Making learning authentic has always challenged teachers. Reflecting on ways to do this in my own classroom, I often think back to my “sick day” movie as a kid, “Summer School” starring Mark Harmon. In it, a class of delinquent learners must take english during July and August with the PE teacher Mr. Schoop; back-doored into teaching over the summer, Mr. Schoop digs deep to find meaningful engaged for otherwise uninterested learners. In one lesson, facing apathy from the students for any type of writing, one student complains that his shades keep breaking. This hook (though I couldn’t find it on YouTube) gives students a REAL reason to write their letters of complaint: why do you, company X, keep making garbage products?
Herrington, Oliver & Reeves (2003) state that learning must have real world relevance. Connecting to curriculum, for example, gr. 5 science, students could each be responsible weekly for giving the class an update on the weather for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,and Friday. This could be done in a simple presentation at the start of class on Monday, with periodic checking in during homeroom throughout the week. What a more authentic way to learn compared to find a website with the weather for this week and write it down. By giving students a chance to offer some presentational flair combined with research skills, the task could easily become more engaging.
Why do students want authenticity? Basically, it is great practice. Facing a real challenge, with real information, students can gain confidence in skill building, knowledge acquisition, and if designed appropriately technology skills too.
When we ask teachers, like I have been asked before, to consider the best lesson they have ever taught, I have yet to hear an answer such as “that question section in the textbook”. Most often it is a creative activity or project that students WANT to share with others. Authenticity matters and in our digital world it is the hinge for student centered, meaningful learning.
Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Reeves, T. C. (2003). Patterns of engagement in authentic online learning environments.
Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(1), 59-71. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet19/herrington.