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Authentic Learning and Common Core

tamarak@essdack.org's picture

What is authentic learning?  Is it learning that is designed by teachers to do real work for themselves, their school and their community?  Is it project-based learning?  Is it making sure we "cover" the college and career standards?  I have wondered an appropriate answer to this question for the past ten years and I've had the opportunity to ask many staff and students what they believe is authentic.

Two definitions for "authentic" from the Merriam-Webster dictionary are:

  • not false or imitation.
  • true to one's own personality, spirit, or character.

I witnessed some authentic learning at ESSDACK recently as I watched student groups from several Kansas schools work collaboratively to brainstorm ideas, problem solve issues, and plan for future opportunities using iHigh, a free resource that allows schools to webcast events.  It was impressive to see a group of middle school and high school students take initiative and demonstrate passion to plan, produce, and prepare for the future as they shared ways they would broadcast games for their school and community as well as sell and play commercials for local businesses.  One student even shared how this experience is encouraging him to find a career in broadcasting!

Why was this example authentic?  It was REAL work, not false work.  Students were demonstrating their personality, spirit, and character as they used their talents to work on the iHigh projects.  They collaborated, solved problems, and dreamed of possibilities!  They also demonstrated independence, responded to the varying demands of different audiences, and used technology capably…three capacities of literate individuals as outlined in the common core standards.

This experience is just one example of "authentic" learning.  Over the past years, I've listened to staff and students discuss what authentic learning means to them.  I've created a top 10 list of my synthesis of these learning-centered conversations.

Authentic learning is:

  1. relevant.
  2. tied to student interests, talents, and skill sets.
  3. connected to standards that matter for life.
  4. practicing important skills that will be important for future careers.
  5. real-world problem solving and tackling difficulties with poise and realizing that not knowing is just as important as knowing all the "right" answers.
  6. listening to others, being adaptable and accepting other viewpoints when accomplishing tasks for real purposes.
  7. using resources to learn (professional learning networks, internet, text resources, face-to-face resources, etc.).
  8. relational-knowing the reason it is important to connect to someone or something and not having a fear of rejection and failure.
  9. having the ability to utilize technology efficiently and effectively to consume and produce.
  10. creating, innovating, and risk-taking.

Thank you to all the educators and students for sharing your insights about how to influence and impact authentic student learning.  So, what would you change, delete, or add to this list?  How can we create authentic learning experience for all students?  Pockets of excellence are good and I'm glad many schools have this, but authentic learning for ALL students can be our goal if we are courageous, knock down perceived barriers and allow it in all educational entities.

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