Keeping It Real: Giving Students Opportunities to Extend and Apply Their Knowledge with Authentic Tasks
Post submitted by Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, a principal consultant at McREL and coauthor of Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, 2nd edition. Hubbell conducts workshops and training for K–12 teachers on research-based instructional strategies and technology integration, writes curriculum models for online classes, conducts technology audits for districts, and trains school and district leaders in using Power Walkthrough software.
In the second edition of Classroom Instruction That Works (CITW), the authors addressed oft-answered questions of when to use the nine categories of research-based instructional strategies and whether the strategies are hierarchical. We included the CITW framework (below) in the new edition because it makes clear the purpose of the strategies. Instead of listing the strategies in order of effect size, as we did in the first edition in 2001, this framework helps educators see that the three categories that create the environment for learning are the highest priority. Those that help students develop understanding eventually lead learners to extending and applying what they have learned in real-world contexts. Now teachers have a context for using the strategies and can apply them purposefully as they assess, teach, and mentor their students.
Victor arrived with his sister at our small Montessori school in Boca Raton, Fla., knowing a few greetings and polite words, such as "please" and "thank you," but he largely was isolated from his peers during conversations. He understood enough English to be able to do his work and generally follow directions, but socially, he wasn't able to keep up with the casual chatter and jokes of his fellow 1st graders. I can only imagine that 1st grade was a very lonely time for him, but looking back, I can see several successes.
I now know that my instructional practices followed the components of the CITW framework—though this work didn't exist at the time—and the Montessori tenets of providing a peaceful but stimulating classroom environment for each student. We made certain he understood objectives and received feedback on his progress. The didactic materials we used helped him to develop understanding, even as we struggled with the language barrier.
One set of lessons in particular stands out. I was working with Victor on understanding parts of speech, namely the article, adjective, and noun. In Montessori classrooms, each part of speech is represented by a different shape and color, providing nonlinguistic representation for students to better understand the relationship among them (see example to the right).
As the school year ambled into October, the children were talking about trick-or-treating, pumpkins, and costumes. I seized on Victor's newfound interest in the vocabulary of the holiday one afternoon and wrote these phrases in his notebook:
- An orange pumpkin
- A black cat
- The large chocolate bar
- A green witch
Victor struggled for a moment in matching the Portuguese vocabulary word and the correct part of speech. "This Halloween?" he asked, pointing to the list of phrases. When I confirmed, a look of understanding came over his face. We went through the phrases, identifying the part of speech and translating the phrase into his native language, which I double-checked with a Portuguese/English dictionary. I am not certain that Victor had celebrated Halloween before, but he was certainly interested in what his friends were discussing. I watched him use his newly acquired words to describe costume ideas with his peers.
As the school year progressed, Victor began to form more complex phrases. I would occasionally see him reference his work with the symbols of parts of speech. To Victor, these grammar lessons—his new knowledge—were the ticket to communicating with friends. I barely needed to provide the real-world context, as he was living it every day. More opportunities for Victor to extend and apply what he was learning came in the form of letters to family members back in Brazil, writing about his interests in our current science or social studies focuses, and writing short stories.
Before I knew it, spring had arrived and Victor was putting together more complex sentences as well as understanding nearly everything that was said in the classroom. As the students were playing kickball at recess one warm afternoon, I overheard Victor call out with ease, "Danny, you kicked that ball very well!"
"Thanks, man!" Danny smiled as he ran to second base.
No grammar symbols were necessary.