they worked on their project and one mentioned that he made sure to do a good job so he could
keep playing basketball.
Overview of the Study
This study looked at whether authentic learning experiences increased the motivation and
thus the engagement of students, leading to a higher intrinsic value for the students in the work
that they did. Eight randomly selected students were interviewed and all 57 students involved in
the ALE took the anonymous survey after they completed the ALE.
Summary of Findings
When combining the survey results with the results of the interviews, the attitudes of the
students toward what makes an authentic learning experience motivating emerged. The
interview results along with the survey results showed that having a real audience for which to
do real work, being able to use critical thinking skills, and working within a community of
learners motivated the students while doing the project. The students interviewed shared that
they felt that the newspaper project gave them feelings of satisfaction, accountability,
responsibility, and improvement of skills. Students’ positive comments about being able to direct
their own learning showed that they enjoyed being able to choose topics that connected with the
people that they knew and had interest in. Although they stated that because of their ability to
direct their learning they were able to get to know other people better and express themselves,
38% of those interviewed also commented that the grade remained an important motivator for
them in the doing well on the project. So rather than being motivated by an intrinsic value in the
work they did, these students needed the extrinsic reward of a grade to ensure higher quality of
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !31
work. This seemed to be reiterated in the survey through the low R-squared value of 15% for
Based on the results of this study, the researcher believes that creating authentic learning
experiences in the classroom is very beneficial to students in increasing higher critical thinking
skills, working well with others, taking responsibility in their own learning, and showing
students that the work they do has an audience and purpose outside of the classroom. Through
this project, the majority of the students involved remained motivated and engaged in their work
individually and as a team to put out their own issue of the newspaper.
Although the researcher suggests that authentic learning experiences do increase student
motivation and thus engagement in the task for intrinsic meaning, some students, for a number of
reasons, may still remain somewhat focused on working for a grade or other extrinsic rewards. A
well-designed ALE is essential for motivating and engaging all students, especially those who do
not enjoy school at all. Without a well-designed authentic learning experience, those students
who dislike school and who struggle academically will still resist engaging in the activity.
Motivational needs for all students include autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Fredricks &
McColskey, 2012). These students need clear connections to a purpose outside of the classroom
walls in order to find their intrinsic value in learning because they have completely lacked
connection to school in the past. Their connection to a purpose must allow these students to see
themselves fitting into the world outside of the school walls, so that they can begin to believe
that they can achieve. Then they will take up the challenge in the classroom and feel the
satisfaction of accomplishment in learning (Beesley et al, 2010). The researcher also suggests
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !32
ensuring that all students choose a topic with personal meaning in order to maintain the
motivation of student choice in their own learning. Unless students connect personally to their
topic, it will continue to remain nothing more than an assignment for their teacher. These
unmotivated students must be able to choose learning that matters to them outside of school.
Students need to understand that the framework of an ALE still stands within the context
of the school setting. Because some students have never found a true connection to school, this
researcher believes it is the teacher that needs to work closely with each student to help each
personally connect to the project. Unmotivated students need to be led to their intrinsic value at
a slower, more deliberate pace than other students who already feel the purpose of school in their
lives. When teachers provide opportunities for active involvement and give appropriate support
in problem solving (Shernoff et al, 2014), students feel a sense of commitment and belonging in
the classroom instead of passivity, boredom, or anxiety (Beesley et al, 2010).
The teacher must commit to act as a guide to all of the students in the classroom. The
researcher believes that having a strong community of learners can help pull these unmotivated
students into the project and into the intrinsic value of working as a team, but they must also
have a purpose within the community that fits their personality and gifts. If students believe they
won’t achieve well, they won’t take on challenges for fear of another failure (Beesley et al,
2010). As stated by Reeves (n.d), students “are more engaged and learn better when they are
challenged, exercise choice, feel significant, receive accurate and timely feedback, and know that
they are competent” (p. 10)
Students today need skills in communication, collaboration, researching, collecting,
analyzing, synthesizing and applying knowledge. This research study affirms that authentic
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !33
learning experiences do have the power to prepare our students for the world outside the
classroom walls as long as the design is well-thought out and the teacher walks intentionally
beside each student to guide them toward their intrinsic value in meaningful work.
Limitations of the Study
One limitation of this study was in the design of the authentic learning experience. While
the researcher incorporated each characteristic of an ALE into the newspaper project, not all
students found the real audience of the school’s student body motivating. Approximately 10% of
the students were not motivated by school or grades in general, so they did not find the audience
of the student body a strong enough motivator to increase their engagement or to make the work
Additionally, further research through multiple ALE’s throughout the school year would
have yielded more research results for this study. More research and data would give multiple
values of R-squared to be used to analyze the correlation of the four characteristics of an ALE to
the ALE as a whole more accurately.
Another limitation was the small sample of students in the study. This action research
took place with 57 students, 30 girls and 27 boys, in a small high school in the Midwest, the
majority from white, middle class families living in rural communities surrounding the high
school. With a larger, more diverse sample size of students, a broader range of data would have
been available to analyze for a more accurate regression lines using the R-squared values.
Finally, the bias of the teacher was a limitation. The researcher was closely tied to the
design and implementation of the project, to the students personally, and to this research study.
The researcher also gave the survey in her classroom as the teacher. These circumstances could
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !34
have led to bias in how the researcher carried out the study, how she interacted with her students
as both students and research participants, in how the students interacted with her as both teacher
and researcher, and in how the researcher perceived the results of the study.
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !35
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