Wednesday, June 9, 2010

You might be learning authentically if...

flickr CC image via yonolatengo

It sounds a little strange to say that learning would be anything other than authentic. To assert otherwise would imply that learning is somehow counterfeit or imitative... but wait a minute; we need to contextualize if we're going anywhere with this.

Learning in its purest, most natural form is as close to automatic as a human response can get. It's our human nature to learn. We live; we learn.  It's arguable that the act of living, growing and developing new skills is synchronous with learning. We learn despite ourselves.

So if we're accepting that learning is a natural human tendency, we should also accept that schools, our institutions of learning, should reflect this tendency. But this is where it gets a bit dicey, and where I think defining the authenticity of school-based learning becomes an issue. Learning is natural, automatic even, in some regards... so how do we make it so in the context of how we teach and learn in schools?

Much debate surrounds traditional pedagogical practise, and I won't get into that here, but I will say that teachers as learners shouldn't be terribly concerned with traditional pedagogical structures. Today's teachers should display an orientation of perpetual improvement toward their practice... a constant striving to find more effective ways to teach. To me, that's how we emulate the natural forces of learning in human nature... constant striving to be better, healthier, smarter. This striving to develop and grow is the essence of authenticity in learning... a genuine search for meaning and relevance. If we get hung up on a pedagogical stream of consciousness that we feel is adequate and righteous, we risk becoming blind to potentially better, more effective ways to teach and learn. There is always something to improve upon, and engaging colleagues in the Twitter Universe is a great conduit for dialog about what teachers do.

I've been engaged in allot of Twitter #edchat lately surrounding the principles of authentic learning. Like so many other elements of formal, organized teaching and learning, defining authenticity in schools can be difficult- everyone has their own opinion of what authentic learning looks, sounds and feels like. Again, I would assert that a genuine search for meaning and relevance in what we teach and learn in schools is the context within which we should define authentic learning.

I want to diagnose authentic learning. To that end, here's a Foxworthyesque list of symptoms that I have come up with so far:
  • You might be learning authentically if school is exciting instead of stressful- a challenge, not a burden;
  • You might be learning authentically if you talk about school experiences rather than lessons;
  • You might be learning authentically if every answer leads to another question;  
  • You might be learning authentically if you let your grades take care of themselves- you're too busy learning;
  • You might be learning authentically if you feel an overwhelming urge to share what you know with others;  
  • You might be learning authentically if learning isn't like your 9-5 job;
  • You might be learning authentically if you're taking home homework that wasn't assigned.
Perhaps you'd like to add to my list... tweet me @graingered.
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