“My precious. My precious.” You may recognize this phrase from “The Lord Of The Rings.” It’s spoken by Gollum, the crazy creature who hides deep in the caves, and craves the one ring. It’s all he can think of. What if I were to tell you that this creature is real? What if I were to tell you that this creature exists in every school in the country? And what if I were to tell you that this creature, is you?
Now, you probably aren’t some creature living in a magical land. However, while it’s not a pretty comparison, some of your students may view you much like we view Gollum. They sometimes view teachers as people who want nothing more than to hoard the student work and keep it for themselves.
In today’s day and age, students are global citizens. They are on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and a whole host of other social media outlets sharing moments of their personal lives. These students have a global following before they leave elementary school, but therein lies the problem. When the students arrive at school, they see Gollum.
In most classrooms around the country, students work on assignments for hours only to “share” their work with a single person. This isn’t good enough anymore. They’ve put time and effort into their work and there is a strong desire to share it with a wider audience.
I started testing this idea in my classroom three years ago. I was introduced to a few tools that would allow my students to write and publish books for the world. One of the tools, Book Creator, is an iPad and Android app that allows for the easy creation of eBooks. The eBooks my students wrote for class were simple and effective. The students were laser-focused on their work because they knew it would be seen by more people than just their teacher. The fact that they were producing content for a global audience gave them more ownership of the writing process and created a buzz of excitement in the room.
Fifty e-books and 32,000 downloads later, I can say with certainty that changing the audience from teacher to world makes a huge difference in the quality of work students do. This wasn’t an advanced class of high-school students I was working with either. I taught special education fifth- and sixth-graders for 12 years. Many of the 50 eBooks we’ve created were done with special-education students. Not only does it increase the quality of work, but it increases motivation. During one work session, I had to drag a kid out of my room to eat lunch. He was so excited about writing for the world that he didn’t want to stop working.
I have also been the organizer of projects called #twima and #twima2. It stands for The World Is My Audience. This project has allowed me to collaborate with many teachers around the world to create a single e-book. They all tell me the same thing. Writing for the world has changed their kids.
Teacher trainer Rushton Hurley once said, “When children create for the world, they make it good. When children only create for their teachers, they make it good enough.”
I love this quote and want everyone to understand that “good enough” isn’t good enough any more. In the last three years I have worked with kids in grades K-12 writing books, and I can say without a doubt that with a little effort and creativity you can help students say that “The World Is Their Audience.”
Jon Smith (@theipodteacher) is a technology resource teacher for Alliance City Schools and an Apple Distinguished Educator.