Relevancy and Authenticity:
Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences
By: Megan Hoke

Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students, by Sara Kajder, centers around the National Council of Teachers of English’s (NCTE) Policy Research Brief about Adolescent Literacy (AL) released in 2007. Among the many topics emphasized in the brief, are shifting literacy demands, multiple and social literacies, motivation, multicultural perspectives, and research based recommendations. Throughout the book, Kajder references particular sections of the brief, making vital connections between those ideas and examples of authentic classroom instruction. She referenced it best when she described how she looks at the NCTE research brief as “…a tool, a frame, and a text challenging [her] to push back” (Kajder, 2010, p. 5). Kajder describes multiple literacies, explaining that they are not meant to completely replace print based work, or saying that one is more important than the other, but as an opportunity to “…help students in practicing (and critically unpacking) the dominant modes and media of their time” (Kajder, 2010, p. 10). Thus, relevancy and authenticity for the 21st century adolescent literacy learner, is critical.


Creating a Bridge: Outside and Inside School Literacies

NCTE 2 discusses how “Adolescent literacy is social, drawing from various discourse communities in and out of school” (Kajder, 2010, p.xi). In other words, adolescents regularly use various literacies outside of school for various purposes and to create various meanings.Thus, it is essential for there to be bridges between everyday literacy practices and classroom communities and experiences. Unfortunately, this isn’t always happening in schools today. One child out of many of Kajdar’s case studies, reinforces this by saying that “Technology in school isn’t about connecting or really doing anything. It is about doing an assignment” (Kajder, 2010, p. 5) and “…I typically see school as just that…in school only” (Kajder, 2010, p. 29). Megan, a teacher within the text, shared her thoughts about one assignment by discussing how, “…it feels too much like a school project and not enough like good writing grown from deep reading” (Kajder, 2010, pg. 89). She went on to further describe how she notices that students engage differently when they see the work as more than just a school project, and she wanted the work students did in her classroom with Flickr to have meaning outside of the English classroom as well. Megan created the idea of a “15-Day Visual Character Journal” where students captured one image for each day of reading from the point of view of a character from their novel. Students were extremely motivated to complete the assignment. It is important to make assignments as relevant and authentic as possible and for students to see the value of literacy outside of the classroom as well.

Many students do not see the relevancy in their learning, and too often, students have literacy skills that are not made evident in the classroom unless teachers make efforts to include them. Further, Ed, a teacher who was not born “digitally” but learning to live and teach digitally and who was described in Kajder’s book, recognizes this and explains “If I devalue or reduce the importance of what kids are doing to produce and read texts outside of my classroom walls, I ignore what they can do, and I limit what we can do together” (Kajder, 2010, p. 46). Knowing this information has important teacher implications. It is critical that the literacies that students engage within their community find their way into the classroom to create meaningful, authentic learning experiences.

Teacher Implications

Teachers who recognize this need, incorporate many relevant tools and assignments that value what students bring to the classroom. Many examples of authentic work are those that require students to share with their classmates and interact with one another. The AL brief describes how “adolescents are successful when they understand that texts are written in social settings for social purposes” (NCTE, 2007). Kristin, a teacher featured within the book explained how she wants her students writing and thinking socially and coming together to do something meaningful. Students within the book participated in motivating and authentic assignments such as Andrew, who recorded interviews from WWII survivors, created a podcast on a blog, and shared it with his classmates who then added their own interviews, reactions, and experiences as well. Liz, a teacher featured in the book, described seeing the relevancy of iPods in her students’ daily lives, and incorporated that into her teaching by having students develop their own audio content which would be streamed from a class podcasting site. Motivation is a critical factor in the success of adolescents’ reading achievement. When students have the opportunity to bridge what they are engaging in outside of school into the classroom, this authenticity will no doubt positively influence students’ motivation.

The author explained that the stories of teachers featured in her book are meant to illuminate “…how the AL Brief can function as a tool for exploring and informing your own practice” (Kajder, 2010, p. 101). It is crucial for educators to keep learning and using resources that “push back” and challenge our thinking, as she mentioned, in order to grow and develop as a professional, and as an individual. Literacy learning is an ongoing and non-hierarchical process (NCTE, 2007); it is changing and evolving, and teachers need to respond appropriately.

Motivating Resources Mentioned

Be sure to check out the Glossary page to learn more about each resource. There are so many more uses for these tools. I encourage you to explore the Internet to learn more about these uses.



Post and organize photos, even from smartphones, have others comment on them, tag yourself and others within the photos, create a collaborative album with others. Private albums are also possible.

Teacher Uses Within the Book
15-Day Visual Character Journal: Students captured one image for each day of reading from the point of view of a character from their novel

Other Uses
  • Image writing prompt
  • Digital storytelling
  • Slide shows
  • Illustrating poetry
  • Creating virtual field trips
  • Digital Portfolios



A pocket-sized device used to play music files.

Teacher Use Within the Book
Students created their own audio content to be streamed from a class podcasting website.

Other Uses
  • Audio books
  • Instructions for assignments
  • Fluency
  • Creating a playlist of songs that is related to similar themes in a book



A syndicated release of episodes of information. They are a way of delivering audio or video files over the Internet for playback on mobile devices such as an ipod, or computer.Examples include Discovery Channel, National Geographic, NASAcast, PBS-nature, and more.

Teacher Use Within the Book
Students recorded interviews from WWII survivors, created a podcast on a blog, and shared them with their classmates who then added their own interviews, reactions, and experiences.

Other Uses
  • Collaborative projects
  • Oral presentations
  • Debates
  • Book talks


Kajder, S. (2010).Adolescents and digital literacies learning alongside our students.NCTE Urbana:IL.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). (2007). Adolescent literacy a policy research brief produced by The National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved from