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 Teachers can lead their students to

notice vocabulary or themes or conflicts they have found in their everyday reading that trigger

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Teachers can lead their students to notice vocabulary or themes or conflicts they have found in their everyday reading that trigger authentic conversations such as the one these students had regarding the Constitution
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authentic conversations such as the one these students had regarding the Constitution. These

conversations can then lead to a heightened awareness of what makes good writing (Speaker &

Speaker, 1991) as well as heightened awareness of the needs of others (More Than You, n.d.).

An authentic learning experience can then find a fertile place to grown.

 

 

AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !17

Another example of authentic reading is in the Reading Workshop format. Students

connect with books because they have choice in what they read, they learn to read critically

through mini-lessons and use of mentor texts by the teacher, they use their community in the

classroom to share about their books, and reading becomes more real world because students are

no longer being forced to read one certain book. They become the directors of what they get to

read, hopefully also as lifelong readers well after graduation day (Brunow, n.d.). Reading leads

students to critical thinking, interaction, and self-confidence–important life skills needed in the

real world.

Researching in an authentic context allows students to have choice in order to develop

ownership toward their work. Students feel that ownership as they direct their own learning with

the guidance of their teacher. The students in inner city Chicago took ownership of their learning

by addressing a need that they were personally connected to in their neighborhood. Their

research moved from a textbook on the American Constitution to interviews and personal

experience with people of their community (More Than You, n.d.). Instead of using a magazine

article as research to satisfy a requirement for a research paper, students realized that the deepest

research comes from face-to-face contact, telephone interviews, or travel to historical sites for

hands-on research. Learning becomes personal as the students become authorities and confident

experts (Powers, 2009). No longer is researching necessary only for a paper for their teacher;

researching becomes a part of discovery, teamwork, and critically thinking towards a solution to

a real world problem for a real audience.

Writing becomes authentic when it is done for an authentic audience with a real need and

a real purpose that leads students to an intrinsic need to use precise wording, details, revisions

 

 

AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !18

and proofreading (Powers, 2009). In one teacher’s classroom, the teacher created an authentic

writing experience when her students took their study of Benjamin Franklin’s aphorisms in Poor

Richard’s Almanac and each wrote a children’s book. The students used one of the aphorisms as

a basis for their book, explaining it in the form of a digital story for local kindergarteners. The

real audience gave the students a real need to critically analyze the aphorism of their choice and

to write about it in a way that the kindergarteners would be able to understand (Sztabnik, 2015).

In another example of authentic writing, a teacher had his students research writing

contests, choose one, read and understand the manuscript guidelines for submission, adapt one of

their own pieces of writing to the contest, and submit it to the contest they had found. The

students then learned to use proper MLA citation for their own piece in order to include it in a

resume. Many of his students became published writers from this authentic learning experience

(Sztabnik, 2015).

Authentic writing also happens when students write about their personal passions in order

to share with the school community as a whole or students write a script for a public service

announcement that they turn into a video (Sztabnik, 2015). Students understand the need to be

effective and responsible communicators when what they write is for an audience outside of their

classroom walls. They see the meaningful value of writing as the prerequisite to becoming

active members of the world outside of their classroom walls.

In all of these examples, students find themselves a part of a real world problem or

working for a real audience. They are defining a problem or asking a question, searching for

solutions or designing a product, using critical thinking and inquiry skills, working as a

community of learners toward similar goals, and taking ownership and responsibility in their

 

 

AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !19

own learning. In these experiences, students find their voice, find their purpose, and find

confidence in hard work. New skills are learned, new interests created, new doors opened that

they would not have thought possible had the teacher not designed learning for them to step into.

Students leave school knowing the value of intrinsic fulfillment in meaningful work because

their teacher valued authenticity in the classroom. By designing ALE’s in the classroom that

focused on real problems and audiences, on critical thinking skills, on student-directed learning,

and on learning in community, teachers prepare their students for life outside the classroom

walls. They give their students skills in communication, collaboration, researching, collecting,

analyzing, synthesizing and applying knowledge. These are the skills that will lead them to

being successful working members of their local and global communities (Barron & Darling-

Hammond, 2008). As one student stated, “We work together to get smart for a purpose, to make

our community and our world a better place” (More Than You, n.d.).

Methods

Participants

The participants of this research study were 10th grade students at a small private high

school in the Midwest made up of 261 ninth through twelfth grade students. The majority of

these participants are from white, middle class families who live in rural communities

surrounding the high school. There were 30 females and 27 males in the study. All 10th grade

students take the required English 10 class in their sophomore year. This research study took

place in an English 10 course that split the students into three sections: one section with 21

students, one with 16, and the third with 20. All sections participated in the same authentic

learning experience with the same teacher.

 

 

AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !20

Materials

The material used in this research were a survey given to the students at the end of the

authentic learning experience. The anonymous survey was created by the researcher using

SurveyMonkey.com. The survey, located in Appendix A, used a five-level Likert-type scale

ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The survey was used to determine the intrinsic

engagement and value of the ALE for each student through the four characteristics of an ALE.

The researcher also conducted semi-structured interviews of eight students selected randomly

through a random number generator. See Appendix B for interview questions.

Design

A descriptive research design was used for this study. An anonymous survey was given

to all 57 students at the end of their authentic learning experience. In order to describe the

relationship between each of the characteristics of an ALE and overall student motivation in an

ALE, the survey statements focused on the four characteristics of an authentic learning

experience. Five statements focused on real world problem/audience, five on the use of inquiry

and critical thinking skills, five on being a part of a community of learners, and five on student-

directed learning.

The researcher also used a semi-formal interview process to interview eight randomly

selected students at the end of the ALE. These interviews used open-ended questions to allow

for more than yes or no answers. The purpose of these interviews was to understand more

deeply how students were motivated intrinsically within the ALE. The responses to each

interview were recorded and then analyzed and sorted according to different themes and

categories.

 

 

AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !21

Procedure

The 57 students all participated in the same authentic learning experience. The students

were divided into ten different teams ranging from 6-8 students in a team. Within their teams,

the students worked together to write and layout a newspaper issue to be distributed to the

school’s student body. Each student was responsible for interviewing someone, focusing the

story around the theme of joy in the interviewee’s life. In order to put out their issue of the

newspaper, each team chose various jobs for each member. The jobs included editor-in-chief,

revisers, word choosers, proofreaders, picture editors, and layout editors. The teams had

autonomy over which roles each person played in their newspaper team. Together they had two

weeks to write and design their issue of the sophomore class newspaper that they titled 20/20

Vision.

After the ALE was completed, the researcher gave all 57 students the survey through

SurveyMonkey.com. The survey received a perfect rate of return because the survey was taken

during class time. The researcher was present when the students took the survey with anonymity

preserved because no names were associated with answers on the surveys. The semi-structured

interviews took place the day after the teams turned in their final newspapers. Interviews took

place within this class period while other students had silent reading time. The researcher

interviewed each of the eight students to gather a deeper understanding of the feeling of intrinsic

motivation and engagement in the work they did for their authentic learning experiences. The

answers to the interviews were coded and analyzed immediately following the interviews

according to similar words, phrases, and beliefs common in all of their answers.

 

 

AUTHENTIC LEARNING EXPERIENCES !22

Results

After the students completed the authentic learning experience, they anonymously took

the survey to determine the extent that they felt intrinsically motivated by the characteristics of

an authentic learning experience. The survey focused questions aroun

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