At Detroit Prep, we define high quality student work through three lenses: complexity, craftsmanship, and authenticity. For our most recent study on Bird’s Amazing Bodies, my fellow first grade teachers, Ms. Kimberly, Ms. Jackie and I wanted to focus on authenticity in particular. Literacy research shows that much of a students’ ability to write and read past their current level depends on their own investment in the topic and their perception of the work as meaningful or not. In order to push our students to read high-level non-fiction texts and write complex informational paragraphs of their own, we knew that we would have to convince our students that their work had an authentic purpose beyond the four walls of our classrooms.
After planning a field study trip to the Belle local Isle Nature Center to study birds, we thought of the perfect application for our students’ work. At the Nature Center, we noticed a bird-watching station by a window with two chairs and a coffee table. What if our students wrote informational pamphlets about local birds that could be seen out of this window? We decided that for our final product of this unit of study, students will write scientific riddles and drawings for children to read and solve about local birds-- “I use my long, sharp beak to drill holes in wood so I can eat the insects inside. What bird am I?”
By creating authentic work that connects our studies in crew to local, real-world contexts, we motivate our students to challenge themselves to read and write at higher levels, and we position them as impactful citizens whose work-- even in first grade-- has purpose and meaning beyond the classroom.