The ongoing education pedagogy makes it essential to prepare students for the real world.
To do this, educators need to create problem- and project-based learning assignments, encourage students to work collaboratively, develop engaging lessons, and produce a myriad of learning opportunities and assessments. Whether we talk about project-based learning, research-based learning, or other common methods, we talk about students' authentic learning experience. For students to know the real world, educators must provide authentic learning experiences; they should introduce leaner to the real world by giving authentic learning examples, introduce authentic learning activities to practice and more. While this is usually the least supported or publicized approach, building community partnerships in schools can improve the quality and, most importantly, the authenticity of a child's learning. These partnerships build on a true understanding of the cultural, socio-economic, health, social and recreational needs of school families and the local community.
What is Authentic Learning?
Authentic learning has a plethora of definitions, but what it bubbles down to is turning what your students are learning meaningful by engaging them in relevant and real-world learning, i.e. providing an authentic learning experience. However, the most accepted and official definition would be (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 1999): Authentic learning is an instructional approach that places students at the heart of real-life experiences. Armed with a challenge, task or content to explore, students acquire academic and problem-solving skills in a context relevant to the learner.
This methodology is the learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; the experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Children work to produce discourses, products and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is a "hands-on learning approach".
It was once said that 'education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten' (New methods and new aims in teaching, 1964). Experiences that do not encourage the children to make meaning from their learning will quickly be forgotten. Any learning experience should aim to instil authenticity into every task, lesson and unit to ensure that 'students are [able] to develop problem-solving skills and confidence in their learning abilities' (Nicaise, Gibney and Crane, 2000). Only with this confidence can children then use the skills and knowledge gained beyond the classroom walls.
It is found that students learn best when they are actively engaged in something that interests them, and authentic learning can do so. It can take many shapes—project based-learning, community connections, and experiential learning opportunities, to name a few. The point is that it is student-focused and can be implemented in the real world.
Four Themes of Authentic Learning
Though authentic learning can vary in its approach, SUNY researcher Aubrey Rule has identified four themes common among the different definitions:
- The activity involves real-world problems similar to the work of professionals and includes the presentation of findings.
- Projects include open-ended inquiry, development of thinking skills, and metacognition.
- Students engage in discourse as part of the learning and social learning in a community format.
- Students direct their learning through choice in the scope of the project.
How to instill authentic learning opportunities in the literacy classroom?
Match your standards with the real world
Start with the learning norm/objective of the lesson. Brainstorm on most links to real-world concepts. Pen down whatever comes to mind–when learning based on real-world experience, there are no bad answers at all. You can do this with your colleagues to share and expand on each other's ideas. You can bring this idea/happening/person/etc. into your lesson.
Create real audience
Students often produce work for their teacher in order to obtain a mark. What about changing this? Reflect on how students can demonstrate mastery by creating something for a true audience. This could include a class of younger students in school, a community organization, a group of teachers, an industry expert, etc. Students will be more motivated to produce high-quality work where it has an authentic purpose for a real audience.
Bring in experts
If introduced to new things, students are often curious to try them at the earliest. So, if they ask, bring in an expert who can show them "how to do." These outside experts can help launch a unit by creating buy-in, provide specialized feedback on student work, or serve as an authentic audience for student presentations. You can connect these with industry experts through live scheduled chats and personalized presentations.
Incorporate student choice and ownership
As adults, we all make several choices most times a day. However, students in our classrooms might not often get a voice in what and how they are learning. Give students the opportunity to decide how they would like to learn something and demonstrate their comprehension. These choices do not have to be completely open, but offering a few options allows students to support their learning choices.
Include the essential skills
You should integrate activities and questions that help develop future-ready and essential skills, such as problem-solving, oral communication, adaptability and teamwork. Furthermore, the skills required for students to succeed in school, work and life should also be recognized and applied in the classroom.
Also, it is likely to hear, "my students cannot work in-group" or "my students are not so creative, they do not know how to think creatively." Rather than making excuses, we must teach these skills and provide opportunities for students to practice and grow. If you need ideas on how to do that, you will find ideas to build critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.
It is also highly recommended to incorporate teaching time and literacy by practising reading times in different contexts and everyday resources, such as Movie listings, Bus schedules, hours of operation, event timetables (e.g. Field Day, a community festival). To turn this into a fully authentic experience, let your students plan an outing nearby, if possible, during a lockdown or an online meet and make a schedule of activities utilizing multiple resources from the list.
This may seem unusual, but reading recipes while making food that goes with a story or topic during the learning schedule is extremely effective. This will help students connect to foods mentioned in a story and allow them to practice reading and math skills in preparing recipes.
Use the ongoing event whenever possible in class. Connect classical literature with popular culture, have students study current issues, and incorporate hobbies and other things that students enjoy outside of school in the classroom. Consider assigning a character analysis and getting students to create something that reflects both (i.e. represents character's personality and values) and relevant, such as a social media profile or entry in a newspaper.
Whether you or your students create podcasts or choose another medium, you may need a place to showcase your hard work. Through online publishing experiences, your students would be able to incorporate media such as videos, presentations, and audio essential for today's young learners. You may like using platforms like Edublogs, Kidblog, and Google Sites to publish your students work. These provide unique solutions for students to publish their work quickly and without any hassle. Besides these, you may try more sophisticated platforms like WordPress, SquareSpace, and Wix. These are all professional-quality platforms.
Last but not the least, out of all the authentic skills we can teach our students, probably the most important and often ignored is the skill of digital citizenship. As per the DigCit Summits, digital citizenship means teaching learners the "safe, savvy & ethical use of social media and technology." This can be briefed as simple as explaining how to comment on each other's social media profiles, Google Docs, or participating in online discussions on any digital portal or social media sites. By teaching students how to focus their comments on the positive sides rather than simply pointing out the negativities, we can then start to showcase the skills and talents (mostly hidden) of the most digitally creative students as well as those who have just begun learning the technologies.
Do you have any additional suggestions, strategies or resources that you find valuable for students? If yes, please take a moment and share them in the comment section below.