Four Opportunities to Connect Authentic Learning and Community
By Dr. David Reese, Ed.D.
I was working with educators from a large urban school district in Florida on the development of performance tasks when one of the educational leaders suggested creating local community tasks to drive student engagement. This was a great idea as the county is very diverse and local community tasks could look very different from one school to another.
In our efforts to identify and create authentic learning opportunities, we reflected on the work of educator Jay McTighe who identified two dimensions of authenticity:
- Real World Application
- Student Interest and Experience
This idea aligned perfectly with our community connections. Working in teams we identified four types of community connections we wanted to focus on in our performance task development.
4 Topics to Build Community-Related Performance Tasks:
- Citizenship – In this capacity, the teachers discussed what it meant to be a citizen, including having the opportunity to vote and living in a democratic society. Also, what it means to be a citizen and how you should be a positive member of a community. We quickly noticed, many ideas can be found in more than one area, which brought us to helping others. Many ideas were discussed with the learning being an understanding of walking in other’s shoes. Additionally, current issues were tied to making students become consumers of information. They must all be able to make informed decisions and be able to determine the credibility of the information received. They should understand the roles and responsibilities we assume as a citizen.
- Service – This idea connects with citizenship and encourages students to provide a service to a community, in the hopes of making the community “better”. An important discussion that came out of this idea was that these experiences must be tied to real learning and not just spending a few hours doing something. The example shared involved road clean-ups involving students helping to clean up a road for a few hours. This is a very good deed but should be tied in with the curriculum. Why are we doing this? How does trash impact the environment? What types of trash are we seeing and could possibly minimize the use of these materials in some way? These questions could easily tie into the curriculum making this a valuable experience while still providing a service to the community.
- Neighborhoods – How can students become positively engaged in their neighborhood? This discussion was interesting and connected frequently with culture and backgrounds of our neighbors. Encouraging students to learn more about where everyone came from and gaining an appreciation for everyone as an individual and as a collective could encourage some great opportunities. Culminating activities involved hosting a neighborhood picnic or carnival. Also suggested was doing a random act of kindness for a neighbor. These are good ideas and should be encouraged but then the conversation turned to how could we further embed this in the curriculum? Questions arose related to: Where did these people come from and when and how did they or their ancestors get here? What does this culture appreciate and how could we help others in the neighborhood learn more from our neighbors? Why did our neighbors choose this area to have a home? What holidays or special events are celebrated that we could all celebrate? A final comment related to appreciating our elders and all they have been through.
- Community Challenges – This idea took on several different lenses including homelessness, hunger, the impact of natural disasters, and supporting important causes. In each situation, we identified a number of important products and projects that could be undertaken. Careers working with these challenges create another opportunity to help students become more invested and understanding of how they can help. To make this meaningful and a strong learning opportunity we started working backward into the curriculum. How could each challenge be connected to the curriculum? How could we make the final event more meaningful by helping students understand the root causes through foundational academic content? How could we apply the student experience more meaningful to the world in which they live?
Brainstorming and guiding questions drove our initial work. The power of curriculum alignment was recognized as critical to truly embedding these tasks into the classroom and encouraging a deeper understanding of the community through context and application.
Dr. David L. Reese serves as Chief Academic Officer for Defined Learning. During the past twenty years, Dr. Reese has served K-12 students as a science teacher, Curriculum Specialist, and Central Office Administrator. He has taught Masters and Doctoral courses in all areas of curriculum and professional development leadership. His work focuses on providing students with engaging, relevant learning opportunities designed to encourage students to apply content from a local, national and international perspective.