What True Authentic Learning Is and Why Your Students Need It
Authentic learning is not just a buzzword.
Authentic learning experiences are what students need in order to succeed today and make all of their dreams happen in the future.
And if students DON’T have authentic learning experiences?
Then they won’t be prepared to have happy and fulfilled lives as adults.
Yes, really. Not exaggerating here.
In this article, you’ll learn what authentic learning is, what authentic learning really means, why it’s so important for students, and how authentic learning activities are the most effective way to teach math (or any other subject for that matter!!).
You’ll also learn several, tangible, EASY ways to incorporate authentic learning and real world math experiences into their daily instruction (as early as tomorrow, if you want!).
Let’s get into it.
Let’s answer the most frequently asked questions teachers have about authentic learning.
What is Authentic Learning and How Do I Teach It?
In this first section, we’re going to cover what true authentic learning really is, the history of authentic learning, and what it means for students.
Why should I care about authentic learning?
Authentic learning goes beyond the typical knowledge transfer of memorizing facts and figures. Instead, authentic learning requires students to apply what they’ve learned in real-life situations or authentic activities that are relevant to their lives outside of school.
If a student learns about fractions by just reading about them in textbooks, s/he would only be able to recall the information when it is needed for testing. That’s DOK level 1 (the most shallow level for depth of knowledge, based on Bloom’s Taxonomy).
However, authentic learning help students develop problem solving skills which will last a lifetime!
(PSST! Would you rather listen to this blog post?? Most of this content is covered in Episode 19 of the Learning to Love Math Podcast)
Learning to Love Math Podcast Episode: Creating Authentic Experiences in the Upper Elementary Math Classroom
Listen to the episode here!
What is the definition of authentic learning?
So, what is authentic learning, anyway??
I always like to start with dictionary definitions when defining terms.
“In education, the term authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications.”Ed Glossary, 2013
Authentic learning is that sweet spot where real world experiences meet rigor and relevancy.
Students don’t only see why they’re learning something; they’re excited to. It relates to their daily lives, as they are now.
No more of that, “You’ll need this when you’re an adult” stuff.
Authentic learning means that students are actively engaged in their education and applying what they learn through real-life experiences or authentic activities.
For example, math problems could be applied to cooking and baking recipes where fractions are used to measure ingredients.
I interviewed Lauren Daughty from Managing Middle Math on the Learning to Love Math Podcast, and she has a ton of ideas and lesson plans for activities like this!
Watch the video version of the interview here:
As you can see from watching even a bit of this video, it’s actually pretty easy to implement principles and practices of authentic learning into your core math instruction.
Why is authentic learning so important?
It all starts with the realization that, just because we’ve “taught” something, that doesn’t mean the student learned it.
Without authentic assessment (more about that in a minute!), there’s no way of knowing if your student actually grasps what they’ve learned.
So, I’d argue that authentic learning is not only important for 21st Century Learning; it’s critical for helping teachers know whether or not their students are actually learning.
Is authentic learning really effective?
Yes it is, authentic learning opportunities are WAY more effective than traditional types of teaching and learning experiences.
There are three main reasons why authentic learning opportunities should take precedence over any other form of learning.
First, authentic learning is the most effective way to teach because students are actually engaged in what they’re being taught.
Second, authentic learning activities allow students to retain information for longer periods of time without having to constantly review material which will save them valuable study time later on!
Finally, authentic learning experiences help teachers understand how well their students have learned a certain topic so that they can move onto more advanced concepts if needed or slow down and go back over old material if necessary.
How to Assess Authentic Learning
Ah – now that is the real question.
The great part is, if you’re doing this thing correctly, there is constant self-assessment that happens inherently with authentic learning opportunities.
The model of authentic learning also means that there are several ways for you to constantly assess student learning, and that there are several built in checkpoints to help you check for understanding.
What is authentic assessment?
If you’ve been a teacher (or even an education student) for at least a year, then you’ve probably heard of the idea of beginning with the end in mind.
If you’re already doing this in your classroom, then your instruction is well on its way to being authentic.
This gets even easier though, when we have planned and prepared for authentic assessment.
At its core, an authentic assessment is one where students actually use what they’re learning in real-time, in a way that flows easily and naturally to the desired result.
So if we want for students to learn about fractions (as we mentioned earlier), then having students bake a product of several cakes, cupcakes, or something similar for another class would be perfect.
in this example, it’s important to remember that you’re not assessing them on their baking skills – but on whether or not they were able to meet the task or challenge using what they’ve learned in math.
Authentic Assessment Examples
I always hate it when I read a long blog post and see NO examples. So I thought I’d include some examples of authentic assessment for you!
Have Students Write Checks for Place Value
Place value is a crazy abstract concept (you can read more about the best ways to teach place value here).
To make this more real for my kids, I had them write checks to each other. This made them want to use bigger numbers without me even prompting them, because it’s more fun to write a check for $1,000,000 than it is for $2.00!
Though, I do recommend throwing in some task cards to have them practice different amounts (something I’m working on! I’ll come back and include the link once they’re done. For now, grab my free place value charts to be the first to hear when the task cards are done).
It’s rigorous, it’s real-world, and it’s relevant to them RIGHT THEN.
On top of just making the check writing fun, this is a valuable skill that links to life skills of budgeting, putting a deposit down on an apartment, and a number of other random adulting things.
I hardly ever write a check anymore, but I’m thankful I know how to!!
How to Become an Expert on Authentic Learning
If you want to use more authentic learning in your classroom, then you’ll need to become an expert on that.
Before you freak out or panic, don’t worry – this is actually VERY easy, and it can be super affordable!
Start Learning About Authentic Learning at Conferences
The first thing you can do, is register for the 2022 Be a Math Person Conference.
If you’re seeing this before January 7th, 2022, it’s actually free for you to attend January 7th-9th.
If you’re in that lucky window, click here to get free, temporary access.
If you’re seeing this AFTER that time, don’t worry!!
You can still catch Lauren’s awesome presentation and all of the goodies she has on this topic by paying for the 2022 All-Access Pass before January 5th, 2023.
Go to YouTube University
Ok, I’m being a bit cheeky here – but you can learn SO MUCH from binging YouTube videos!!
Subscribe to my YouTube channel here to learn how to differentiate your math instruction.
Attend Automobile Academy
Now I’m just having fun with alliteration, haha
I have a short commute to work, 15 minutes on long days – but even then, i try to get in some learning to get me ready for the day.
One great way to do this is by listening to audio books or podcasts about authentic learning.
How to Get a Free Bundle of Authentic Learning Lessons and Assessments
Looking for resources to use with your students? I’ve got you covered!!
Become a Subscriber to my Mini Math PD Emails
Are you subscribed for my weekly Mini Math PDs yet?
If not, you’ll wanna get on that!!
I send emails jam-packed with resources, freebies, tips and strategies every week – to help you differentiate math so every student can experience success.
Grab any of these freebies in to opt in.
Join Our Free Community of Teachers Doing Differentiated Math
Join the free Facebook Group for upper elementary teachers doing differentiated math by clicking here.
If I do say so myself, it’s the best math PLC for upper elementary teachers who are learning to love math. 😉
Follow My Store on TeachersPayTeachers
Every week, I release new freebies specifically for the folks on my email list, my community on Facebook, and my TpT store followers.
If you’d like to follow my store on TeachersPayTeachers, click here.
If We Haven’t Met, Let’s Connect!
You can learn more about me and the mission behind Math With Minis from this blog post.
But I’d love to get to know you, too!!
Feel free to send me a DM on Instagram.
And if you tell me something specific you’re lookign for, I’ll be sure to point you to some awesome resources.