In my experience, students are most likely to give their all when they can see that learning has a purpose and that they have a voice. This was certainly the case in my final term last year with my nine- and 10- year-olds.
We were focusing on persuasive writing and had been discussing techniques to convince a reader to see our point of view. A few weeks before, I had come across a fantastic website, lendmeyourliteracy.com, which publishes and celebrates student writing. We had submitted a piece of work by the class and watched international views and positive comments flood in.
As a teacher, I was excited by the opportunity to celebrate writing; as students, they were hooked by the idea of a worldwide audience for their work - and a chance for "fame".
During our introduction to creating persuasive texts, one child asked, "Will someone get on that website again, if it's really good writing, Miss?" A frank discussion followed in which I explained that, to contribute regularly to the site, and to have our own school or class space, the school would have to pay for a portfolio - and decisions about funding were made by our school director.
The children decided to lobby the director for a place on the site. What followed was a flurry of excitement and some of the most noisy yet authentic learning I have seen.
Did I follow my original persuasive writing plans? Absolutely not. Was I leading the learning? Not a chance. Did my students meet my intended objectives? Yes, and then some. They could see the opportunities offered by lendmeyourliteracy.com, wanted money to put together a portfolio and so used their literacy learning to lobby our school director to get it.
Some children wrote letters and rehearsed speeches, others designed posters and one group used iMovie software to create a persuasive video. Their focus, drive and determination was incredible. They learned about persuasive writing in a context that truly mattered to them - and, in the end, they got what they wanted.