How do essential questions and authentic tasks work together in a project-based learning environment?
The essential question drives a project and describes what you want students to think about, explore, and formulate an answer to at the end of the project. The authentic task is the work that students will do complete to help them better understand and respond to the question.
The essential question drives the “Why are we learning this?” and the authentic task drives the “What are we doing?”
Consider the immigration example again. The essential question arising out of our unit on immigration was, "What factors contribute to successful relocation of new immigrants?" The task must ask students to apply their knowledge about past immigrants and the immigration process to solve a problem and gain the understanding necessary to answer this question.
Sample Task: Immigration Station
Your city has recently had a large influx of immigrants. Some of them have found work and are settling in, while others are having problems with assimilation. Based on what you know from past immigration experiences, devise a plan to help these new immigrants relocate successfully in your city. Your plan might address housing, education, language barriers, cultural pride, job training, and health care. Be prepared to make a 15 minute presentation on what needs to be done as well as share materials (handbooks, posters, training materials) necessary to implement your plan.
An authentic task should asks students to apply information to solve problems, determine connections, and assess relationships. As they complete the task, students gain the knowledge, skills, and understanding necessary to answer the essential question.
As you determine what students should do, and begin writing an authentic task, here are some thoughts to consider:
Authentic or Real-World
An authentic task should create a bridge between the content learned in the classroom and why this knowledge is important in the world outside of it. By connecting to the world outside of the classroom, you help students understand the relevancy of what you are learning and working on inside the classroom.
Students don’t often get a chance to truly CREATE in the classroom. Creating a product provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their learning and gives you an obvious summative assessment. Formative assessments will occur during the project-building process.
As students work to answer the essential question, they draw from their experiences in a variety of disciplines and stretch their knowledge and understanding of many subjects. The task should require students to apply knowledge and skills from many different disciplines.
Working in teams on complex problems requires skills and expertise, helping students identify their own strengths and weaknesses and driving them to achieve their team goals.
Develop and write a task that requires students to be responsible for locating information and developing an answer on their own, with you as a resource or "guide on the side". Requiring students to determine what and how information is learned transfers the responsibility for knowing and learning onto the students and helps them develop metacognitive skills (learning how they learn).