One question that has been on my mind is how do we ensure that we are honouring diverse learning styles and interests within the constraints of the curriculum? I’ve always thought that when students are excited about what is being taught, they’ll be engaged in the process but I wonder if it might be more than that. I’ve been taking some time to reflect on where the idea of authentic learning and student engagement.
So far, I’ve gathered that the following 3 things are important when speaking on the subject of student engagement:
- Ensuring that multiple learning styles are honoured so that student needs are met during the learning process.
- Students being able to see themselves within what is being taught.
- Students seeing the relevance of what is being taught to their daily lives.
When these 3 things are a part of the learning experience for students, true engagement can take place. I would like to take some time to reflect on the third point during this post because I believe this might be the sweet-spot for authentic learning.
Earlier on I spoke to the fact that we have a curriculum from which to guide the learning in our classrooms. While this is static, we have the opportunity to be innovative in the way in which we choose to unpack the curriculum with students. I strongly believe that gone are the days where the educator is the content deliverer and that the role of the student is to be the receiver of said content. We’ve moved away from the Sage on the Stage and into the role of being the Guide on the Side. With that in mind, the question becomes, how do we ensure that students are learning based on what the expectations are? Furthermore, how do we ensure that what is being learned is relevant to the lives of students? In other words, how do we ensure that the learning is authentic for the students in front of us?
As much as possible, when introducing a topic or subject area, I focused on finding a real world problem that would speak to what we would be learning about. In Math we investigated angles through the stability of structure in interesting buildings in the world around us while taking some time to identify angles through images in everyday life. In Science we dug into user-centered design when considering hurricane solutions while learning about the forces acting on structures and mechanisms. In Language, we dug into the impact of words and their meaning through song. In every instance, a question framed what students were going to be learning about. I tried to create a question that was as open as possible so that students would be able to explore the topic based on their own interest. While working on hurricane solutions, some students focused on creating new infrastructure while others worked to communicate their learning through the creation of a program. For both students, the learning was authentic in that it spoke to their interest and allowed them to consider how they might have an impact in a real way.
I’m learning more and more about the value in this type of learning for students. As they learn, they are developing transferable skills and are able to set the pace for their learning and how they wish to share what they are learning with others. The curricular content is being discovered while students are making connections to the real world and understanding why the learning might be important.
Thinking about how to boost authentic learning in your classroom? Perhaps start by considering a real world problem that connects to the curricular area that students are learning about and posing an open question that gets them thinking.