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What is authentic learning?

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November 2011

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I recently read somewhere that people can listen with understanding for 90 minutes, listen for retention for 20 minutes, but they need to be actively involved every 8 minutes.  Now if you are an elementary teacher, then your kids are, most likely (hopefully!), actively involved every 8 minutes anyway.  If you are a student-directed secondary teacher, then I would say your students probably are, as well.  But for a moment, let’s think about teachers who still prefer to lecture for a whole class period.  What are the students actually learning?  I’m not asking what they can recall regarding basic facts that have been drilled into them.  What are they understanding and retaining that will transfer into other parts of their lives?

I love talking about authentic learning.  If you are still assessing information that can be easily googled online, then your methods are in desperate need of an update.  If you employ instructional and assessment methods that offer student choice, differentiate for personalized learning, and require higher levels of thinking, then you are right on target for authentic (and long-lasting) learning experiences!  Some great ways to do this are through project-based learning, reader’s and writer’s workshop, and genius hour projects.  I’ve linked some great websites for further information about these powerful learning frameworks.  I have worked with an extensive number of teachers, and have never met a single one who regretted facilitating one of these opportunities in their own classrooms.  On the contrary, the student engagement, growth, and achievement are usually well beyond the teacher’s initial expectations.  In addition to these enormous benefits, students learn to collaborate with peers, consult experts in the field, and present their findings to relevant audiences.  These are real-world skills that are necessary for our students to be ready for college and careers. 

What are some ways you ensure authentic learning occurs in your classrooms?  If you are an administrator or professional development coordinator, how do you ensure this happens with your teachers?  They deserve to have authentic learning experiences, as well.  As I mentioned above, this is one of my favorite topics to discuss.  I’m always looking to increase my learning, as well.  I look forward to engaging with you via the comment section here, through LinkedIn, Twitter, or my email address.  Thanks!

discoery learning

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