Jaime Patterson | June 2017

Defining Engagement through STEAM: Authenticity

Rounding out our Defining Engagement through STEAM series, based on the research of John Antonetti and Phillip Schlechty, we take a look at how we can articulate and define our student engagement.  These sessions explain definitions, share strategies, provide templates and rubrics to self assess, and/or offer downloadable resources to ultimately define engagement in an actionable way.  Check out the introduction to this series here.

Let’s recap, we have defined engagement through STEAM by assessing the use of Personal Response in Session 1 ,  introduced Variety and Novelty to help bring arts into school in Session 2.  Then we visualized the Emotional and Intellectual Safety needed in order for our students to truly engage in the classroom in Session 3 .  Session 4 uncovered how the Sense of Audience provides greater engagement especially in STEAM and Arts Integration and Session 5 revealed how Clear and Modeled Expectations improve assessments.  Session 6 shared how we can bring collaborative learning experiences into the classroom and highlighted class discussions, and Session 7  gave a modified approach to project based learning with student generated projects.  Today we are looking at how Authenticity can increase student engagement.

Session 8: Authenticity

Antonetti defines authenticity as connections to experience or prior knowledge.  He breaks this down into 8 tangible approaches to authenticity through:

  • Relevance to age/group
  • Tasks that represent the personalities of the learners
  • Real-life activities
  • Inquiry or discovery learning
  • Current events/issues
  • Hands-on manipulatives
  • Transfer or synthesis beyond content
  • and Extension of workplace activities. 

For this final installment, I am going to focus on the dichotomy of Real-World vs Relevant when designing authentic experiences that increase student engagement .

Real World vs Relevant

I hear this one all the time. Real-world projects. Real-world problems. Real-world situations. The word authentic gets used interchangeably with real-world. Wanting our classroom work to mirror the real world is definitely a good thing and builds on 21st century skills, but sometimes real world becomes out of their world.

When we think “real world” we unintentionally think of our own personal world. So we tend to build learning opportunities that place students in job or life experiences that are often pulled from our personal schema, like: “you are the CEO of a company…”or “you have just bought your first home.” This is not real to them. Situations like these are out of their world. In order to be authentically real-world, we must provide opportunities that are relevant to our students’ current world.

The Glossary of Education Reform defines authentic learning as tasks where students learn by doing, that mirror life’s complexities, and where students contribute to communities. Furthermore, they promote the purpose of school as more than a test score, that we should be helping students obtain the skills necessary to be successful in life.

Before we can help students to learn by doing, mirror life, or contribute to their communities we need to step into their world. We have to give them situations and connections that are real to their world now. If we offer students connections and situations that are so close to home that they can actually, physically, right this minute, do something about it…then we are giving them their-world experiences.

For example, design every lesson in Health class to lead to the planning and producing of a school-wide health fair, or while studying argument in English class, have students develop a proposal to the school board that argues the change in uniform or cell phone policy. Then actually do it. One model for excellent real-world learning is project-based learning; if you start implementing those kinds of tasks, you’ll get a lot closer to offering true Authentic real-world learning experiences.

Get a copy of 3 complete Authentic and Relevant Performance tasks here! 

Want a step-by-step guide to developing Performance Tasks?  Check out Putting the Performance in Performance Tasks here

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.