Friday, August 14, 2015

What's Authentic Learning?

This summer I'm reading and commenting on the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica.

Chapter 17: In Defense of Authentic Learning
Chapter 18: Who Should Lead the Learning?

Rae Pica asks, "Who wouldn't want children to have real, genuine learning?" Maybe everyone wants real learning to happen, but it comes down to how we define learning. Emphasis too often is placed on remembering and recalling facts and data. But memorization isn't learning. 

In today's world, it is easy to find specific information. A quick online search yields a variety of results. What is needed is more discernment, more analyzing of that information. Leaders and workers of tomorrow need to evaluate situations and solve problems. "65 percent of current elementary school students will end up doing jobs that have yet to be invented." How is memorizing data going to prepare students for that?

We need to help kids begin to explore and think independently. We should release control of the learning and follow the interests and needs of kids. Yes, we need to make sure kids are learning those standards (broad statements of understanding), but we can let them choose how to get there. We need to let them do more, explore more, choose more. Why? Because one day they will not have someone to supply answers. They will need to be motivated to find out on their own. And we can help them do that now.

Our wonder wall
I remember once when I failed at this. (Well, let's face it, there have been quite a few times. But this instance stands out in my mind.) Teaching first grade, I was trying to encourage kids to wonder and think about things. I created a wonder wall. Kids would write down things they were wondering about (questions or topics) and put them on the wall. Occasionally, we would remove a few and talk about them. Sometimes the questions were about me. ("I wonder why Mr. Wiley wants to be a teacher.") Sometimes the questions were general knowledge or specific interests. Sometimes they were more philosophical.

In one of our "sessions," I read this question: "I wonder where rainbows come from." I read the question to my first graders. I encouraged them to think about and offer answers. We talked a great deal about their speculations. Then I explained the scientific answer - light shining through raindrops separates into the spectrum of colors. We talked more about it. (I even drew pictures.) We moved on to other things. 

On my drive home that day, I realized that I FAILED as a teacher. Well, maybe that's a strong word but that's what I thought. I should have encouraged them to do some research for the answer. I could provide resources for them to discover the answer. We could have had a study of several days (or more) that would have been completely student generated and hopefully student led. I failed.

One thing is certain. I won't make that mistake again. Authentic learning is meaningful and connected to the student's life. How can we create that regularly for students, no matter what age or grade level they are?

Some links from the book---

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