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AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !30

they worked on their project and one mentioned that he made sure to do a good job so he could

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keep playing basketball.

Discussion

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

Student Choice.

Recommendations

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

personally meaningful.

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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