Authentic Learning Trumps Scantrons

finishing togetherTeachers can see it dancing in front of them:  the finish line, a.k.a. summer vacation.  But in order to cross that finish line into summer paradise, they must first create, administer and grade the dreaded final!

And honestly, no word creates such a chorus of groans among teachers and students as that time-worn word.  Finals are the final attempt to measure our students for one last time before we release them for summer.  But really, what good is this measurement at this time of year?  And our creating, administering and grading this measurement only creates:

  • anxietystress
  • frustration
  • exhaustion
  • overeating
  • sleep deprivation
  • death by chocolate

And this is just on the side of the teacher!  One could only imagine what it creates in the students!

I am not, as this point, advocating ending finals.  But I am advocating shaking it up a bit and trying and new final, an authentic learning final that involves the parents and the students.  And rather than a final of drudgery, making it a night of celebration.I am advocating making the final an authentic learning project.

Steve Revington states that, Authentic learning engages all the senses allowing students to create a meaningful, useful, shared outcome. They are real life tasks, or simulated tasks that provide the learner with opportunities to connect directly with the real world.” 

So how does an authentic assessment differ from a well-worn final stored away each year in filing cabinets?  Tom Gram of Gram Consulting lists the qualities of an authentic tasks and here is a portion of his list:

1. Authentic tasks have real-world relevance:  Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualised or classroom-based tasks.

2.   Authentic tasks comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time:  Tasks are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours, requiring authentic learningsignificant investment of time and intellectual resources.

3.   Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to collaborate:  Collaboration is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world, rather than achievable by an individual learner.

4.   Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to reflect : Tasks need to enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individually and socially.

5. Authentic tasks are seamlessly integrated with assessment :  Assessment of tasks is seamlessly integrated with the major task in a manner that reflects real world assessment, rather than separate artificial assessment removed from the nature of the task.

6. Authentic tasks create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else:  Tasks culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or sub-step in preparation for something else.

As a final, what does and authentic task look like?

Pattie’s English students saved their essays in files in the classroom over the year.  Their goal for their final was to:

  • examine weaknesses and strengths in past papers
  • choose two things to improve on
  • create a written plan on how to accomplish the improvements
  • conference with teacher and two peers on contract of improvement
  • incorporate the improvements into a new paper to be showcased on the night with the parents

And then the fun began!

  •  We choose a night to invite parents to the media center where,  from 5:30 to 7:30, parents could drop in and students would share their file of past papers.  This would ensure that the students knew they were writing for an audience and not for a grade
  • Students would explain to their parents their weaknesses and strengths in writing and what they did to improve their new paper
  • The parent would read the paper and compare it to the others and then write a written review
  • The parents would then have a five-minute conference with the teacher explaining their review, eat some cookies, drink some minted water and go home, happy that their students showed growth and could explain their work

How they Prepared:

  • Pattie allowed them to choose from two topics, one expository and one narrative
  •  They wrote their first draft at home and brought it to class.  Points awarded
  • Reflective process on first draft using Kelly Gallagher”s STAR method
S ubstitue overused words
weak verbs with strong verbs
weak adjectives with strong adjectives
common nouns with proper nouns
“dead” words
T ake out unnecessary repetitions
unimportant or irrelevant information
parts that might belong in another place
A dd detail
new information
figurative language
clarification of meanings
expanded ideas
R earrange the sequence to produce a desired effect
the order for a more logical
  • Sharing papers with peers, showing changes and accepting comments and question about changes
  • Papers rest in class for one day
  • Following day, students re-read papers and re-write following their STAR process  Reflection: How did the process of Starring the paper improve it?  Should it be done again?
  • Written revision  No editing!  Just writing.
  • Papers rest in class fo another day
  • Reflection:  does their paper have detail that makes it interesting?  Is it too broad?  Fix it!writing
  • Sentence length and variety of sentence structure modelled by teacher, and students examine their papers to incorporate where needed
  • One re-write in class (points awarded)
  • Compare paper to original contract and reflect on what needs to be fixed
  • Share with partner and teacher (points awarded)
  • Begin editing process
  • Final conference with teacher
  • Final copy
  • Presentation to parents
  • Note:  Not all parents can make it, so I was always a parent to one or two.  And I did have translators in Russian and Spanish to assist the parents.

On the Day of Final:  On that day, her students wrote a reflective response to the process.  They addressed their initial groaning and their elation at the final project.  Those were the best finals she has read because the students believed that what they were doing had meaning.  finish line

Honestly, you have to try this.  It is the best!  And I know you will have the time of your life! We can make crossing the finish line into summer a celebration for everyone!


















About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
This entry was posted in Authentic learning vs. finals, Education, How can I help my studnets with their finals?, How do I create projects that will have meaning/, Incorporating parents into the learning, Uncategorized, What is a good English final?, Writing, Writing for an audience. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Authentic Learning Trumps Scantrons

  1. Thanks, Cathy. I love that you actually read the blogs!

  2. I love this idea! Giving the students an opertunity to use what they are learning in a practical sense. This also helps them to be more engaged in the subject matter.

    This method of measurement has been used successfully in many colleges. Doing this at this stage if their education will also prepare them for what is ahead

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