AIW Framework

The Framework for Authentic Intellectual Work offers a compelling relationship between teaching and learning.
AIW focuses academic instruction on student construction of knowledge, conceptual
understanding, and elaborated communication to answer questions resembling the complex intellectual
challenges of work, civic participation, and managing personal affairs in the contemporary world.

AIW Framework Diagram

Key Components of AIW Reform

  • Organic
  • Team-based
  • Focused on changing teacher practice
  • About transforming student learning
  • A long-term commitment
  • A series of trainings
  • Developing independent individuals
  • Dependent on specific curricula
  • Separate from standards-based reform
  • A quick fix

Framework Criteria

The Center provides professional development for instructional and assessment reform using the Framework for
Authentic Intellectual Work, originally developed by Fred Newmann and colleagues at the Center for Organization
and Restructuring of Schools, University of Wisconsin–Madison. There are three defining criteria of the AIW Framework.

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    1 Construction of Knowledge

    Skilled adults in diverse occupations and participating in civic life face the challenge of applying basic skills and knowledge to complex problems that are often novel or unique. To reach an adequate solution to new problems, the competent adult has to “construct” knowledge because these problems cannot be solved by routine use of information or skills previously learned. Such construction of knowledge involves organizing, interpreting, evaluating or synthesizing prior knowledge to solve new problems.

    Teachers often think of these operations as higher order thinking skills. We contend, however, that successful construction of knowledge is best learned through a variety of experiences that call for this kind of cognitive work, not by explicitly teaching a set of discrete “thinking skills.”
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    2 Disciplined Inquiry

    Constructing knowledge alone is not enough. The mere fact that someone has constructed, rather than reproduced, a solution to a problem is no guarantee that the solution is adequate or valid. Authentic adult intellectual accomplishments require that construction of knowledge be guided by disciplined inquiry.

    By this we mean that they:

    - Use a prior knowledge base. Significant intellectual accomplishments build on prior knowledge accumulated in an academic or applied discipline. Students must acquire a knowledge base of facts, vocabularies, concepts, theories, algorithms and other conventions necessary to conduct rigorous inquiry. Transmitting a knowledge base, along with basic skills, is usually the central focus of direct instruction in content areas.

    - Strive for in-depth understanding rather than superficial awareness. A knowledge base of value to students involves more than just being familiar with a broad survey of topics. To be most powerful, students must have a complex understanding of that knowledge that helps them gain deeper understanding of specific problems. Such understanding develops as one looks for, imagines, proposes and tests relationships among key facts, events, concepts, rules and claims in order to clarify a specific problem or issue.

    - Develop and express their ideas and findings through elaborated communication. Accomplished adults in a range of fields rely upon complex forms of communication both to conduct their work and to present its results. The tools they use — verbal, symbolic, graphic and visual — provide qualifications, nuances, elaborations, details and analogies woven into extended narratives, explanations, justifications and dialogue. Elaborated communication may be most often evident in essays or research papers, but a math proof, CAD drawing, complex display board or musical score could also involve elaborated communication.
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    3 Value of School

    Value Beyond School refers to real world applications. When adults write letters, news articles, organizational memos or technical reports; when they speak a foreign language; when they design a house, negotiate an agreement or devise a budget; when they create a painting or a piece of music — they try to communicate ideas that have an impact on others.

    In contrast, most school assignments, such as spelling quizzes, laboratory exercises or typical final exams are designed only to document the competence of the learner and lack meaning or significance beyond the certification of success in school.

    The call for “relevant” or “student-centered” curriculum is, in many cases, a less precise expression of the view that student intellectual accomplishments should have value beyond simply indicating school success. While some people may regard the term “authentic” as equivalent to education that is “relevant,” “student-centered” or “hands-on,” we do not.

    Value Beyond School is only one component of Authentic Intellectual Work. Further, for this criterion we deliberately do not use any of the three adjectives mentioned above. We use it to emphasize not simply activity or topics that may be interesting to students, but those involving particular intellectual challenges that when successfully met have meaning to students beyond complying with teachers’ requirements.

    Intellectual challenges raised in the world beyond the classroom are often more meaningful to students than those contrived only for the purpose of teaching students in school.
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