by Krista McDivitt
Michael and I at here we inspire. Creative Publishing felt it important to start a blogging about all of the reasons why we are so passionate about what are do here. To begin with, I thought I would give you an idea about where this all started.
2017 – I was a high school visual art teacher when my school board, due to budget cuts, transferred me to an elementary school, teaching grade 5/6. I was always interested in teaching in innovative ways, like inquiry and project based learning, so I was eager to have more opportunity in the elementary classroom (once the shock and horror wore off). I was here I met a grade 4/5 teacher who turned out to have the same teaching philosophy and passion for education as I did. This teacher was Michael Slobodian. Throughout the school year we ended up collaborating and introducing our students to different ways of learning.
2018 – The beginning of this year marked the end of my journey through my Master’s study. I was tasked with a culminating capstone project that I was struggling decide upon. Michael and I discussed what seemed like a million ideas and eventually landed on authentic writing. It was then, I wrote the book The Value of Authentic Writing: A Guide to Publishing Student Writing. This was the beginning of understanding how important audience was to student writing.
2019 – Throughout the year, we became more and more obsessed with this idea that student learning should not be just for a teacher, but for a greater purpose. Michael and I began teaching together in Collaborative Classroom where we taught 50 wonderful students. During out time teaching together, we realized that we could do more. I knew that these students deserved the opportunity to be heard and valued for their ideas, their minds, and their words. “Here we inspire” was our classroom motto turned business plan.
Here we inspire. Creative Publishing believes that students can create amazing things that can be appreciated and valued in the real world. Our goal is to create a library full of books written by kids, for kids.
Below is an excerpt from my book, The Value of Authentic Writing.
Canada’s literacy rates are cause for concern in the recent years with Canada falling in rank when compared against other developed countries (Patel, 2016). According to First Book Canada, 30% of children at the grade 3 level lack basic literacy skills and 25% of Canadian household do not own any books at all (“The Need,” 2018). With statistics like these, it is more important than ever to have students in the classroom engaging in literacy activities that will provide them with meaningful learning and a love for reading and writing. Teachers must find ways to engage and empower their students to move past being told they need to learn, to students deeply wanting to learn. Authentic Literacy Instruction is one way to accomplish this. Authentic literacy is defined as “activities in the classroom … that replicate or reflect reading and writing activities that occur in the lives of people outside of a learning-to-read-and-write context and purpose. Each authentic literacy activity has a writer and a reader—a writer who is writing to a real reader and a reader who is reading what the writer wrote” (Duke Purcell-Gates, Hall, and Tower, 2006, p. 346). When considering authentic literacy, authentic writing specifically, audience is arguably the most important aspect (Duke Purcell-Gates, Hall, and Tower, 2006, p. 352). Authentic audiences are real life readers, “by real here, we mean a reader who will read the written text for its communicative purpose and not solely for evaluation” (Duke Purcell-Gates, Hall, and Tower, 2006, p. 352). When students write to a real audience, they take on the challenge of capturing those readers. The students are no longer writing to just please their teacher, but to appeal to a wider audience. This challenge comes with a certain degree of risk. Due to the nature of authentic writing, students begin to understand the successes and failures that career writers experience. “The point is to open the mind or heart of a real audience—cause a fuss, achieve a feeling, start some thinking. In other words, what few young writers learn is that there are consequences for succeeding or failing as a real writer… By introducing a real purpose, a real audience - hence, consequences—we get the feedback we desperately need to become good writers” (Wiggins, 2009, p. 30).
Authentic writing has the power to engage students in writing, assist students in achieving excellence, and ultimately, empower them as learners.
Students are engaged in their writing when their work has genuine meaning. When students have the opportunity to create something authentic others will read and enjoy, motivation turns from extrinsic to intrinsic; from wanting to get an “A” to learning because they have a desire to learn. Instead of students begrudgingly asking if spelling counts or how many pages they have to write, they are asking sincere questions on how to create a quality piece of writing their audience will find meaningful. Instead of the teacher driving the learning, authentic writing allows the students to take charge of their own learning. They are empowered to investigate what they need to know and how they are going to learn it.
“The advantages of authentic writing go far beyond simply motivating students” (Ken Lindblom, 2015, para. 5). The ability to analyze an audience, write both formally and informally, to understand different genres, and to see how readers react to their writing are all real-world skills that authentic writing teaches students (Lindblom, 2015). These skills create great writers. “When elementary students write for authentic purposes and real audiences, their writing is likely to be lively and engaging. The more opportunities writers have to purposefully compose for a genuine audience, the greater the likelihood that their writing will become contextually meaningful” (Keiser, 1991, p. 249). Authentic writing enriches student learning by creating a learning situation that fosters meaningful learning. Students naturally understand why spelling, grammar, voice, structure, word choice, etc. is important when having an authentic audience. Since “meaningful learning involves understanding how all the pieces of an entire concept fit together... [t]his type of learning stays with students for life” (“Oxford Learning,” 2017).
The engagement that students experience when creating authentic writing will have profound effects on their future. There is a history of research that supports the idea that engagement in learning activities affects academic and life achievement including a reduction in school dropouts, higher likelihood of graduating post-secondary school, and an overall more enjoyable learning experience (Bundick, Quaglia, Corso & Haywood, 2014). In addition, classrooms that show high levels of engagement positively correlate with student performance on standardized tests (Lahaderne, 1968, p.322 as cited by Kathy Dyer, 2015, para. 3), word recognition rates tend to rise (Hecht, 1978 as cited by Kathy Dyer, 2015, para. 5), and there is an overall increase in grades across all subject areas (Skinner, Wellborn, & Connell, 1990 as cited by Kathy Dyer, 2015, para. 7).
Authentic writing brings relevance to learning. Students are able to see that learning exists both in school and in the real world. It teaches our young people they are worthy of being heard and have something meaningful to give to our world. The idea a stranger would be interested in reading something a student wrote might be all that child needs to propel them into excellence. Our children deserve authentic learning opportunities that allow them to create something real and meaningful. Authentic writing is a powerful instructional tool that can not only increase our literacy rates, but change our classrooms and students’ lives.
Bundick, M. J., Quaglia, R. J., Corso, M. J., & Haywood, D. E. (2014). Promoting Student Engagement in the Classroom. Teachers College Record.
Duke, N. K., Purcell-Gates, V., Hall, L. A., & Tower, C. (2006). Authentic Literacy Activities for Developing Comprehension and Writing. The Reading Teacher, 60(4), 344-355. doi:10.1598/rt.60.4.4
Dyer, K. (2015, September 17). Research Proof Points – Better Student Engagement Improves Student Learning. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from https://www.nwea.org/blog/2015/research-proof-points-better-student-engagement-improves-student-learning/
Keiser, B. (1991). Creating Authentic Conditions for Writing. The Reading Teacher, 45(3), 249-250. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20200857
Lindblom, K. (2015, November 23). School Writing Vs. Authentic Writing. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from https://writerswhocare.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/school-writing-vs-authentic-writing/
Patel, A. (2017, May 16). When It Comes To High Literacy, Numeracy Rates, Canada Is Low On The List: Report. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/09/01/canada-literacy-rates_n_11817262.html
Publishing Insights. (2015). Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://www.skwriter.com/professional-development/publishing-insights/finding-a-publisher
The Need. (2018). Retrieved February 20, 2018, from http://firstbookcanada.org/the-need/
Wiggins, G. (2009). Real World Writing: Making Purpose and Audience Matter. EJ in Focus, 98(5), 29-37. Retrieved February 20, 2018, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40503292