Make Learning Meaningful with Authentic Instruction

What types of instruction engages students in using their mind well and makes learning meaningful? This question has been explored for many years and will be for many more. We can refer to the research and frameworks that have been created over the years but we can also refer to scenarios that have been captured in real classroom.

What does authentic instruction look and sound like?
Imagine students reading a magazine article about having a school dress code. The article is full of interesting facts, first-hand accounts, and interviews—all of which are meant to engage the reader. After reading the article silently at their seats, students move to small groups and huddle knee-to-knee and eye-to-eye, sharing thoughts about what they read.

These students are motivated to talk about what they read because the topic, school dress codes, can be relevant to them. They are currently students and they can relate first hand to the author’s message, events and facts in the article. It is hard for these learners to wait for instructions from their teacher because they are excited to share their thoughts and also hear what others have to say. They have so much to share and so many questions.

Once the small group conversations get underway, group members make connections, questions are raised and opinions formed through a natural conversation about a topic that seems so meaningful to them. Their teacher moves from group to group to scaffold thinking, prod for deeper understanding, and keep students on track for using evidence in the text.

After the teacher indicates time is up for the conversations, students move back to their seats to journal about what they took away from the article and also any confusion or questions still lingering in their minds. The teacher indicates she will read each entry and respond personally to their thoughts. The assignment related to this work session is to create a poster representing their stand on school dress codes and present it to the class.

This scenario for teaching and learning has several key characteristics for effective authentic instruction:

  • Students were studying a topic relevant to their lives
  • Students were interested in the topic
  • Learning was closely connected to the world beyond the walls of one classroom
  • Students were collaborating and had the opportunity to talk
  • Students were engaged in exploration and inquiry
  • Learning was student driven with the teacher facilitating and coaching in the learning process
  • Students will produce a product to present to an audience related to the reading

The Take Away

Incorporating authenticity into instruction can be powerful. Think about your students and their real lives. What do they do outside of school? What would be interesting and motivating for them to learn about? How can you interlace standards and the real world so that learning is meaningful? These are likely a few of the questions the teacher in the above scenario started with and in turn planned authentic tasks that set her students to make learning real to their lives.