au•then•tic – not false or copied; genuine; real

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We’ve all heard of an authentic work of art or an authentic document. But when we hear the word “authentic” do we make the connection to learning?

The term “authentic learning” is not just a new education buzzword. Authentic learning is taking place every day at Posnack, as it is in schools around the world. But what exactly is authentic learning, and why is it so important to the learning process?

Look no further than the definition in the heading above to understand the meaning of authentic learning – learning that is genuine and true; learning that can be connected to real life situations; learning that is original and self-directed.  This is the learning environment that we all want for our children.

franklin quote

This quote epitomizes the idea behind authentic learning. How many times have we looked at our child’s graded homework or spelling test only to find wrong answers to questions that we know they drilled the night before?  Or when you ask your child how to find the answer to a math problem and they respond that they don’t remember how to do it? In an authentic learning environment, the emphasis is for students to learn through action, not through passive listening. Too often the emphasis is on memorization with the end goal being solely that of getting a good grade. While memorization does have its place (the multiplication tables being one good example), memorizing without understanding the process doesn’t enable your child to apply what they have remembered to real-life situations. Sure they may have memorized that 12 X 3 = 36, but if you showed them three egg cartons each containing one dozen eggs, would your second grade student be able to immediately make that connection as to how many eggs you have altogether?

Authentic learning involves the student in the learning process. Using what is referred to as the Socratic Method, teachers take on the role of facilitators as they respond to students’ questions with additional questions in their quest to lead the students to self-discovery of the answer. Authentic learning occurs when students take the lead and discover the answers through experiments, exploration, and project-based learning experiences. Authentic learning promotes critical thinking skills, and encourages collaboration, communication, and creativity. At Posnack, we are proud of the authentic learning experiences we are creating for our students as we encourage them to assume an active role in the learning process.

Authentic learning continues beyond the classroom experience as well. The development of critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems, gives children their first exposure to the complexity of the world around them.  In the “real world,” answers to problems are not always clear, and decisions are often made by analyzing the available options and solutions using a variety of methods. In the “real world,” we engage in extensive collaboration with our coworkers and peers, and rely on strong communication skills to articulate our message. These are the skills Posnack students are learning in the classroom today, and are ones which will serve them well in their adult life.

So the next time your child asks for help on their homework and wants you to just tell them the answer, start by asking questions. You’ll be surprised not only by how quickly your “authentic learner” may be able to derive the answer on his own, but also on his ability to explain the thought process behind the answer “authentically” as well.

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