About three years ago, I began seeing the words "authentic learning" more and more online and in professional development. And like any other good teacher I nodded my head and said "Yes, yes we need more of that." but quickly i realized that while the term was paraded around no one seemed to be able to readily be able to define it. So like a good learner is set off to determine for myself exactly what authentic instruction was and what it should look like in my classroom. What follows are the results of that three year exploration into how the learners that have passed through my door have used, both successfully and unsuccessfully, to guide me in the discovery that authentic is not about me its about them.
Authentic learning: Any of a variety of processes or activities in which an individual becomes engaged in the gathering, processing, or application of knowledge to which they are capable of making a personal and lasting connection.
To be an authentic educator I had to do a couple of things:
Get off the Stage
I found myself after several years of teaching being the sage, extolling all of the knowledge that I had assimilated down upon my students. I thought that my passion for my interests would engage them. Although I might intrigue them for a moment they were not truly engaged. So I began to guide them toward taking responsibility for their learning.
Become the learner
I needed to look at the kids that came into my room differently, so I stopped looking at them as students and started looking at them as learners. In doing so I was forced to re-evaluate my position as well. A teacher passes information but if I was going to turn responsibility over to them then my role as teacher needed to shift as well. How could I profess to be a life long learner if I called myself "Teacher-Master of all I Survey" Hence, my title became "lead learner" which I share with my learners whenever the lead each other in learning teams.
This didn't take place over night and every year a new group of learners walks into my room and begins the process again. Though hard work on all our parts, a lot of mistakes (mistakes are good), and learning each class grows more than they ever expect. And I am always amazed.
Last year I presented at the NC CCSA conference to demonstrate the possibilities of Authentic learning in a middle school classroom. From that effort I developed the Authentic Classroom resource list on paper.li, and the original presentation. With the publication of the new C3 and Next Generation standards for social studies and science authentic learning moves to the front of the learning stage and so this blog becomes the next piece of the authentic puzzle.