From Realia to Social Stories

Realia: Woodtype blocks are piled on a table. The word 'love' , created from the typographic blocks stands on top.
Optimise authenticity with realia. Credit: Image by Foundry.

Realia is about using familiar objects and social stories as teaching aids. It applies to all ages and situations: toddlers, school students, higher education and adult learning. Incorporating everyday situations and artefacts into learning experiences increases engagement, value and relevance for learners.

CAST, the home of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) explains:

‘Individuals are engaged by information and activities that are relevant and valuable to their interests and goals. This does not necessarily mean that the situation has to be equivalent to real life, as fiction can be just as engaging to learners as non-fiction. However, it does have to be relevant and authentic to learners’ individual goals and the instructional goals. In an educational setting, one of the most important ways that teachers recruit interest is to highlight the utility and relevance, of learning and to demonstrate that relevance through authentic, meaningful activities.’

Strategies used should be inclusive, personalised, relevant and contextualised. So what are some easy to access tools and strategies that enable this goal?

Making use of realia. Realia is the term for describing authentic objects from real-life which are incorporated into learning experiences. A colleague with whom I teach keeps a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ containing realia related to the concepts being explored in the class’ inquiry unit. The realia serves both as a provocation, a tool for engagement and to prompt curiosity and deep questioning. As realia is used to improve students’ understanding of other cultures and real-life situations, related to concepts, it can be incorporated into any age or stage of learning, including tertiary.

Social Stories. Often used for young students but equally relevant for older students and adults with social skill development needs. Social stories are used to teach everyday situations and expectations through narrative. Used in schools and at home, social stories help develop routines or teach social and behaviour expectations, for example.

The information is presented in the format of a story. Personalising the story with the student’s name or image makes it more relevant. It also fosters a deeper connection with the topic. Social narratives are found to be successful in teaching skills to students with autism and attention deficits.

Personalised problems. Making the subject matter relevant to learners’ lives engages learners across all age groups. It helps give meaning to the learning.  Remote online learning during the coronavirus pandemic sparked a wave of creative maths problems based around issues of the pandemic. From word problems related to panic buying to modelling the exponential growth of virus spread, educators were adapting learning to heighten relevance.

These simple strategies are easy to adopt and easy to adapt and can help optimise relevance and authenticity in learning.

A previous post discusses fun strategies for optimising individual choice and autonomy, another UDL engagement checkpoint.