Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Is this real?

One of my groups of 7th graders has been blogging with a group of students from Iowa after their teacher and I connected via Twitter (one of my favorite methods of professional development). I explained to the kids what we were doing and what the other class was doing. (They're a writing class, and mine is a technology class. The IA class was doing some interview practice and were asking questions of my students. Mine were learning to blog and comment.) I was floored when, after reading questions from the other students, my kids kept asking if the other students were real. What?? Of course they're real!

As I reflected on how ridiculous I thought this question was, I realized that it wasn't ridiculous at all. Why WOULD they think this was an interaction with real students? Everything we do with students tends to be a copy of real life. Pretend you're writing a letter to the mayor. Imagine you are a soldier in the Civil War and explain their thoughts. Create a fake newsletter for animals about to hibernate. Play this simulation game showing what happens when rabbit populations explode. Why would students even consider that what they're doing is something actually real with other people in the world?

I've started to be more and more aware of the "unreal" things I ask students to do; things that have no real value in the world. As I see myself giving these assignments, the question of "Why" keeps wriggling in the back of my head. In high school, I was always the one asking "Why do we have to do this?" If I had a good reason, no problem. If the teacher had no good reason, I had a very difficult time motivating myself to finish. Today, I think that I (and many in education), have forgotten how to create authentic tasks that matter for students.

I was reminded about this today, when I saw the tool iFakeText come across my Twitter feed, as a new and exciting tool for kids to create fake text exchanges between people, i.e., book characters, historical figures, etc. (Another example: Fake Facebook pages.) I understand the purpose this is trying to serve, helping students put themselves in the place of others. However, as a student, I would have hated this. There has to be more authentic assignments out there than creating unreal versions of real life. Wouldn't it be better for students to actually find primary sources from the Library of Congress or other sources showing what Franklin Roosevelt's writings said? Or to create another ending to a story and then send them to the book's author?

If the work that kids are doing matters, we should treat it as such. If the technology how-to videos my 7th graders are making are important, than I should post them on a site for teachers to use (because let's face it, my 7th graders could teach many teachers a thing or two about technology). If students are learning about the periodic table, contact a scientist online and see if they can Skype with students and answer questions about how it impacts their job. If my students need to make a presentation about something, maybe I should have them create a Powerpoint or Keynote about about something they're trying to convince their parents of (what they want for Christmas?) and then use appropriate information (graphs showing allowance vs cost, images demonstrating the benefits to both, etc.) Or even presentations showing something that needs to be changed about the city and then pass them on to the mayor's office!

We have to show kids that they are learning things that matter to important people and that help our society function. Again, if the work that kids are doing matters, we should treat it like it does.


Rodney Turner said...

Yeah! This is what I believe about fake/pseudo/imaginary assignments. Real is life and life is relevant. How are the other teachers taking your new-found realization and application? I hope they see and are taking notes.
Keep up the great work and moving into PBL.

Dierdre said...

Thanks! Love that: real is life and life is relevant. :-)