Skimming my Twitter messages yesterday, I came across a request from Dr. Alec Couros from the University of Regina to help him respond to a writer who took issue with his use of the phrase “authentic learning” in an article, Safety and Social Networking, that he had written for TechLEARNING. The writer in question characterized the term “authentic” as meaningless edspeak.
While I couldn’t take the time yesterday to respond, many others did and are quoted in Alec’s post, Authentic Learning Environments. The comment by Rob Wall hit home with me.
First – “authentic” means genuine as opposed to artificial, contrived or imitative. In traditional schooling, many experiences are contrived. We tell students to write for their audience, yet the audience for whom they are writing is just the teacher or perhaps their class. An authentic audience is an audience beyond the teacher, class or even the school. It is a heterogeneous audience as one would write for if one wrote in a newspaper or magazine article. It is an audience that chooses to read what is being written instead of a group that is chosen by the writer or a teacher.
There’s little to argue with in Rob’s comment and most language teachers can see snapshots of their classrooms when reading it. But gosh, it’s hard! How do you move beyond the artificial when a contrived system dictates that:
- you will have 27 twelve year olds with no choice but to sit in front of you;
- during a time frame that an artificial schedule has determined to be “language” time;
- ready to learn about “planning for writing” because a prescribed curriculum mandates it?
What’s a teacher to do? Carefully craft a lesson centered around a topic that will hook the interest of as many of those twelve year olds as possible, ripe with examples from literature and shared writing, logically broken into meaningful steps, rich with opportunities for students to practice and apply what they have learned, all coherently and masterfully logged in day and unit plans. Does learning take place in this scenario? Certainly some. After all we have test scores that verify this fact, don’t we?
What can a teacher do to break out of this artificial mould, to move towards more authentic learning opportunities? I think the first step is to realize that authentic learning is often not scripted nor planned for. The teacher needs to open up the classroom and see who and what will enter “naturally”. A good first step is blogging. Here’s an example in one of my project sites, Ontario Blogs, where blogging has opened a classroom to authentic learning.
The teacher has asked students to share responses to the books they are reading on the Ontario Blogs site. There are many classes from across the province using the site, so there is the potential for a wide audience for these young writers. Student “Bam” shared her response to “OK to Be Me”, a short story written by Monica Marie Jones and published in “Chicken Soup for the Girl’s Soul”. The author of the story came upon Bam’s post and contacted me to ask for a login to the project site so she could respond to the student. A meaningful dialogue is shaping up here and a learning network has been started involving students and author. Please read the exchanges yourself, but if time is lacking, I’ve picked out some highpoints:
My name is Monica Marie Jones and I am the author of the short story, “Okay to be Me” from Chicken Soup for the Girls Soul. That story is an excerpt from my novel, “The Ups and Downs of Being Round.” I was so glad to see that you wrote a blog about my story. Reading it really made my day.
I am the writer of this blog and I was so exicited to have you respond to my blog!
… I was wondering if my class could blog back and forth to you?
I would love to blog back and forth with your class.
Wow, wait until Tuesday when my class finds out about this!
…When you begin a book or are brainstorming for a book do you go right to typing or do you draft up a mind map first? Do you have a little “inspriation book” for when you think of story ideas when you are on the go?
WOW!!! I am very excited the you are interested in blogging back and forth with my class Ms. Jones! When I first showed your response to BAM they were thrilled and applauded her. It has definitely been motivating for all of the students to hear comments from an author.
That is very cool that mjones responed on our blog site
that means any author can get an account and repond on anything on here that is really cool
When I write a book, it begins as an idea in my head. From there I start by writing short stories or situations that I see happening within the book. I guess this is kind of like my way of doing an outline. I write everything that I want in the book, then I go back in and fill in all of the gaps and the details.
Hmmm… now let’s compare this experience with the lesson I mentioned earlier, the well-crafted one about “planning for writing”. Which experience is more authentic? Which has more impact? Authentic learning – meaningless edspeak?
Technorati tags: authentic learning, blogging, Alec Couros, Rob Wall, Monica M. Jones