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Posts Tagged ‘authentic

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Authentic lessons and evaluations are messy because learning is messy. It takes daring, skill, and humility to design and implement authentic learning opportunities.

Daring — to do differently, to ignore naysayers, to make mistakes.

Skill — that develops from being daring, that builds up over time, that is borne of productive failure.

Humility — to admit mistakes, to acknowledge that learners can teach, to keep learning.

Authentic is difficult because it embraces differences, openness, and timelessness. These are the opposite of most classroom or course-based teaching, i.e., standardisation, walled gardens, and timetables.

Authentic is difficult, but not impossible. It starts with rationalising its importance with every learner and reminding them periodically.


This year marks my 30th as a trainer, teacher, and educator. Despite my experience, I am still learning. Actually, it is because of my experiences that I keep learning.

Last week I heard from veterans at a local university who shared strategies for longevity. One in particular shared an acronym, ACE.

  • Authentic: Sharing with students who you are, what you bring to the table, and why you do what you do.
  • Current: Staying informed with news and research in your field, and bringing that into learning spaces.
  • Energetic: Leading the way with passion and excitement; being the person would you wish to see facilitating a class even after a long day.

ACE, indeed. Those are strong cards to have in a teaching deck.

If you read this tweet or attend this session, you should have an open but critical mind. For example, what exactly does “bringing authentic contexts” mean?

Does it mean watching videos? Are the videos supposed to provide a window to the real world? For me, authentic watching of videos happens when people travel on the train or potato on a couch.

Or might the authenticity actually extend to learners creating videos by collaborating and critiquing?

I had a conversation with an English teacher recently. When I asked her to describe her students (all boys in a local Primary school), she mentioned something I hear all the time: They will not sit and listen; they would rather be learning actively.

Video source

She also mentioned two more things. The boys loved playing Minecraft (hence the embedded video above) and the older ones (11 to 12 year-olds) liked creating YouTube videos.

The teacher also described her students as being able to speak English well, but not write it well. Given how most schools require students to write, I am not surprised.

For example, my son is still given dead tree instructions to write an essay about an incident among kids playing hopscotch. How many kids actually play hopscotch? What could be more relevant to learners?

If teachers are to answer these questions and change the way they teach, they must reach out to kids and start from where the kids are.

How might teachers be more relevant while meeting curricular and assessment targets?

They could leverage on what the kids are interested in or passionate about. The teacher I spoke to could ask her students to write about Minecraft or to draft scripts for a video.

Such writing is not designed for a bubble like the classroom. The write up could be a walkthrough to be shared in a blog or a gaming forum. The script could be for a YouTube video to be put online.

These are examples of authentic learning. The task is real in the world of the learner and the learners have real audiences who will invariably give them really honest feedback.

This approach creates the need to learn. An audience of many (video game players and video watchers) instead of just one (the teacher) creates the need to learn how to write clearly and concisely. Novice writers will want to learn how to structure their sentences properly and to use appropriate vocabulary.

For teaching to be relevant and learning to be meaningful, teachers must first reach out and understand their learners. Then only can they create that yearning for learning.

Here is a non-example and an example of authentic learning.

I took a photo during a school visit of student work pasted on a board at the back of a classroom. Kids had been told to compose email on paper.

If you do not see a problem with that, you should not read any further because you do not understand what it means to create an authentic learning experience.

Anyone who argues that developing penmanship or practising grammar is the purpose of this exercise is missing the point. The point is learning with context and in context.

You should email to learn how to email. Having a dry run on paper is a terrible excuse in a modern classroom.

So what does an authentic email lesson look like? I share a quick, unplanned lesson I gave my son recently.


  1. A classmate sent my son an email with a few questions about project work.
  2. I told my son that he had to structure this email (greet, reply, sign off). In replying, he should learn to paragraph logically. The part numbered 2 and bound in green was his reply.
  3. A day later, my son received a reply but it was not immediately obvious what it was because it was typed at the bottom of the email (instead of the top) and indented with a previous reply.

This is how my son picked up a more authentic lesson on email writing, structure, and protocol using an iPad mini.

You learn to email with email. You learn the rules of email and writing, when you can break the rules, value systems (being nice), taking perspectives in the absence of visual and aural cues, and so much more.

This video and blog entry may not be suitable for those with ultra-sensitive dispositions.

Video source

I found this video embedded in this LifeHacker article on preventing splashback. Some might find this topic gross, but it provides a solution to an everyday problem (if not everyday, then how regular you are). I also think that it illustrates principles of meaningful learning.

The splashback problem is something most of us with seat flush toilets would have faced. Bringing this video as an example for, say, a physics lesson activates a learners prior knowledge.

The problem, suggested solution and rationalization for the solution provide an authentic context for problem solving. The illustration was not so authentic as to gross viewers out, but enough to be realistic or believable. It was certainly more authentic than problems or situations that learners cannot relate to, e.g., falling out of a plane.

The solution was derived by applying theoretical principles and by doing. This required the experimenters to also think about which variables to keep constants and which to change. It might also have been fun to make the most realistic-looking poop.

The video obviously required the combined efforts of at least two people, so there are opportunities for collaborative learning during the planning, implementing, production and editing. Individuals in any group are likely to specialize in something, and when they do, these become opportunities for self-directed learning.


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