Prevention of literacy and numeracy skill gaps in early childhood is a high priority for parents, teachers and educational leaders. To focus on this priority, there are a myriad ways in which we can reinforce foundational skills on an ongoing basis. One strategy supported by research is the notion of authentic learning, or authentic assessment.
Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer students an opportunity to directly apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations. Authentic assessments can supplement the information obtained through formal assessment measures. They take place in the context of regular play or in other settings familiar to students. The key with all authentic experiences is that real-world application can enhance learning and evoke deep understanding. Performance-based tasks, rooted in standards, should play an integral role in the authentic assessment process. The data obtained during embedded assessment can yield results that contribute to strategic approaches to instruction.
This is the first of four articles in a series we’ll run over the next few weeks in which we’ll share some of our favorite ideas for incorporating authentic learning and authentic assessment in both the classroom setting and at home. In this article, we’ll discuss classroom ideas specifically focused on early literacy.
Educators can use this list of thought starters to spark their own ideas. Coaches and instructional leaders can share this list with their teams and make note of best practices during learning walks.
1. Bring characters to life with costumes, voices and expression during read-aloud activities to make reading experiences exciting for young learners. Students can reenact a story using this same approach to display their understanding of story elements.
2. Model good reading habits. Promote literacy by sharing your excitement about reading a new book, and be seen reading during lunch, snack or nap times.
3. Use big books with many pictures to capture the attention of little ones. Have students retell the story during a picture walk to assess essential understandings.
4. Have an author study to get children to discuss similarities and differences across books with the same writer.
5. Compose a friendly letter to the author. This process allows students to explore reading and writing for different purposes and audiences. Receiving a response can be an added bonus as well.
6. Use music and movement to enhance literacy skills and spark creativity. This incorporates multiple learning modalities to engage different students and adds variety and interest to the lesson. A classroom song and dance is often a great transition activity.
7. Label important objects and areas of the learning environment to increase awareness of concepts of print. This is one way to make literacy pervasive in the students’ daily lives.
8. Have a variety of reading and writing materials in designated areas of the classroom to continue to establish an expectation for literacy.
9. Create tactile experiences in writing by using shaving cream, play dough, sand or other materials with interesting textures.
10. Use informal assessments to gauge understanding. Analyze student drawings of people, places and events. To assess comprehension, ask students to explain their work.
11. Reenact or recreate real-world activities and settings. These might include housekeeping, creating a museum of children’s art or developing original books and magazines.
12. Use interactive bulletin boards to create focus areas across content strands. Make the boards come to life with visuals, vocabulary and big ideas from a unit or theme. As part of some projects, you might even have students participate in adding material to the boards.
13. Encourage frequent use of journals and other writing materials to express ideas, document experiences and develop fine motor skills.
14. Make word walls a learning tool in the classroom. Add pictures, symbols and color coding to increase student acquisition of sight words and academic vocabulary.
15. Incorporate books on tape, computer-based programs, tablets or other technology to promote literacy across mediums and help students see literacy as a core component of their daily interactions with technology.
In the next article in this series, we’ll focus on classroom authentic learning experiences for numeracy skills.
In the meantime, we would love to hear from you about your favorite examples of authentic learning experiences or assessments. Please share your ideas in the comments below!
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Tamika Fuller has been an educator for 18 years and has served in a variety of capacities; from classroom to district leadership. She has a Master of Arts Degree in Leadership in Teaching from Notre Dame of Maryland University and is a Doctoral Candidate at Walden University, with a concentration in Early Childhood. Tamika believes in establishing a sturdy foundation for young learners through the delivery of customized instruction to meet diverse needs. She has been a professional development consultant for NWEA since 2010.
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