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Bridging the Gap - Authentic Task
Authentic Student Tasks:In our LInC materials we will use the word task to refer to an authentic problem or issue that is challenging and open-ended.
In order to have engaged learning, tasks need to be challenging, authentic, and multidisciplinary. Such problems or issues are typically complex and involve sustained amounts of time. They are authentic in that they correspond to the tasks in the home and workplaces of today and tomorrow. Collaboration around authentic problems or issues often takes place with peers and mentors within school as well as with family members and others in the real world outside of school.
The authentic tasks that you include are essential to making your project one in which the descriptive phrase, "engaged learning," will apply. To be authentic, a problem or issue needs to correspond to ones in the home and workplaces; in other words, they have a real-world application. Ideally, they will fill a real need for the students, resulting in an end product that can be utilized within the student's actual world. They usually involve multiple disciplines and involve higher order thinking skills (i.e., comprehension, design, analysis, problem solving).
To help you in identifying and creating authentic tasks for your projects, look at the following examples. Examples of poorly formed authentic tasks are shown on the left. On the right are examples of well-formed authentic tasks. Read through them and see if you can determine why each poorly written item is just that, "poorly written" or "poorly developed." Remember: A well-formed authentic problem or issue will encourage students to apply a broad range of knowledge and skills in order to solve a complex, real-world problem which impacts their lives. Following the table you will see some reasons listed why the item(s) may deserve a "poor" rating. But remember: these are just some of the more common reasons. You may come up with many other reasons why the item is poor and ways to transform it into a good element for use within an engaged learning proposal.
Authentic Student Task: (Problem or Issue) - Bridging the Gap
Poorly Written Well Written 1-a) The bilingual students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades are assigned the task of using technology to develop a multimedia presentation on a Spanish-speaking country. 1-b) The bilingual students in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades are helping their neighbors and parents study for U.S. citizenship tests. The students guide anyone who wishes to become an American citizen through their citizenship project in person or via e-mail. This project is a Web site they have developed which contains information regarding immigration issues and a study guide for the citizenship test written in both English and Spanish. 2-a) Students are given a choice of which wetland plant they want to study. They gather information on the plant and create a report to hand in which will become part of a bulletin board display at their school. 2-b) The state plans on extending a major highway through the local community. This will help alleviate traffic problems in the area. However, the road will go through dozens of wetland areas within the community. The students need to find out what impact the proposed extension will have on their community and the wetland areas by gathering, analyzing and synthesizing data they collect. They will then present their findings at a town meeting scheduled for residents and state officials. 3-a) Students will complete a worksheet on an assigned type of pollution. They will look up information about it in encyclopedias and CD-ROMs. They will include the top two causes of that type of pollution and two ways that have been used in the past to reduce that type of pollution. 3-b) Students discover deformed frogs in the pond near their school. Since amphibians are sentinel species, they decide to gather data on the frogs and their habitat in an effort to find out what is causing the deformities. Is it a random happening or is there an environmental cause? They use the Internet to post their data and contact scientific experts.
Each of these examples of authentic student tasks is an actual real-life problem which has been or is being addressed:
The bilingual students citizenship project can be found at I Want to be an American Citizen.
The extension to a major highway that is proposed to occur in Lake County, Illinois and basic information on the debate can be found at Crossroads.
The deformed frog scenario actually took place in Minnesota. Go to Hot Topic: Deformed Frogs in Minnesota to learn more!
1-a) This student task is actually just a multimedia book report assigned by the teacher. It is not a real problem or issue that will allow students to direct the learning and accommodate multiple solutions.
2-a) This student task is having the students collect data, but then do nothing with it which requires higher order thinking skills such as analyzing or synthesizing. It also has no apparent bearing on the students' lives.
3-a) This student task is actually an assigned worksheet where the technology is used as an encyclopedia. No two-way communication is being conducted. This is a perfect example of "what not to do." The task was confused with an activity. An authentic problem or issue is more challenging, more open ended, and multifaceted.
Now you are ready to test your skill as a writer of authentic student tasks. Look at the following authentic tasks and decide if they are poorly written or well written. Be prepared to answer, "Why?" or "Why not?" If your answer is a "thumbs-down," try to rewrite the authentic task into a form that would receive a "thumbs-up,"
Authentic Student Tasks - Thumbs-Up or Thumbs-Down
1) Students hunt on the Internet for information to plan out a fantasy vacation. They are given unlimited funds and must develop an itinerary and budget for their travel and living expenditures. 2) The community has reported an increasing number of deer fatalities on local roads in the community. Students form teams to study the local deer population and perform feasibility studies on differing control programs and management techniques. These will be posted to their Web site. 3) Students gather up all materials from school lunches, waste baskets, etc. that could be recycled for one week. This recyclable material is then weighed and measured. The data is extrapolated to determine how much waste their school produces in one year. They then form teams to research ways that their school can reduce the amount of waste it produces, develop an action plan for recycling within their school, and present their plan before the board.