The Elements of Authentic Learning by Steve Revington
Elements that are required to create an authentic learning event.
Authentic learning is the research, processes, resources, networking and culminating skills a learner needs to attain a genuine, successful outcome. The outcome must have relevance and be tangible. It also must reach out to the community in some way. Here is a list of tried and true elements that are needed when delivering successful authentic learning units or events.
1. A tangible product. The goal is to produce a tangible product/outcome that can be shared with the world. It can be an original cookie created and marketed to a community or a public garden.
2. Clearly defined community audience. It is very important to identify what the product and event are targeted for. To undertand the intended audience's interest provides vital information to plan effectively. For example, in performing a successful, school theatrical production a target market of parents, relatives and community is understood and planned for. Language and script content needs to be appropriate and the target market is the immediate community.
Before any authentic learning event can be started ground work is needed. Be sure that your product pitch or presentation is valid and that you and your students understand your outcomes intended market. Be sure that your administration, teaching colleagues involved, custodial staff and parents are all aboard and that your scheduling times and resources are available. It's also recommended to get volunteer help and professional advice from your community to better understand your target audience. Your school is a community, your county is a community and so is your state/province. Whether it's contacting experts directly connected to your event or people who have the connections, teachers need to recruit, delegate and consult. Hey, that's what's done in the real world! For each authentic event, you will need to build your own reliable and skilled community. In marketig you'd call it your target audience.
3. Design-back planning.Once the product, purpose and audience have been clearly established, a list of specific skill sets, support information, curriculum connections, learning processes, human and material resources need to be outlined by the instructor(s) and students to create a working map for success. They also will require a reasonable, successful timeline. The more the students have input, the more ownership they'll have. That's a good thing! The older and more experienced the students are, the more freedom you will have in delegating and recieving input.
4. A well defined criteria. The criteria must include quality expectations and be specifically aligned to the audience it is intended for. When it's relevant learning, with a tangible product to be shared, then quality research, consultation must be sought to achieve your successful criteria. Some educators call it scaffolding but in my experience real skill development resembles spirals rather than rigid steps. Make it understood that from conception to completion the criteria may need to be revisited as greater understanding is consolidated. The more researched, authentically based, clear and precise the criteria is, the better the outcome will be. Be sure to share your criteria (success criteria) in a variety of ways. I've made them available on chart paper, white board, chalkboard, crib notes, online class web sites, emails and Smartbaords to name a few. Provide criteria that is age appropriate and time sensitive. By revisiting the criteria regularly it helps provide students with the sense the team is working on a living, breathing initiative. Edits, clarification, add ons all help to define team success and hone quality performances.
5. Role Playing & Authentic Settings. I can't stress enough the importance of this element. Young children love role playing as we see them engaged in roles as soon as they can walk, talk and interact. Firemen, nurses, police personnel, scientists, construction workers ... it's like a form of heightened creativity when they get to be someone else allowing themselves to be fully immersed in the journey. When doing the "Egg Drop Project" my junior grade students become scientists and engineers. As an example, I found that their focus, motivation and productivity increased dramatically when they wore lab coats and clip on project clearance badges. Don't think that role playing is a child's activity. It doesn't matter the age as most humans love the feeling of belonging and playing out roles. Putting on a chef cap and apron when baking or a name plate on your desk; that sense of belonging can also help create an atmosphere of higher focus and discipline.
I have observed two perspectives of role playing in an authentic learning model. A) the kind of role playing I've just described - enacting job roles B) role playing as in taking on a role of position within a team. When doing similuations such as a tower building challenge, I ask students to decide on what positions they'd like to assume for that event. As an example I may suggest 1) foreman 2) accountant 3) delivery rep. 4) group rep. Each has a specific job description and they will discuss and elect which of the group members would be best for the group's success.
Also, consider creating authentic settings as part of your student's Role Playing. Creating learning environments that reflect and magnify the roles you're establishing are extremely useful. It separates the talk from the walk and provides an exciting working atmosphere that sends a strong message that you're building something together that's real and meaningful. Students who have difficulty connecting to regular content-driven learning will tend to start making connections and those who didn't will be even more motivated.
I realize that education spans a lot of ages, but role adoption is an often overlooked element, especially with older students. It can activate and actualize learning while immersing students in environments that nurture their skill sets. The absence of role playing opportunities is also reflective of a traditional education mind set. Remember, the closer to real a learning experience is, the more potent that learning experience will be.
6. Integrated Subjects. As in real life situations, most undertakings are not subject specific. A musical band doesn't just make music. There are many skills and disciplines involved in a band performing a successful concert. There's bookings, marketing, advertising, stage cues, budgeting, graphics, lighting, sound mixing, contracts and promotion to consider before the band can perform. Addressing subject specific skills is important, like rehearsing and arranging, but integrating other skills is paramount. When planning for authentic learning events your subject timetable goes out the window. As most school systems are still heavily structured into a "subject to period" model and curriculum guidelines need to be adhered to, educators will need to identify curriculum skills being incorporated. Most curricula are developmentally based, so incorporating expectations into an authentic learning event is doable. Extract and deliver curriculum expectations from your board's curriculum that strategically align with attaining the skills needed by your students to achieve success in your authentic event. Reading, maths, social studies, technology, art, music, drama, health, physical education, science and even the languages will be present in your authentic learning (AL) event. The curriculum is really full of subject integrating opportunities.
7. Blended Scheduling. Once you've established your curriculum connections and have all subject areas represented, trust it. No longer will Social Studies happen at 2:15 pm after recess, Social Studies is being sufficiently implemented as your authentic learning event is unfolding. Trust your planning! This may be the hardest thing a teacher has to get used to when their authentic learning unit is in full swing. Consult with your administration and colleagues to create large blocks of time that will allow for creativity and deeper focus to flourish. Remember, starting and stopping is what a river does just before it dries up. By blending your scheduling you're maintaining a flow and time is your most valued asset.
8. Collaboration - Team Based Approach. No great thing was ever accomplished without a team. Let your students know this. Authentic learning events are excellent opportunities to develop team skills and you'll need those skills to move forward. The idea of the single genius is mostly a myth. I love to include this dimension when starting on great projects and authentic learning initiatives. Share stories about Thomas Edison's Menlo Park or the development of the game of Monopoly to better understand this.
Partnerships, small and large group activities can flourish in authentic learning environments. The real work is preparing them for the challenge ahead with lots of opportunities to participate in team-based simulation games. Implementing team building activities are extremely helpful in developing social interaction skills and introducing cooperative concepts that will be required. Team building should not be seen as an isolated activity, rather an ongoing culminating skill activity over time. Move from simple to complex team building activities as you move towards your authentic event. Attain skills - maintain skills - sustain skills! The best running cars are the ones that are regularly tune-up.No difference with team skills.
9. Personalized Experience. The more personal input the students have, the more ownership they'll have. Within the development of an authentic learning event and a team approach educators need to provide open ended opportunities to allow students to explore their personal interests and creativity. Even though the student may be part of the bigger team, it is important that their uniqueness be honoured. Even if their partner(s) are working on the same product their experiences and perceptions may be quite different. Give the students opportunities to share what they may have done differently if they were working on a project on their own. I'll provide post-project modification opportunities to assess the synthesizing of knowledge and skills a student developed over the event period. Maintaining student portfolios that include curriculum based work sheets, self reflections, team assessments, individual research, sketches, photos, creative writings, collected articles and personal notes all support the personalized experience. I also encourage enrichment extensions to any student who would like to pursue a personal interest related to their work once their core work has been completed.
The Living Museum concept is such a terrific opportunity to develop a team based goal and provide an amazing personalized experience. There is a plan to create a medieval atmosphere in our room, the halls, class room entrance and our class web site. In brainstorming sessions we get their ideas out, weigh their viability and revisit the ideas again before the final design reveal. To do their part at the market, students prepare to be trades person with authentic personas. They need a medieval trade, trade sir name, costume, family lineage, a market stall and a tangible product or tool that they will display and be working on for open house day. Every student creates their own story. Students seeking a higher level pursuit may take their blacksmith character to greater authentic depths by visiting and working with a real, local farrier (horse blacksmith) to create a product. What they create and display at the Living Market Museum will be the real thing and it will be proudly their own unique experience.
10. Portfolios. Portfolios are a collection of papers and artifacts of learning that support student research, record ideas, drafts, contacts, consultation notes, lists, diagrams, work sheets, reflection notes, articles, dimensions and even budgets. It is here that integrated subject work sheets are placed. They are essential in the work place just as any designer or executive would have them. If time allowed, I'd spiral bind student portfolio into a published version for sharing. I found that the students loved them when presented in a "real world" style format! At times, I'd partner with my librarians to bar code and place published student work in the school library. It peaked the interests of other students and teachers and also provided a quality model of finished school work.
11. Master Consultation. Once an authentic outcome has been identified and after the design-back planning of the skills and resources have been decided upon, connecting to experts in the community who can provide quality input is essential. The sum of all the quality skills, expert consultations, quality resources, workmanship and planning that goes into making the product is always equal to the success of that product. And remember, it's not authentic unless your students are directly interacting with the real world. This becomes the litmus test of whether its' authentic learning or not. Many teachers believe they are doing an authentic learning task just because they are referring to a real world scenario. Either the community comes in to share your student's product or they go out to the community to share their product. Tasks in real world scenarios require presentations or direct interaction with a community. No successful pursuit can be achieved unless thorough expert consultation, networking, quality resources and skill development have been acquired. Please see the "Tale of Two Lyres" post on the main page to see an example of this.
12. Professional Development. As the teacher's role becomes less as a content dispenser (the sage on the stage) and more of a event coordinator, consultant or facilitator, it is very important to be open to professional development opportunities. The teacher isn't expected to be the expert and rightly so. An authentic learning initiative will take an educator on a journey they will never forget also. If, as an educator, you feel that by learning a new software, connecting your learners to a pertinent App, learning a new skill that is directly connected to your authentic initiative event, then there will be numerous benefits. When you're learning for the benefit of your students, they will pick that up immediately. You are modelling positive, life-long learning and they and your school community will benefit. I needed to learn a new video editing program so that my students' project video could be shared. It's not always board of education related but its' immediate impact was made when my students work could be shared. It's also relevant professional development that can be transferred to other learning initiatives down the road.
You may feel that you're out of your comfort zone when planning an authentic learning event. Good, then you're really a life long learner. You have two options if you feel like you don't have the expertise to pull it off. First, is to take instruction in the area of expertise you'll need for your event to succeed or network and connect with someone who already has the skills. This may be a guest instructor or a class visit to an actual business where students can learn a specific skill. It may even take several guest speakers and several field trips to consolidate skills. Don't forget that your students come from a resource rich community, parents are great resources and there will be many on your school staff that have unique talents too.
I'm a strong advocate for all educators to go outside the education system to learn new skills and processes. I wish our educational systems would recognize that learning a non-board initiated skill is a very valuable choice as it's a skill from a primary professional source. If we're trying to be true to an authentic model of learning, then we have to lead by example. We have to be the life long learners we talk about to be able to inspire our future life long learners. It's walking the talk!
Many professional development sessions (PD sessions) provide ways to deliver more content, provide classroom based activities and interpret statistical data on large groupings of students. It's the meaningful adventures, however, of learning a new skills, a craft, a useful software or hardware outside the system that will have a lasting professional impact. We have to become successfully integrated with our communities to maintain our genuine understanding of what's going on in the real world and to properly prepare students for the real world. It's also a very positive goodwill gesture to show interest in the community. Remeber, the community today can be a national and global community. By connecting on 'FaceTime', 'Skype' or Google's 'Hang Out' for example, the world got a lot smaller and with proper preparation the professional development that's out there has never been so vast and accessible.
Checklist of Elements to Create An Authentic Learning Event