Meredith Williams, Principal NRHS
As classes begin again this fall we also reboot our discussions at NRHS around authentic learning, which we define as real learning for the real world. As an academic community we have recognized that most of traditional “schooling” is nearly the opposite of what we do in the real world. In the ivory tower of school we often stay tucked away in a paradigm of theory where multiple choices are provided, word banks are offered, and the singular right answer actually exists. But in the real world there is rarely the one right answer, and seldom do questions come only after someone has fully explained the concept.
Traditionally, as educators, we worked diligently to make the experience of “school” unreal. Teachers broke down concepts to the point that students needed only to follow their steps to the correct answer. Classes and schedules were established so no two contents would interfere with one another, and equivalent time to the minute was provided for each.
Then we began to wonder if our graduates could survive and thrive in the real world. We considered whether the education they’d been provided was enough to sustain them in a world that is so different from the pattern of their schooling.
An Alternate Approach
But it wasn’t always this way. Prior to the advent of factory model schooling most trades were taught through apprenticeship. Those who wished to learn a skill or trade would spend weeks and years immersed in the actual practice of the skill in the real world with a master of the craft - a mentor who could guide them. In the apprenticeship method, the real world and the world of education coexisted in the same time and space. The learner contributed to the work of the master craftsman while the master craftsman contributed to the education of the learner. They grew and developed together: the craftsman, the apprentice, and the craft.
At North High our goal is to bring more authenticity to the learning of our students. We want to adopt the apprenticeship mindset whereby students engage in the real world, and as educators we move along with them developing our craft together into something which we will give to the world. We make this shift by focusing on the work we ask students to engage in. We call the work that is truly for the real world or mimics as closely as possible the real world authentic.
Methods of Working Authentically
Technology allows our students the ability to create and interact socially with the real world in ways we might not have imagined only a few years ago. Our students now make videos and iBooks almost daily. They will be curating their individual work utilizing pages through Adobe Spark and collectively on our school social media sites throughout the year.
But technology is not the only way our students will reach into the real world. We accentuate field trips, expert visits, and community connections. By the tenth day of school half our student body will have already traveled off campus for at least one educational exploration. We value the experience of our students exploring new parts of our community, and we find our community values the experience of meeting our students.
Such strategies allow us to break down the factory model to build a more personalized apprenticeship paradigm. As we move through the year and our instructional designers (teachers) push the boundaries of authentic work they are sure to discover more techniques for putting the real world and education in the same time and space. As we do, they will share their experiences here so that you might be inspired to find your own ways of blurring the lines between “schooling” and the real world.