When is learning truly authentic?
It is not uncommon for educators to bristle a bit when asked whether they engage students in "authentic" learning. Without providing more context for the term, some might think they are being accused of developing and delivering lessons that are not genuine, or are fake. In education, authenticity means much more than genuine over fake. According to the Buck Institute for Education:
In education, the concept has to do with how “real-world” the learning or the task is. Authenticity increases student motivation and learning. A project can be authentic in several ways, often in combination. It can have an authentic context, such as when students solve problems like those faced by people in the world outside of school (e.g., entrepreneurs developing a business plan, engineers designing a bridge, or advisors to the President recommending policy). It can involve the use of real-world processes, tasks and tools, and performance standards, such as when students plan an experimental investigation or use digital editing software to produce videos approaching professional quality. It can have a real impact on others, such as when students address a need in their school or community (e.g., designing and building a school garden, improving a community park, helping local immigrants) or create something that will be used or experienced by others. Finally, a project can have personal authenticity when it speaks to students’ own concerns, interests, cultures, identities, and issues in their lives.
Upon gaining better understanding of what authentic learning is, most teachers buy in immediately. They recognize that students will be more invested and engaged in their own learning if they see the tasks and content as authentic. Many educators, however, need examples to help them get started with creating authenticity in their own project and lesson plans.
Melissa Greenwood, editor at SmartBrief, recently asked me for examples of authentic learning at my school, St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts. Here is my response:
At St. John’s Prep, students often use such tools as Adobe Spark, iMovie and Notability to create clean, professional-quality media. Their quote graphics, videos, animations and infographics are clean and beautiful and demonstrate content mastery. By creating the digital products they see adults sharing online, they are more invested in learning. What makes these authentic creations even more exciting is that they are encouraged to share them beyond our classrooms. Our digital portfolio program gives our students that chance to share their work broadly if they wish. But perhaps even more important, through the portfolio process, they have the chance to reflect on what they've learned and why they are proud of their creations. Their authentic learning experience is twofold: They will create what adult professionals create, and they will get to share their graphics, videos, designs and writing with the world beyond our school if they choose.
The resulting article brought together four unique stories of authentic learning from teachers all across the country. My three co-contributors are certainly educators I admire: Sydney Chaffee, the 2017 Teacher of the Year; Alice Chen, a brilliant and well-known technology coach; and Bryan Christopher, a journalism teacher and Teacher Voice Fellow. Click the image below to read the full article. Share these examples with your colleagues and encourage them to add more authentic learning to their lessons and projects this year.
How do you bring authentic learning to the students in your classroom. How do you support teachers who are looking to add authentic learning to their lessons and projects? Comment below! The more examples we share, the more our students will benefit.