Choice in learning also motivates students to engage in the classroom. When teachers
simply pass on information, students do not have as great of a chance to connect personally with
the knowledge, with each other, with the teacher, and with the real world (Kalantzis & Cope,
2004). Choice allows students to self-regulate, to make goals, to make a plan, to make a
commitment, and then to reflect on what they have done. When given choices, students feel a
sense of control in their own learning.
Self-efficacy allows the students to take on a task and to believe that they can do the task.
Teachers then have the responsibility of giving feedback to their students in order to raise the
students’ self-efficacy, to guide them in their learning process while allowing them to use trial
and error (Beesley et al, 2010). Teachers motivate students by creating student-directed learning
balanced well with the teacher as coach and facilitator in the classroom.
Critical thinking and problem solving also motivate students. If a teacher stands in front
of a classroom of students who are disengaged from what she is teaching, little hope remains that
any deep learning and critical thinking skills are taking place. A teacher needs to create a
classroom in which disengagement is not an option, where learning demands the students’ full
attention, where what happens in the class creates the challenge and rigor most students
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !4
ultimately crave (Kalantzis & Cope, 2004). When students are engaged both cognitively and
behaviorally, students’ effort and concentration are high. Students choose tasks that challenge
and initiate action. Without motivation to engage in critical thinking, students become passive,
defensive, and bored. They give up easily (Beesley et al, 2010).
Further, being a community of learners motivates students. Cooperative learning results
in higher achievement than competitive or individual learning does (Beesley et al, 2010).
Working in community leads to students who are more willing to take on difficult tasks that
involve higher-level reasoning, more creativity, positive attitudes, more time spent on task,
higher motivation and thus higher satisfaction (Beesley et al, 2010). Students feel connected in
caring, supportive classrooms (Fredricks & McColskey, 2012).
According to Kalantzis and Cope (2004), “learning happens by design” (p. 39).
Classroom motivation happens when students are “psychologically engaged, active participants
in school, who also value and enjoy the experiences of learning at school” (Quin, 2016, p. 345).
By designing a classroom setting in which students are involved in real world problems with an
authentic audience, in the need for deeper critical thinking skills, and in defining the problem and
the direction for the solution (Rule, 2006), teachers develop motivated students who recognize
the “intrinsic fulfillment of meaningful work” (Romano, 2009 p. 36). These students become
equipped with the skills and attitudes to be successful after their formal education is completed.
Authentic learning experiences (ALE’s) are the “learning by design” (Kalantzis & Cope,
2004) students need to develop the motivation to engage them in the classroom. When they
understand meaning behind learning, they become engaged. Instead of giving students a math
equation to figure out, the teacher can ask them how much it is going to cost for the school to
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !5
pave the entire parking lot. Instead of having them write a fake letter in order to learn proper
letter formatting, they can write a letter to a family member or friend about the last book they
read. Instead of researching a recent war, they can interview a war veteran for firsthand
information. Instead of studying various websites to understand how they are made, students can
work directly with local businesses to create websites for the business’s actual use (O’Hanlon,
2008). Teachers then give their students meaning in their classroom work and the rigor that
students ultimately want (Romano, 2009). Students want to be challenged with high
expectations for achievement, knowing that their teacher does in fact believe they all can achieve
success (Varuzza, Eschenauer, & Blake, 2014; Vetter, 2010). The teacher needs to help the
students feel they are competent to accomplish real world work (Vetter, 2010). With clear
expectations, time to delve into the work, and freedom to explore, students find motivation to
learn (Lawrence & Harrison, 2009). They find that intrinsic value in what they learn, as well as
the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in a job well done (Romano, 2009). The teacher
becomes the facilitator rather than the director (Vetter, 2010). Teachers no longer stand at the
front of the room lecturing; rather, they coach their students through the learning process.
Teachers can guide students to this kind of learning through ALE’s.
Purpose of the Study
Authentic learning experiences have the power to pull students to that “intrinsic value of
meaningful work.” Students will have work that allows them to interact, to take ownership of
their learning, and to work outside the classroom (Varuzza et al., 2014). This study sought to
answer the question: Do authentic learning experiences in secondary English classrooms lead to
“the intrinsic fulfillment” of secondary students? In other words, do authentic learning
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !6
experiences lead to greater levels of motivation thus leading to greater engagement as students
realize the importance of the work they are doing for their future lives?
For the purpose of this study, the following definitions will be used. Unless otherwise
noted, the definitions are those of the author.
Authentic Learning Experiences: classroom activities with a real world/real audience focus that
incorporate critical thinking skills, that center around a community of learners, and that are
student-directed rather than teacher-directed.
Motivation: direction and energy in a student’s behavior that empowers them to take on a
challenge, to do quality work, and to persist until they have accomplished a meaningful goal
(Beesley et al, 2010, Fredricks & McColskey, 2012).
Engagement: cognitive or behavioral action that results from a high level of motivation and
leads to strong effort, concentration, enthusiasm, and curiosity (Beesley et al, 2010).
Real World Experiences: classroom activities that tie directly to situations that happen in the
world outside the classroom that students may encounter in their daily life now or in the future.
Real World Audience: an audience for classroom work other than the teacher, such as parents,
school community, public audience beyond the school, anyone capable of critiquing student
work, and recipients of service done by the students (Wagner, 2017).
Critical thinking skills: ability to think clearly and rationally, to engage in reflection, to
synthesize and analyze, and to think independently, creatively, and with vision.
Community of Learners: multiple students or the class as a whole engaged together in the
learning process, working collaboratively rather than in competition.
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !7
Student-directed learning: students taking responsibility and ownership in their learning while
the teacher becomes more of a facilitator and coach.
Intrinsic value of meaningful work: when students feels personal satisfaction, enjoyment,
curiosity, and focus in the activity itself, not from an outside force.
Because of our changing work force, our global economy, and the changing skills
required of our graduated students, authentic learning experiences have become essential for our
students. We need students to step out of the classroom ready to problem-solve, to find
solutions, to think critically and analytically, to collaborate, to communicate effectively, and to
be ethical and accountable in the workforce. To be successful in their future, they need authentic
learning experiences now to get them actively involved in their learning so that what they gain
from their education is the “intrinsic fulfillment of meaningful work” which will “develop a
productive, tenacious attitude toward such work” that they can “take . . .with them throughout
their lives” (Romano, 2009, p. 30).
Four Characteristics of an Authentic Learning Experience
When teachers plan for an authentic learning experience, four characteristics encompass
what makes those plans authentic. There must be a real world problem, use of inquiry and
critical thinking skills, a community of learners working together, and student choice in their
ALE’s use real world problems with impact outside of the classroom to motivate and
teach students (Rule, 2006). For example, an English teacher can connect her students with pen
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !8
pals from another country so that rather than writing letters only for the sake of learning the
format, they can learn the format while writing letters to these pen pals. Part of a real world
problem, as in this example, means a real world audience. Berger (2017) has implemented what
he calls the “hierarchy of audience.” According to Berger (2017), as the authenticity of the
audience increases, so does the motivation and engagement of the students. At the bottom of the
hierarchy is the audience of the teacher, followed by parents, the school community, a public
audience beyond the school, people capable of critiquing the students’ work, and at the top of
Berger’s hierarchy is authentic work done for service to the world (Wagner, 2017).
As a service in the outside world
People who can critique
Public Audience beyond the school Motivation and
School Community Engagement
Figure 1. Figure that shows the hierarchy of audience for whom students can present their work
in order to increase student motivation and engagement (Wagner, 2017).
By incorporating both real world and real need elements, students’ view of the world
broadens as the world is brought into the scope of their learning environment (Kalantzis &
AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !9
Use of inquiry and critical thinking skills is anoth