What Makes Learning Authentic?

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My mom used to take me to the library quite a bit when I was a kid. I’d drag home piles of books and finish them within days. I’d grow bored and get cranky.

Then, I’d write.

New stories grew out of the books that I finished. In between library visits, I’d read my own work. I loved this almost as much as I loved the library. Every time I suggest that writers need to produce authentic work for real audiences–especially wide audiences–I think about this part of my writing past.

I was all the audience I needed back then.

Or wanted.

More and more often, I find myself questioning traditional definitions of authentic learning.

I wasn’t solving complex problems or acting in service to others. I wasn’t engaged in discourse. I wasn’t producing anything that an audience would find compelling, either. In fact, I didn’t share my work with anyone. It mattered only to one person: me.

Does this mean my work was less than authentic?

I’ve had the opportunity to teach and learn from many different kind of students, including gifted and introverted children. Quite a few of them aren’t particularly interested in pursuing the kinds of authentic learning experiences we teachers tend to hold up as examples.

They don’t want to build a learning network or join online communities. They aren’t interested in publishing, either. When they choose peer review partners, they do so with great intention.

They’re discriminating.

Discrete.

Private.

The work they produce matters, though. So, what makes learning authentic, and do students have to connect, share, publish, or produce things for others in order to satisfy those expectations?

Should they have to?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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