Friday, December 12, 2003

On Having Students Write for "Real" Audiences

Kathryn Evans

We often speak of the importance of self-sponsored writing, and we encourage new instructors to have students write for audiences other than the teacher. After looking at the curricula of several well-known writing programs, however, my sense is that we do not always follow through on this approach as much as we would like—and I know that I can be guilty of this too.

Two recent successes have inspired me to integrate even more self-sponsored and “real-world” writing into my classes. One of my students wrote a letter that persuaded social security to give her family several thousand (additional) dollars after the death of her father; another student was passionately committed, upon learning that he got a “C” on an initial draft of an Amnesty-International-inspired letter, to use more evidence and eradicate all sentence-level error, since he felt that the release of an unjustly-imprisoned activist was at stake. That students are more motivated when such issues are at stake is confirmed by this second student’s experience: he found out that the prisoner had been released before he was able to revise, and he suddenly lost all interest in marshalling evidence and eradicating error, instead accepting his “C.” Unfortunately, injustice is not always quickly resolved, so there is no dearth of issues to motivate students to pour their hearts into writing effectively—if we can point them in the right direction.