AIW Connections

Authentic learning occurs each day. This section shares some perspectives from the field and compatible programs related to Authentic Intellectual Work.

Perspectives from the Field

No, They’re Not Learning

The following is adapted from my Mid-Year Reflection:

I believe that too often teachers (myself included) think we’re pretty good at our jobs—or good enough. This attitude is a matter of self-preservation. After all, who wants to end each day thinking we’re not good at our jobs? No one. Therefore, we’re quick to forgive our sloppy teaching, negligent in scrutinizing our students’ true level of learning, and inflated in our sense of our success. AIW (Authentic Intellectual Work) asks us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I appreciate how AIW has pushed me to prioritize what I know in my gut is good teaching.

An example of AIW awareness impacting my teaching happened last week. I am not a teacher who lectures often, or for long stretches of class. But when I do lecture, I like to think I’m pretty good at it. I’m an energized speaker, I know how to use examples, I interject questions, I incorporate good visual and audio aids. So it is tempting for me to think my students are “getting” what I’m lecturing about—especially if they are looking alert, nodding at appropriate times, and taking notes.

My class, in an unspoken alliance to play the school game, seems to know that when I ask a question, someone should pipe up with an answer, to reinforce my feeling that the whole class is following along. But thanks to AIW, I was aware that my students’ answers were not building on each other. I knew that my teaching would be better if I paused for “Turn to your neighbor and explain…” to get a higher level of sustained conversation.

What happened surprised me: My students turned to each other and said, “Beats me…” “No idea…” “Guess I wasn’t paying attention…” What a wallop! My perception had been that they were learning; the reality was that they were not. How often does this “teaching” go on in classrooms? I made immediate adjustments. I said, “After this next slide, I’ll ask you to talk about why this event matters in the history of journalism.” Simply prepping my students in that way improved their absorption of the content. This is such a small thing—yet it greatly improved the lesson.

I also put another check mark in the Don’t-Resort-to-Lecture column. Actively learning.

—Allison Berryhill, English and Journalism Teacher, Atlantic High School, Omaha

Listen to Allison’s interview

Monticello Teachers Use AIW to Develop Tasks and Instruction for January Academies

This was the second year that students at Monticello High School (Iowa) have returned following winter break to start the new semester with Academy classes. Monticello High School went to full-building implementation of AIW this past August 2011. Teacher collaborative teams planned tasks and instruction for each Academy by using the AIW framework. As a result, this year’s Academies provided students with learning opportunities that had increased academic challenge while maintaining high levels of authenticity.

—Gretchen Kriegel, Curriculum, Assessment & Grant Writing Director, Monticello Community School District

Band Teacher from Gilbert Develops an AIW Pride Point!

In case you ever wonder if AIW is really making a difference with teachers . . . Jenni Thomas (5–8 band teacher) found that students are very difficult to motivate after the spring concert each year. In an effort to change this dynamic, she is creating a unit that will allow students to create their own music using the concepts they have learned in class and software that allows them to create their own piece of music.

The final project will be presenting their solo, duet, or ensemble in a performance setting. She has done some pilot projects and the kids are going crazy over the opportunity to “create their own knowledge.” I shared with Jenni that band (which should be a creative situation) is often focused on playing set music for a performance over and over again.

While that aspect is important, students often get little freedom to work with music and create their own stuff. Jenni is creating the task with AIW in mind—a strong task, good instruction, and hopefully high quality student work. It has the possibility of turning a pretty mundane time of year in the band room into the best part of the course. We will see how it goes, but she is really pumped up about it.

— Chris Billings, Middle School Principal, Gilbert Community School

Compatible Programs

The Center for AIW does not officially endorse any program or curriculum; however, the following programs that support AIW student learning beyond the classroom are a useful tool for educators currently involved in AIW at their sites:

Project-Based Learning

Project Citizen

Project Lead the Way

History Day

The World Food Prize

World Savvy’s Youth


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