I had a great conversation the other day with a girlfriend about authentic learning. I was explaining how it makes all the difference in the world when the project is something the student is interested in – if the students are not interested, then it really isn’t authentic. Having fifth-grade boys read Robert Frost’s poems, and then write poetry in that style has never been a very meaningful or successful endeavor. (I am a Robert Frost fan, but for some strange reason most fifth-grade boys are not.) Exposing students to many different poets and styles of poetry, then having them pick a style they like, and you are moving into the authentic experience. They can then write poems in that style about an interest they have, and you can watch the engagement happen.
I mentioned that, of course, most of my boys were passionate about football. Most of them wrote poems about football. She asked if I knew a lot about football. I confessed my knowledge was limited, mostly things I picked up from my Miami Dolphin fan brothers and son. (Cue the violins here for the long-suffering Dolphin fans.) I am a “Dolfan”, but certainly don’t have a ton of football knowledge. I wore my turquoise and orange, and professed my true love, which the boys fell over laughing about. (I taught in Redskin territory so it’s not like they had a lot to laugh at me about!) Honestly, my background knowledge about football didn’t matter. I knew how to teach poetry, I knew how to guide children through an authentic learning experience, and the boys certainly knew enough about football to take it from there.
*If you give this a try – after the poems are written, continue with a poetry reading, complete with refreshments (party planning/math budgeting), or create a poetry newsletter to be shared with people at a retirement home, or sell that newsletter and raise money for charity….the authentic options are endless.