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

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Excellent Andrew! And so very true. My students feel so much more engaged when the work and the learning, completely interwoven, actually have a real life purpose! This can be a hard task in a French class when there are only a few native speakers in the community around us, but even when we interact with francophone audiences in Martinique, Haiti, France, Senegal or Canada, it still is more meaningful than the same old routines. Last week, my beginners wrote letters to their epals in the Caribbean, and they we so excited, engaged, and enthusiastic because the task was authentic! We will be corresponding more over the school year, sharing our lives through pictures, videos, and Facetime when we can. I wonder what creative ways others are making opportunities for real life connections? I will look forward to reading the replies that follow in this thread!

Best wishes,

Dana's picture

This is so true! In my classroom I have seniors that tend to be lazy at times so I am constantly relating to real world in my lessons to make them understand why they need to know the concepts that I am teaching. The more I bring in what they are doing outside of school the more they are engaged in the lessons.

CDambrosio's picture
Teacher in Menlo Park

Thank you Andrew for an excellent application of how educational environments and classrooms are being transformed into labs, innovative and driven towards needs-based solutions. My school is offering a free workshop on 10/12 where teachers collaborate to create "great learning" and take away real tools to use in their own settings. Project-Based and Constructivist methodologies fusing EQ with IQ.

George Viebranz's picture

Nearly 20 years ago, we had our middle school students plan to host a U.S. Naturalization Ceremony to coincide with the opening of our new Auditorium in May. The project took the entire year. Students were the planners and laborers. Teachers were the adult advisors, guides, and sounding boards.
At the end, the students did a HYPERCARD (Old School - like grandfather of PowerPoint) presentation of American images under audio of Neil Diamond's "Coming to America", followed by a scroll of the names of our fifty-three new citizens. Families, government officials, and audience members were in tears of joy and awed by what kids can do when you just take the lid off and support them..

Andrew Miller's picture
Andrew Miller
Educational Consultant and Online Educator

I just gotta say, all these ideas are great! Please keep them coming!

Lindley Callaway's picture
Lindley Callaway
5th grade teacher from Georgia

Hi Andrew. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog! I am currently a fifth grade teacher, but I feel that your ideas will be valuable to me in keeping my students engaged by relating our topics to real world situations. Have you noticed a significant difference in discipline referrals since you began using this tactic? I am struggling with this issue in my school; therefor I truly hope that these new ideas and strategies help to make a difference. Again, excellent blog! I found it to be truly inspiring!

Andrew Miller's picture
Andrew Miller
Educational Consultant and Online Educator

Lindley, yes I have seen a decrease in referrals! Why? Students are engaged! The more authentic the work, the more students are engaged. Of course there will always be discipline issues, but this sure helps!

Chelsie's picture
3rd grade teacher

Andrew, what a great post. Authentic learning truly is the best way to engage students. I love seeing their faces light up when they realize what they are doing is purposeful. Authentic learning has been a important topic in my district. These resources will help to implement even more engaging and authentic learning into my classroom.

Seth Munoz's picture
Seth Munoz
8th Grade social studies teacher

Thanks for your post. I love the idea of an authentic audience. I also appreciate the link to authentic assessments.

Gayleen Gudgel's picture
Gayleen Gudgel
Eighth grade ELA teacher in Central California

Thank you Andrew for your post and your links. As I've begun to implement authentic assessments this year, I have found my students to be extremely engaged. When I give an assignment now, they'll ask, "Is a real person going to see this, or just you?" I love it!

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