Involving students in a real-life project intended for an authentic audience.

by Karen MacDonald

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


In over 37 years of teaching, I believe now, more than ever, that it’s critical to engage students in real life projects with an authentic audience. This is not only important for student motivation and engagement, but it also prepares them to more proficiently enter the world at the end of their formal education.

There are three phases to the process:

-First, a teacher or group of teachers chooses a project that is standards-based and compelling to students;

-Second, that project is rolled out to students while connecting them to the community through field work to gather information; and

-Third, students produce a high quality project and share it with an authentic audience.

Knowing why the work is real and important provides context and motivation to do excellent work. It also foreshadows for them the nature of work outside of school, especially in today’s economy.



What I did well…

In this presentation, I started by activating the background knowledge and thinking of the participants around the topic of student engagement.  I provided three specific questions for them to reflect on, and I set aside time for them to record their reflections.  I used a protocol for the participants to share their knowledge and help construct meaning together.  The “students” were active and interacted in order to share their knowledge.  In a classroom of young students this protocol helps “level the playing field” in terms of background knowledge before beginning the work.  At this point in the lesson, the participants are doing the work and are in charge of engaging and educating their peers.  Everyone is active and connected to the learning and the goal of understanding student engagement.

Although it is not clear in the video due to editing, I gave the participants time to “dig into” the learning.  Each pair was able to view two or three final products, produced by middle school students, and discuss and record their thinking on the process, the product, and the potential authentic audience.  They were doing the work, not me, which is always my goal. In the third video clip you see them sharing their thoughts.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

In this presentation, I would have been more explicit in explaining the GO-GO-MO protocol.  The acronym actually stands for Give One, Get One, Move On.  I could have also pointed out the multiple uses for this protocol in activating background knowledge for students. Later on, I provided the participants with needed information about my school, but it was me “talking at” the participants.  The next time I would revise this section of the presentation to make it more engaging or interactive in some way. In the final segment of our lesson, when the participants were presenting the examples of high quality projects for authentic audiences, I could have been more specific about what each group presented.  Finally, some short clips of students reflecting on these projects would have added the important student voice to the presentation.  

I still want to grow in this practice by…

I want to continue to collect examples of high quality student work.  Seeing this work, completed by real students, helps educators understand that authentic work for an authentic audience has real power in engaging and educating young people.


About Karen MacDonald

Karen MacDonald holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Education from Mt. Holyoke College and a Master of Science in Professional Teaching from...

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