Authentic Learning

Posted Mar 8, 2018

What is the best way to prepare students to become engaged learners and, eventually, responsible citizens and productive adults? That question has been debated for decades.  The Shorewood School District believes it has found the answer – Expeditionary Learning.

Expeditionary Learning is based on a model developed by educator Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound.  Authentic Learning is a core component of this model. (Click here to read the Shorewood Schools definition of Authentic Learning.) Students research and create meaningful original work about “real world” issues. Study is project-based, collaborative and interdisciplinary. Traditional subjects – English, Social Studies, Science, Math and Art – are interwoven in the students’ research and creations. The established practice of handing in an assignment in each subject area and having it returned with a letter grade doesn’t exist in Expeditionary Learning classrooms. Peer assessment, as well as teacher feedback, is crucial. Students continue to revise and improve their work until they’ve met their goals.Collaborative learning extends beyond the classroom. Students may work with community partners during the research process, as well as sharing what they’ve learned with the community.

The Shorewood Public Library is a major supporter of the Expeditionary Learning model. After all, what better community partner than the public library – a center for life-long learning? We display student projects and host presentations of their work so the entire community can reap the benefits of those efforts.  We help teachers and students identify and locate information resources. At times, we are the information resources. Last fall, Lake Bluff fifth graders wrote and presented original ghost stories at the Halloween Ghost Train celebration. In preparation, Karen deHartog of the Shorewood Historical Society talked to the students about the history of train that ran through Shorewood. Youth Services Librarian Heide Piehler talked with them about the unique aspects of writing and telling ghost stories.

Currently, we are working with Atwater English Language Learners on a study of immigration. Students will be interviewing immigrants from countries other than their own. We are recommending resources, identifying possible interview candidates, and providing meeting space. We are also working with Lake Bluff English Language Learners on their public library project. Those students will be creating bookmarks, posters, and other materials to inform the community about the library’s offerings especially for families whose primary language is not English.

We were very excited to work with Lake Bluff Sixth graders in their study of animal habitats. This year’s focus was on the monarch butterfly. The Library and Senior Resource Center coordinate the Shorewood Monarch Project so it was an ideal community partnership. We met with teachers Paula Berman and Gail Yanisch early in their planning process, sharing information, resources, and experiences. We also hosted the impressive presentation of their work. An audience of more than 70 people enjoyed the informational slide presentation, original magazines, posters, bookmarks, puzzles, game sheets, and displays. Later this spring, students will be helping Senior Center members build butterfly habitats and assisting in the planting of a butterfly garden at Harbor Chase. To see some of their outstanding work, visit the library and the Shorewood Monarch Facebook page.

You can see many more examples of Expeditionary Learning in action at the Shorewood School District’s Authentic Learning Showcase – May 2.

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