“Authentic learning is an instructional approach that allows students to explore, discuss, and meaningfully construct concepts and relationships in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the learner.”
Great… so what does this mean and how can I make this work as a first year teacher figuring out how to survive? Well I have a few things that I have done in the last few months that have helped gain this authenticity in my classroom.
Is it easy, yes.
Is is time consuming, yes.
Is it worth it, YES!
The lesson to learn out of this post, if your students are engaged and the content is meaningful, ball is in your court for some awesome learning. Here are a few simple things I have started to incorporate to make this authenticity a reality for my students.
- Field Trips.
I decided at the beginning of the year I was going to bring as many people in, and take my kids as many places as possible to make their learning a relevant journey and ultimately a reality. My BIGGEST pet peeve is when students ask “why are we learning this” or “I am never going to need to know this” **insert whiny voice**. At which point I have historically done a few things: wanted to throw something/ rage quit, loose sleep over how I can engage students in their learning, and or cried. All of which options are not good options, but are mostly inevitable in experiencing the joys of junior high students.
A way that I have found works in helping with student engagement and authentic learning is by creating monthly field trips or small excursions that give students something to look forward to and may drive your lesson planning, units or assessments.
I realize this is not always feasible but if you can make it work… DO IT!
I took my students to the public library close to our school and it was an awesome way to incorporate so many outcomes in their English classes and bring the community into their learning. The great things about this type of field trip is that libraries most likely have teen or children programming that love to have classes to work with and its free! This field trip went so well that we are now able to schedule bi-monthly visits where students will be using the library for different tasks… its great!
Tip: center a research project, or book reading around these trips it gives direction for you and the librarians.
I also took my students on a ‘Ukrainian Day’ field trip around our city. Now these type of field trips definitely require more work but are still (in my opinion) crucial to authentic learning. Since I teach Ukrainian, the second language engagement in the culture segment of the second language learning fits as a crucial part of the student understanding why we use the language and how to use it. I took advantage of the whole day and went to Ukrainian Holdomor monuments in our down town, a Ukrainian Church, a store that sells Ukrainian goods where they could use the language to interact with the store owners, and an immigration museum exhibit which tied into our unit of study. It was a whirlwind day… but it rocked and students LOVED it.
Some tips: Pair up with other classes if possible, that way you are splitting the planning work, and you are able to have another teacher there with you. Take the day to do any many things as possible! If we only went to the museum students would not have found it as authentic. Use your devices (phones, iPads, tablets etc.) to take photos or the whole day to be used for projects later on!
2. Worldwide Learning: Pen Pal Schools
Traveling and experiencing new culture and traditions is something I value as a teacher. Bringing this worldly understanding to my classroom was something I decided in University was a ‘thing’ that was going to happen in my students’ learning.
Once again I was faced with the HOW. In second language learning this seemed easier. You are learning about a different culture and way of life as you are learning the language and how to use this. As an English and Social Studies teacher I knew that it would be easy for my students to learn about the cultures but I wanted them to be able to gain empathy towards it in an authentic way. THEN I found Pen Pal Schools.
It is an online platform that connects over 100,000 students in 168 countries to learn together. PenPals ages 9 and up collaborate through high-quality online courses to discover other cultures and learn about global challenges while practicing essential reading and writing skills. Weekly lessons are going to be completed at any time from any device the students have. This was life changing for my grade 8 students.
It was easy to set up and made the current events and history classes I was teaching them about so much more of a reality in my classroom. If you are able to implement something like this… do it!
3. Tap into your Community, Parents and other Staff!
I decided that in order for my students to be invested in their learning, they need a support team to not only make their learning authentic but ensure that they know they are not alone in the journey.
Tip: It takes a village.
In figuring out how that was going to happen I tapped into a school resource we have called the keys program. Keys is To Empowering Youth to Succeed (KEYS) operates with the understanding that Wellness is for everyone and is essentially a mental health project for our district. As an attempt to understand global and societal awareness, I worked with the keys program to create an ‘Amazing Strengths’ challenge around our school (an Amazing Race challenge essentially). This challenge involved different members of the community in the form of police officers, staff around our school, and their parents where they had to complete different challenges in order to complete the race.This could easily be organized with a school councilor or just on your own as well.
The race went great because we had so much support and organization for students to be successful. Students were put into different teams based on their strengths found in the Character Surveys and were able to shine in different challenges.
Having so many outlets of support makes a HUGE difference and allows for those more authentic activities.
I hope I helped a little, I know its a lot but I feel like I have 50 tabs of information open in my brain…;) Let me know your tips and tricks of authentic learning! Help a sista out!