My students finished a project where they developed a product, sketched it out, "launched" an advertising campaign and created a website for it. I pushed them to think about the dark side of commercialism and the way that their product might harm the world as much as it benefits it.
The thinking was great. The conversations were intriguiging. However, the products were mediocre. I'm not supposed to say that as a teacher. I'm supposed to boast about how great things turned out. I'm supposed to talk about the pride we all felt when we saw the end results. And yet, as I called groups over for conferences, I heard the same frustrations: a difficulty with learning iMovie and Photo Shop, a sense of not understanding the elements of design, a general sense of dissapointment that it didn't look professional.
A few days later, I'm struck with the fact that I had unreasonable expectations. Of course it's professional. They're new to this. Everything they create is going to be somewhat derivative, lacking in visual polish, rushed in certain areas and overdone in others.
Suddenly it makes sense. I gave them global examples. I let them see the best of the best from around the world. I scoured the interwebs for the best possible products that students had developed. It was supposed to be inspiring. It was supposed to engage them in a global conversation. I wanted my students to create something publishable. Instead, they worked hard with less resources, less time and less skill and were left with a lingering sense that they had failed.
It has me rethinking the whole student publishing concept. The truth is that sometimes early on in the journey students will create things that don't look great. These mistakes often lead to deeper learning while also leading to better products in the future.
I've always heard that a global audience is an "authentic" audience. However, I'm rethinking this right now. The global audience often puts the best work forward, sending a subtle message that mistakes are not okay. "Make it publishable" often means "make it perfect."
I still believe in the importance of global conversations. I still think there is valuable in publishing one's work to a context that is larger than the classroom. However, I'm also realizing that sometimes the most authentic audience is the small group of kids blundering around, making mistakes and learning along the way.