Authentic Pedagogy Seminars: Renewing Our Commitment to Teaching and Learning

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  • Authentic Pedagogy Seminars: Renewing Our Commitment to leaching and Learning PATRICIA G. AVERY NONE! PETERSON KOUNESIU TOM ODENDAHL

    I think students would really enjoy this task because it stems from their interests, but wheres the disciplinary content? As the task is written, students could com- plete it without applying any social sci- ence concepts.

    -Teacher commenting on another teachers assessment task

    I think the students were very engaged in the discussion. But I wasnt able to ele- vate the discussion to a higher level- how could I have gotten the students to really think about different perspectives on the issue?

    -Teacher commenting on a videotape of his instruction

    hose comments come from our T monthly seminars, called Authen- tic Pedagogy in the Social Studies

    PATRICIA G. AVERY; an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the Univer- sity of Minnesota, Minneapolis, designed and facilitated most of the seminars. NONIE PETERSON KOUNESKI and TOM ODEN- DAHL, secondary social studies teachers at Roosevelt Senior High School in Minneapo- lis, participated in the APSS Seminars. Readers interested in learning more about the content, format, and structure of the APSS project can find additional i n f o m - tion at .

    (APSS). Our conversations were some- times intense, occasionally riveting, and always spirited. Most important, they rekindled our interest in the teach- ing and learning of social studies.

    The APSS project was designed to assist teachers in their work with the Minnesota High Standards. Like many states, Minnesota has developed a set of standards indicating what students should know and be able to do upon graduation from high school. The Min- nesota standards, on the Web at , require students to complete complex perfor- mance tasks, such as debating a public issue, analyzing primary historical docu- ments, or surveying community attitudes toward a current event. Like teachers across the country, Minnesota teachers have often felt unprepared to integrate the standards into their curricula. Even the most well-designed workshops have left teachers wanting more.

    The APSS project, funded by the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, and Learning, gave teachers extended opportunities to work with the standards and with each other. The series of seminars was based on the same general philosophical orientation as the Minnesota High Standards: a

    focus on constructivist teaching and learning; authentic, performance-based assessment; and high-quality intellectu- al achievement. The seminars took par- ticipants beyond Minnesotas High Standards, however, and provided an integrated framework for thinking about pedagogy-one that incorporates instruction, assessment, and student performance,

    Roosevelt Senior High School in Minneapolis was one of the high schools involved in the project. Roo- sevelt High is probably not unlike many inner-city schools in the United States; one might hear as many as twenty-five different languages spoken among the schools 1,667 students. The school faces many challenges-a high rate of absenteeism, a large number of students living in poverty, a high per- centage of students moving into and out of the school at any given time, and an increasing number of students whose first language is not English. In 1994, the school was designated the districts Somali ESL school, and it is now home to over 800 adolescents from Somalia.

    The social studies department at Roosevelt is probably similar to many social studies departments in inner-city


  • schools. The schools population is approximately 70 percent students of color, and the faculty members are pre- dominantly European American. The fourteen-member social studies depart- ment includes a first-year teacher as well as one teacher contemplating retirement at the end of the year; the average number of years of teaching experience is ten. The faculty members generally get along well. Before the seminars, the teachers gladly shared resources with one another, but there was never time to talk about how one could make instructional materials meaningful to young people or to work together to generate new materials. Moreover, because the social studies classrooms were located throughout the building, weeks could pass before some of the social studies faculty members might see one another.

    Once a month during the 1998-99 academic year, twelve of the fourteen social studies teachers from Roosevelt High met with four colleagues from their feeder school, Folwell Middle School, in the basement of a nearby YMCA building to talk about issues related to teaching and learning social studies. The seminars were based on two assumptions: Instruction and assessment are two sides of the same coin, meaning that changes in one require changes in the other; and what happens in the classroom between state-required performance assess- ments is just as important as the assess- ments themselves. In other words, if we insert the Minnesota standards-based Performance tasks into the curriculum and do not make any attempt to change our pedagogy or curriculum, then the tasks would have little impact on stu- dent achievement.

    The Agenda for the APSS Seminars

    Our seminars were based largely on the concept of authentic intellectual achievement that was developed by the Center on Organization and Restructur- ing of Schools (CORS) under the direc- tion of Fred M. Newmann. Newmann and his colleagues (1995, 1996) devel- oped a broad conceptual framework for

    thinking about authentic student achievement based on the following three criteria:

    1. Are students encouraged to con- struct knowledge that fosters higher- order thinking?

    2. Do they engage in inquiry and communication that use concepts and ideas from the scholarly disciplines?

    3. Are connections made to issues and concerns that have value beyond the classroom?

    The criteria for authenticity may be reflected in three areas: assessment tasks, instruction, and student perfor- mance. Within a given area, there are different but parallel standards or indi- cators of authenticity (see table 1). By viewing the matrix by rows, the teachers focus their attention on the theoretical foundations of the model. For example, an important criterion for authentic achievement is the construction of

    knowledge. Organizing information, considering alternatives, engaging in higher-order thinking, and analyzing material are indicators of students con- structing their own knowledge. To assess the degree to which an assess- ment task promotes the construction of knowledge, we must focus on whether successful completion of the task requires students to organize informa- tion and consider alternatives. To assess the degree to which instruction encour- ages the construction of knowledge, we need to ask whether the class as a whole is engaging in higher-level thinking. Although viewing the matrix by columns (task, instruction, perfor- mance) is probably more familiar and useful to teachers, viewing the matrix by rows makes the connections across tasks, instruction, and performance explicit.

    Table 2 contains samples of specific questions that one might ask in assess-

    TABLE 1-Vision for Authentic Achievement, Pedagogy, and Authentic Student Performance

    Authentic Authentic Authentic Assessment Authentic Student Achievement Tasks Instruction Performance

    Construction of Organization of knowledge information

    Consideration of alternatives

    Disciplined inquiry Content


    Elaborated written communication

    Value beyond Problem schools


    Higher-order Analysis thinking

    Deep knowledge Disciplinary

    Substantive Elaborated written conversation communication


    Connections to the world beyond the classroom

    Soume: From Fred M. Newmann, Walter G. Secada, and Gary G. Wehlage, A Guide to Authentic Instruction and Assessment: Vision. Siandards and Scoring (Madison, Wisc.: Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, 1995): p. 64. Reprinted with permission. T h e cell corresponding to authentic student performance is empty because an authentic task does not necessarily require students to show or state how the task has some meaning beyond the school. For example, students may be required to write a letter to a public official about an issue of con- cern to them. The task has value beyond the classroom, but to ask students to state this as part of the task would seem contrived. It is quite reasonable to expect almost all authentic social studies tasks to require students to use major disciplinary concepts and processes.


  • TABLE -ample Questions for Comidering the Authenticity of Tasks, Instruction, and Performancea

    Authentic Authentic Assessment Authentic Student

    Tasks Instruction Performance

    Students To what extent construction does the task of knowledge require students

    to organize, synthesize, interpret, explain, or eval- uate complex information?

    Disciplined inquiry To what extent does the task require students to show an understanding and/or use of ideas, theories, or perspectives considered cen- tral to an acade- mic or profes- sional discipline?

    Value beyond To what extent schoola does the task

    require students to address a question, issue, or problem sim- ilar to one they have encoun- tered, or are likely to encounter, in life beyond the classroom?

    To what extent are students engaged in higher-order thinking?

    To what extent are students devel- oping deep knowledge of a significant topic or concept?

    To what extent is the topic or issue connected to the world beyond the classroomn, and to what extent is it apparent students recog- nize this con- nection?

    To what extent are students demon- strating higher- order thinking?

    To what extent does the student work demon- strate an under- standing of ideas, concepts, theories, and principles from the social sci- ences and civic life?

    The questions are taken directly from Fred M. Newmann, Walter G. Secada, and Gary G. Wehlage, A Guide to Authentic Instruction and Assessment: Wsion, Standards and Scoring (Madi- son, Wisc.: Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, 1995): p. 64. Reprinted with permission.

    ing pedagogy and student performance. CORS developed similar questions to assess each standard (e.g., organization of information), as well as scoring cri- teria. CORS developed the framework for authentic achievement for research purposes, but we saw it as a potential tool for professional development.

    After extensive reading on CORSs work specifically and on standards, per- formance assessment, and rubrics more

    generally, we began developing assess- ment tasks for use in our classrooms. We shared assessment tasks, received peer feedback that focused on the authenticity of the tasks (e.g., the extent to which the task required students to show an understanding or use the ideas, theories, or perspectives considered central to an academic or professional discipline), revised our work, and often shared the tasks again in a later semi-

    nar. It was not unusual to spend an hour discussing one task and considering how it might be improved.

    We then started examining our instructional practices. We videotaped our teaching and viewed the tapes in the seminars. Our discussion of the teach- ing videos focused on the criteria for authentic instruction (e.g., the degree to which students were engaging in high- er-order thinking). Finally, we looked at the students work and rated the degree to which the students performances demonstrated authentic intellectual achievement (e.g., the degree to which the work reflected an understanding of major ideas in social sciences and civic life). We used the standards for authen- tic pedagogy and student achievement not as a checklist to be completed but rather as a springboard for discussing the essence of a task, a lesson, or a piece of student work. What emerged from the seminars was a common Ian- guage for talking about our pedagogy and about our students work.

    A Common Language

    The nature of our conversations with colleagues gradually changed over the course of the year. Kouneski, the sec- ond author, watched another social studies teacher conduct a class discus- sion on U.S. involvement in the Middle East. After class, the teacher expressed frustration with the quality of the dis- cussion-her tenth graders simply werent getting it. Before the semi- nars, Kouneski and her colleague might have concluded their conversa- tion with an acknowledgment that some days are just better than others. Instead, the two looked at the standards for authentic instruction. They noted that the discussion had not been script- ed by the teacher and that the students had engaged in substantive conversa- tion with one another. Further, the stu- dents had made connections between their own lives and the events in the Middle East. What the discussion lacked, however, was depth. Because the parameters of the discussion were fairly wide, the students never really grappled with a specific issue. With


  • that insight, the teachers frustration diminished, and she approached her planning with renewed energy. She narrowed the focus of the discussion for subsequent classes. The two teach- ers examination of the standards for authentic instruction and shared un- derstanding of the standards helped them to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson.

    Renewed Sense of Collegiality

    A veteran teacher said that the most important part of the seminars for him was a renewed sense of collegiality. He explained,

    I do this work because it is important, because I love it, and because I respect the others who toil with me. It is not always easy to conjure up those sensi- bilities. I spend much of my time fum- bling with bureaucratic imperatives or locked in a classroom with sixty eyes riveted to the clock. In the course of a term, it is rare to spend more than a few stolen moments talking in depth about how we do our work and what our results are. The seminars provided hours each month to compare and reflect on our practices, experiences, and results. It was reassuring to discover that indi- viduals I admire and respect encoun- tered the same sorts of problems. It was a blessing that they would share solu- tions and offer suggestions that strengthened my practice. It was a relief to learn that I was neither insane nor incompetent.

    A teacher with five years of teach- ing experience said she believes the best defense against teacher burnout is a willingness to try new approaches to teaching but that trying new approach- es without the support of colleagues is difficult. She said,

    When we are in burn-out mode our instinct is to do as little as possible and get home as soon as possible. After all, if we have more time for ourselves, maybe we will not feel so frazzled. What I learned last year was that if I spent a little time reflecting and inter- ac...


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