groups then recorded their narrations directly to VoiceThread, using the built-in microphones on their computers. I guided them to focus on their fluency while reading with expression for their intended audience. The technology afforded unlimited attempts to record an acceptable version of their stories.

What Do You Think?

What classroom management concerns might you need to prepare for when doing this type of project?

At which stages might technology play more of a role?

What are the affordances provided by the technologies utilized?

Conclusion

Once students finished creating their digital stories, it was time for them to share. I exported the VoiceThread videos to YouTube and compiled them into lists based on their intended audiences. I emailed links to the videos to teachers of other classes of their target audiences. For the younger grades, classes watched the videos together and came up with group feedback for the authors. In the older grades, some teachers allowed students to provide individual feedback, while others chose the same method as the primary classes. I discussed the feedback with my class to arrive at a consensus regarding each groups’ success at appealing to its intended audiences. While some student groups experienced more positive feedback and success than other groups, all groups benefited from the valuable experience of receiving feedback from their intended audience.

Assessment

Students were assessed based on a rubric [story project rubric] that was given to them at the beginning of the lesson. Grades were determined based on the writing and artwork being appropriate for the chosen audience. In addition to the quality of the work submitted, students were also assessed on how well they collaborated within their group and fulfilled thstory project rubriceir leadership roles in each group.

TPACK Commentary: Jen was aware that her own feedback might not help her students write effectively for their intended audience. In order to understand how writing changes for a specific audience, her student authors needed to connect to that audience in some way.  Therefore, Jen arranged for her students to share their work with a specific audience and receive feedback on their stories.  Jen also understood that technology adds another dimension to the writing process. By engaging her students in digital storytelling and video sharing, she allowed them to work with a test audience prior to the final publication of their work.  In addition, as students used different types of technology during the composing process, Jen was able to provide guidance and ask questions that supported their understanding of the writing process, generally, and multimodality, specifically.

The Technology

One tool Jen chose to use for this project was VoiceThread, a software application developed for collaborative presentations and available by free registration at VoiceThread.com. VoiceThread allowed students to use their own artwork and record their own voices. Jen believed it was more appropriate for presenting the stories to younger children, because it would be narrated. On the other hand, this medium required more oral reading fluency of her students, as well as more attention to expression and word choice.

voicethread capture resizeVoiceThread has a variety of annotation features and allows students to share their stories in several ways — direct link, embedding, or by exporting to YouTube. The first two options require viewers to have their own VoiceThread account.

In this case, students elected to share their videos through YouTube. As the premiere video sharing site on the web, YouTube allows viewers to comment and rate a video as “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” YouTube also keeps track of the number of times a video is viewed, offering video owners another measure of their video’s popularity. By sharing their videos and distributing a link to students in their target audience, students were able to reach out to their audience for feedback. Technology helped students to reach that audience in an efficient and effective way.

Jen also gave students the option to use eBooks, which could be shared with a broader audience than a printed book could. This option required more editing work for a polished written piece, but students could still attach music and images that could impact tone or mood for an older audience.

NETS-S

According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), students must be able to learn and explore their world through the use of technology. The lesson that follows aligns with the following ISTE National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S):

  • Creativity and Innovation: Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
  • Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.

What Do You Think?

What newer or better technology tools are you aware of that might be available for a project like this?

 

Classroom in Action

Throughout the portion of the unit where students worked to transform their traditional paper-pencil stories into a digital storytelling product, Jen worked with students to encourage them, keep them on task, and troubleshoot technical issues that arose.

What Do You Think?

What instructions would you give students before they begin recording their narrations?

Vignette 1

Watch this video to see how Jen coaches her students on recording strategies.

TPACK Commentary: The pedagogy that Jen employed was a think-aloud, where students orally justified their choices to her, allowing students to think through their choices as a group and consider how they might best reach their intended audience. Through the use of the students’ personal classroom laptops, Jen encouraged the illustrator in this group to research ideas on the Internet to help him create drawings more appropriate for his intended audience.

Vignette 2

What Do You Think?

What are some ways you might help students narrate their stories with more expression?

In this video, consider Jen’s rapport with her students and how she encourages more expressiveness in their reading.

 

TPACK Commentary: This interaction shows students struggling with their objective — reaching their target audience. Jen drew upon her pedagogical understanding to ask questions and provide information that would scaffold her students’ understanding of audience.  First, she asked her students to think about their own experiences of having a story read to them; next, she reminded them that their experiences could guide them in creating their story.  Finally, she assured them that the technology allowed them to improve upon their mistakes during this publishing phase of the writing process.

Vignette 3

In the following video clip, notice Jen’s questioning techniques as she leads student reflection on their story and the way they considered audience.

 

TPACK Commentary: Jen’s choice to provide direct instruction allowed her to teach her students about certain nuances of the VoiceThread program. For example, she reminded them not to speak to one another while recording. Jen understood that an audience does not want to hear background conversations and kindergarteners would be too easily distracted by extra sounds. Jen chose to provide this information directly to her students, rather than engage them in scaffolded questioning, in order to protect her students’ time during the composing process. The technology itself allowed students to easily revise their work but Jen recognized the finite resource of class time to create these stories.

Student Work

Students began this project knowing the basic elements of the plot for the story that they would write. Students worked creatively with their groups in creating their own script of the familiar tale—the dialog and details, as well as the images. Students took ownership of the story and considered their audience throughout the process. In the third vignette, students selected vocabulary that they considered to be more advanced and also pushed the boundaries of their imagination in creating their images. The drawings below show the details that these students included in their project.

The pigs leaving home

The wolf attacks

No more troublesome wolf

The students in the first and second vignettes lacked the artistic ability to create their own drawings, so they sought help from the web. Using images from Kids-Pages.com, this group retold their story of The Three Little Pigs to a kindergarten audience. Believing that many kindergarteners would be unfamiliar with the original story, they chose not to deviate much from the traditional version. They selected basic vocabulary and cartoon-style artwork to tell their tale. After uploading their images and text to VoiceThread, they recorded themselves reading their script.

In this video, you will notice that the students were keenly aware of their audience and considered the audience during creation of their artwork in great detail. The students were clearly proud of the work that they created.

 

Authentic Feedback

The following comments on YouTube were made by kindergarten students after watching the video above.

 

Teacher Reflection

Using technology to combine the written, audio, and visual components of storytelling into a digital composition and then uploading it to the web allowed students to share their work with their target audience– something that they couldn’t have done without that technology. I saw tremendous effort and growth from some of my struggling writers in class. Some of those students who sit for an hour with only a few sentences on their paper and hate writing, they were enthralled with this project. Those students benefited from the transition away from text and were finally given a way to share their voice with the world. Before I do this lesson again, I will explore more websites that students can use for both digital story creation and sharing their work with their audiences. Web 2.0 technologies emerge and change so much that by this time next year, there may be something better available to me and to my students.

Classroom Management

The students worked very well together during this project. I tried to prevent classroom issues by giving very specific directions regarding student behaviors before breaking them into groups. My directions included simple things, like speak only to your group during class time, stay in your work station and don’t disturb other groups, raise your hand when you have an issue rather than calling out and interrupting. We reviewed normal classroom procedures, like not leaving the room without permission and use reasonable volume levels while working together. Additionally, by creating the groups myself, I was able to separate some students who might have trouble remaining on task when working together.

Technology

For the most part, the technology worked really well. Whenever we use netbooks, there are always glitches that can come up in terms of the processor and recording audio, ensuring that it’s a crisp, clean sound. Whenever that happens, we troubleshoot. Kids will say, “My netbook’s not working right. Can I use your laptop?” But other than that, whenever there are problems, the kids are really able to help themselves and figure out what they need to do next. Part of that comes from being at a school with a 1-to-1 technology initiative where all students have a netbook. I know a big fear for people whenever they use technology is that kids are going to use it in a malicious way. The most important thing you can do when you expose students to technology is to believe that they are going to do the right thing most of the time. Yes, they will find ways to do things that might not always be the best decision, but then it’s important to have that open conversation just like you would if a kid was talking to another student across the classroom: Talk about why the behavior is not appropriate and give the student a chance to learn from that mistake.

What Do You Think?

How would you improve this activity or do it differently?