Our Vision

At the AIW Institute, we believe that ALL students deserve access to intellectually rigorous, engaging learning experiences that have value beyond the school walls. Furthermore, we believe that to achieve this vision, teachers and administrators must have extended opportunities to collaborate around instruction, share their knowledge and build their collective capacity.

The Framework

The AIW Institute offers professional development and capacity building using the Framework for Authentic Intellectual Work, developed by Drs. Fred Newmann, M. Bruce King, and colleagues at the Center for Organization and Restructuring of Schools, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The AIW framework drives our collaborations with teacher teams and administrators. The framework consists of three criteria that are essential to high quality learning experiences for students: construction of knowledge, disciplined inquiry and value beyond school. A school-based AIW team analyzes examples of teacher tasks, student performance, and instruction through the lens of these three criteria.

Artifacts for AIW Criteria

During AIW Learning Team Meetings, members examine artifacts (tasks, instruction, student work). Every team meeting includes scoring and feedback on teacher tasks, instruction and student work based on the AIW Criteria.

TEACHER TASKS: lesson plans, formative or summative assessments, major assignments, projects

STUDENT PERFORMANCE: completed essays, assessments or other written student work, videotaped student presentations

INSTRUCTION: live observations or videotape of teacher and student interactions during a classroom lesson

Improved Student Learning diagram

The distinctive criteria for Authentic Intellectual Work are construction of knowledge through the use of disciplined inquiry to produce discourse, products, or performances that have value beyond school.

Construction of Knowledge

Does a task ask students to create new knowledge that demonstrates higher order thinking?

Skilled adults in diverse occupations and participating in civic life face the challenge of applying basic skills and knowledge to complex problems they have not previously faced. To reach adequate solutions to new problems, the competent adult has to construct knowledge, because these problems cannot be solved by routine use of information or skills previously learned.


Such construction of knowledge involves organizing, interpreting, evaluating, or synthesizing prior knowledge to solve unique or novel problems. Teachers often think of these operations as higher order thinking skills. We contend, however, that successful construction of knowledge is best learned through a variety of experiences that call for this kind of cognitive work, not by explicitly teaching a set of discrete thinking skills, divorced from the problems’ contexts.

Disciplined Inquiry

Does this task ask students for coherent clarifications, explanations or arguments?

Constructing knowledge alone is not enough. The mere fact that someone has constructed, rather than reproduced, a solution to a problem is no guarantee that the solution is adequate or valid. Authentic adult intellectual accomplishments require that construction of knowledge be guided by disciplined inquiry.


By this we mean that they (1) use a prior knowledge base often grounded in an academic or applied discipline, (2) strive for in-depth understanding rather than superficial awareness, and (3) develop and express their ideas and findings through elaborated communication.

  1. Prior knowledge base. Significant intellectual accomplishments build on prior knowledge accumulated in an academic or applied discipline. Students must acquire a knowledge base of facts, vocabularies, concepts, theories, algorithms, and other methods and processes in the field necessary to conduct rigorous inquiry. Typical instruction is limited only to transmitting a knowledge base, along with basic skills, and neglects the following components of disciplined inquiry.
  2. In-depth understanding. A useful knowledge base entails more than familiarity with facts, conventions, and skills in a broad range of topics. To be most powerful, the knowledge must extend beyond isolated facts and skills; it must be used to gain deep, complex understanding of specific problems. Such understanding develops as one uses the methods and processes of a discipline to look for, imagine, propose, and test relationships among key facts, events, concepts, rules, and claims in order to clarify a specific problem or issue.
  3. Elaborated communication. Accomplished adults in a range of fields rely on complex forms of communication both to conduct their work and to present its results. The tools they use—verbal, symbolic, graphic, and visual—provide qualifications, nuances, elaborations, details, and analogies woven into extended narratives, explanations, justifications, and dialogue. Elaborated communication may be most often evident in essays or research papers, but a math proof, CAD drawing, complex display board, or musical score could also involve elaborated communication.

Value Beyond School

Do students apply knowledge to solve problems outside of school?

Finally, meaningful intellectual accomplishments have utilitarian, aesthetic, or personal value. When adults write letters, news articles, organizational memos, or technical reports; when they speak a foreign language; when they design a house, negotiate an agreement, or devise a budget; when they create a painting or a piece of music—they try to communicate ideas that have an impact on others.


In contrast, most school assignments, such as spelling quizzes, laboratory exercises, or typical final exams are designed only to document the competence of the learner; they lack meaning or significance beyond the certification of success in school.

Curricula or instruction intended to be relevant, student-centered, hands-on, or activity-based may be construed as having value beyond school. But these labels alone do not necessarily include the intellectual component in our concept of value beyond school. Intellectual challenges raised in the world beyond the classroom are often more meaningful to students than those contrived only for the purpose of instructing students in school. But the key here is to offer any activity, regardless of whether it conforms to familiar notions of relevance, student interest, or participatory learning that presents an intellectual challenge that when successfully met has meaning to students beyond complying with teachers’ requirements.