Guest Author, Josh Hill – In my previous posts I have been a bit antagonistic as I chastised the decontextualized learning that traditionally takes place in schools and objected to the superficial motivational schemes that fail to “engage” students. And although I want this blog to have a critical edge I am reminded of the wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson who reflected that “criticism should not be querulous and wasting, all knife and root-puller, but guiding, instructive, inspiring”… So in my next series of posts I am taking the tact of a dreamer and will take a stab at articulating a definition of authentic instruction, and illustrate this vision with a few real world exemplars.
First a little background…
In the 1980′s cognitive psychologists examined the relationship between the acquisition of knowledge and the context in which the learning of the knowledge takes place, and began to challenge the separation of what is learned from how it is learned and used. The research (1) found that knowledge is situated, being in part a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used. Furthermore psychologists found that the learning that occurs outside of school was entirely different in nature than the way in which students are expected to learn inside of schools. The concept of “authentic instruction” emerged from this revelation and researchers(2) sought to characterize meaningful intellectual work by analyzing the kinds of mastery demonstrated by successful adults who continually work with knowledge; for example, scientists, musicians, childcare workers, construction contractors, health care providers, business entrepreneurs, repair technicians, teachers, lobbyists, and citizen activists. Adults in these diverse endeavors, it was found, face a common set of intellectual challenges that can serve as guidelines for education. The characteristics of authentic intellectual work that emerged from this research are: construction of knowledge, through the use of disciplined inquiry, to produce discourse, products, or performances that have value beyond school.
Construction of knowledge:
Knowledge workers in diverse occupations face the challenge of applying skills and knowledge to complex and often unique problems. The skilled adult has to “construct” knowledge because these problems cannot be solved by routine use of information or skills. This construction of knowledge involves organization, interpreting, evaluating, and/or synthesizing prior knowledge and experience.
Constructing knowledge alone is not enough. The mere fact that someone has constructed, rather that reproduced, a solution to a problem is no guarantee that the solution is adequate or valid. Authentic intellectual accomplishments require that construction of knowledge be guided by disciplined inquiry. Skilled adults use a prior knowledge base; strive for in-depth understanding and develop and express their ideas and findings through elaborated and defined communication media.
Value beyond school:
Finally, meaningful intellectual accomplishments have utilitarian, aesthetic or personal value. This concept relates closely to Dan Pink’s concept of purpose. Authentic intellectual work needs to connect to the world beyond the classroom and connect to student’s lives. Learning needs to be situated in the real world context in which it lives and informing an authentic audience for work is a hallmark of this phenomenon.
In summary authentic instruction calls for learners to be tackling real world problems; guided by the workflow established by experts in the discipline with which the work is rooted; and with the purpose of having a real impact.
Real World Classroom Example
As you watch the following real world classroom example I encourage you to look for examples of authentic intellectual work: knowledge construction, disciplined inquiry and value beyond the school, but also to employ your critic’s eye and suggest areas of this project that could have been optimized to further embody authentic instruction. I look forward to your contributions.
(1) Brown, JS., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.
(2) Newmann, F. M., King. B, Carmichael, D.L. (2007). Authentic instruction and assessment; Common standards for rigor and relevance in teaching academic subjects. Des Moins, Iowa: State of Iowa Department of Education.