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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Bringing Authenticity to the Classroom

Authenticity -- we know it works! There is research to support the value of authentic reading and writing. When students are engaged in real-world problems, scenarios and challenges, they find relevance in the work and become engaged in learning important skills and content. In addition, while students may or may not do stuff for Mr. Miller, they are more likely to engage when there is a real-world audience looking at their work, giving them feedback, and helping them improve. This is just one critical part of project-based learning. However, maybe you aren't ready for fully authentic projects. Where are some good places to start taking the authenticity up a notch in your classroom?

Authentic Products

Does the work matter? Does it look like something people create in the real world? It should. Much of the work we do in the classroom may not be like the real world. Wouldn't it be great if it were? Now, I'm not saying you need to make every piece in your classroom completely authentic, but consider having your major summative assessments reflect the real world. If you truly want the work to matter, make your products not only look authentic, but actually be authentic. Follow this link for a list to consider.

Needs Assessment

How do you make the work be authentic? One way to is to conduct a needs assessment of your community. You can facilitate students to conduct this needs assessment by having them design the type of data to be collected, collecting and analyzing that data, and then developing action plans. These action plans can include real-world projects that you help your students align to curriculum standards. Paired with authentic products, the work now matters to the community and can make a difference.

Authentic Audience and Assessment

Edutopia has a great section on Authentic Assessment that you can use to get started. It goes over definitions, features videos, and includes tools to help make the assessment process more authentic. Part of this is having an authentic audience to give your students feedback. Sometimes that audience can be parents, but often it's made up of people who, in their everyday lives, do the same or similar types of work to what your students are doing in the PBL project. So instead of just a public audience, make it an authentic audience. Remember, this audience doesn't just participate at the end of the work, but is engaged throughout.

Authentic Tools

When you partner with an authentic audience that can give honest feedback about the work, they may also be able to provide you with authentic tools. These tools might be construction-type materials, or they might be technological. Different work calls for different tools, and having the right tools can help students do more authentic work. As you plan your work and projects, find those real-world connections, and ask them what tools they use.

Whenever I build PBL projects, I try to make them as authentic as possible, not only because it helps engage students, but because the students start becoming social change agents. Education shouldn't stop at engagement in learning -- it should be about engagement in our world in community!

Comments (22)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Esther's picture
Esther
Ed.M candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Ed; NYC Special ed teacher

A powerful yet simple strategy to teach kids (even with learning differences in special ed classrooms) to feel empowered and engaged. This strategy can be used to introduce topics, to engage children, or to launch off any projects or lessons.

One change makes all the difference! Need I say more?
http://rightquestion.org/blog/student-engagement-special-education-class...

Wizard of Roz's picture
Wizard of Roz
11 & 12th grade English teacher in SC

Bringing authentic lessons into the classroom is one of my keys to keeping the students involved. I teach Beowulf to my 12th grade British Lit. classes and recently updated one of my writing assignments to become more authentic. After reading the battle with Grendel's Mother, I have students write a letter to Beowulf from GM. With the addition of an ex-lawyer to our teaching ranks, we decided to update this assignment to a business letter from GM's lawyer. Some of our students are interested in law and found the letter both stimulating and helpful as an introduction to their possible life work.

Joey Mejia's picture
Joey Mejia
High School Criminal Justice Teacher from Edinburg, Texas

Andrew. Thank you for the information that you have provided. I completely agree that engaging students in real-world applications helps keep students motivated to learn. I try to provide relevance in my lessons that I present to my students. My course is an elective in which students choose to be in and are eager to learn; however, I do have students who were placed in my class against their will. The student population is diverse with a wide range of students and special populations. If I am teaching a lesson about the difference between civil law and criminal law, I like to allow the students to research cases in which celebrities have been involved in. This creates a great way to have the students discuss with their classmates about the particular case that they researched. When they present their case to the class, they are the expert in the case and are able to explain to the class about the legal aspects pertaining to civil law and criminal law. My students love these types of activities.

Dani's picture

Esther,
Thank you for the link. I am always looking for ways to keep my students empowered and engaged! My first graders teach me all the time that they can step up and do great work when they are invested and connect to the learning.

J Weger's picture

I love your ideas. What a great way to motivate students. I wish schools around me gave the students more authentic opportunities. If we're prepping our students to be successful outside the classroom then we should give them opportunities that reflect the kinds of things they'll face.

Greg Reiva's picture
Greg Reiva
High School Science Teacher

With the2013-2014 school year in full throttle I have been successful in getting the "mothership" of Project-Based Learning (PBL) off the ground in my high school science classroom.

For weeks, months and years I have been working to establish a project-based format in my physical science classes that effectively contribute to the development of a learning environment producing critical thinkers and problem solvers!

The Earth Stewardship Project presents the driving question to all the 2013-2014 newcomers to the world of physical science. What is the most effective means to maximize the production of both organic fertilizers and the harvesting of organic plants in the science classroom? The question simultaneously presents itself as both a challenge to produce quantities of substances in the classroom, while at the same time begs for understanding the chemical and physical nature of these substances.

Students are using what they know, and learn to enhance the quality and quantity of harvested organic plants like basil, lettuce and chives with the aid of homegrown vermicompost organic fertilizers. Student involvement in the project is a very natural reflection of a stewardship attitude toward our environment.

By utilizing the resources of grants, I have designed a curriculum reflecting a new learning model of a 21st century classroom. The goal is to meet common core standards, while achieving learning outcomes of critical thinking and competent articulated decision-making.

Beginning second quarter students, working in teams, will produce experimental designs that increase understanding of the production of vermicompost and the growth of organic crops. Becoming experts in the chemistry of these naturally produced substances will help students to link discoveries to real-world understanding and problem-solving.

Some of the outcomes associated with this learning model are increases in student intrinsic motivation to learn science, documentation of scientific results and the articulation of their findings through multiple means of presentation. Students take ownership of their scientific investigations and defend their conclusions with evidence derived from their own experimental designs.

Jerry Tuttle's picture

To bring authenticity to the classroom, why not invite into your classroom local professionals who earn their living in your subject matter? English teachers - invite professional writers. Foreign language teachers - invite translators. Math teachers - invite actuaries. These professionals from your own community might come if you invited them, but how often are they invited?

Jerry Tuttle
onlinecollegemathteacher.blogspot.com

Lessia Bonn's picture
Lessia Bonn
co-founder I am Bullyproof Music
Blogger

I LOVE this!
When I was in high school, there was a class lovingly known as "Advanced Hippie." One had to know the teacher to get in and we were way too young to be real hippies, but the name was rather appropriate.

Every afternoon for two periods, we either went out into the world as a class and observed real life situations or a speaker was brought to our class who could share an interesting viewpoint and life experience. In a nutshell; we learned about the world. Everyone got an A for 2 English classes and the only assignment was, if we liked, we could write something. Monday was "share what you're written" day.

It changed my life. I know it sounds almost wild, but it wasn't. We all became people who cared and contribute to the world in a thoughtful way.

When I write songs for kids, I quite often I make the first verse personal-- all about the singer's dilemma. I then make the second verse universal on that same theme. It's my way of showing kids that their life is just part of a very big universe we are all connected to.

I hope many people read what you've written here. (I plan to pin and tweet you!) I hope many teachers follow your lead.

Mitch Augenstein's picture

As a college student, I'm continuing my education to prepare for my future career as a teacher. As a part of my Process and Teaching of Writing class, we've been encouraged to join communities of practice within our own field, and I am blown away at the amount of beneficial advice you've given to your viewers. As an upcoming teacher, it's important to stay relative to trends within education, but it's even more critical to meet the needs of my students, and your posts (especially this one) helps out with that exactly. Throughout many of my high school and even college courses, I never had the opportunity to take my learning into authentic realms, but I think it's genius. Not only are the students learning material to match CC standards, but they're able to use that information for years to come; they can truly apply what they've learned -- gone are the days of test regurgitation.

John Hamerlinck's picture
John Hamerlinck
Minnesota Campus Compact

I disagree that needs assessment brings authenticity to a classroom. By reinforcing the idea that communities are needy, your engagement with the community might just perpetuate myths and biases about the poor and oppressed. The educated and privileged will save or fix the needy, right. Needs assessment promoted a charity orientation rather that one of community-building and empowerment.

Why not focus on mapping the assets of the community. Support your students in efforts to mobilize the skills and talents of community members. Build relationships and lock arms with community members with the goal empowering them as agents of change.

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