One of my nephews plays guitar through the School of Rock. I really like the teaching philosophy of this place: it's as authentic as it gets. Of course, they have the enviable advantage that all the kids who learn there do so by choice, which is the definition of intrinsic motivation. But their approach is to organize real shows in real venues around town, and then as soon as the students are ready to perform at a basic level, they are sorted into one or more "bands," and assigned certain numbers in the show. This model puts these inexperienced musicians into a totally authentic, but rather high-stakes, position. When they practice, they do so to learn, but also to spare themselves and the other kids in their band any embarrassment. The pressure, especially the peer pressure, to perform well is intense, and the results are impressive.
Every time I see one of their shows, like the Hendrix tribute tonight, I realize that as jargony as the word authentic has become, its real power is undiminished. Sometimes, instead of paying attention to the music, I find myself thinking about the applications of such an approach to teaching and learning writing. Oh, I know that the parallels are far from exact: starting with the element of choice, moving on to the popularity of performances, and ending up with how commonplace collaboration is, these are three attractive elements of rock music that not a lot of writing shares. Even so, I believe that it is possible to help students appreciate (and even love!) writing and engage in it willingly, to find real places for them to share and publish their writing, and to create a supportive community of writers who encourage and collaborate with each other. That's where my mind went tonight when it wandered away from All Along the Watch Tower and didn't return until Purple Haze-- to the strategies and lessons I could use to make those things happen. Who knows? The results could be impressive.