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Authenic Learning: Our theme for 2011/2012

“"Educated are those who have learned much, remembered much and made use of their learning in practical life."

-- P. R. Sarkar

This is one of the key definitions of the Neo-Humanist Education movement.  And how timely!  For nowadays students are learning much, but forgetting much, and then making hardly any use of their learning in practical life.  A change is needed if our children are to be truly educated.

Our 2012 theme, “Authentic Learning,” refers primarily to the third part of the quote:  “make use of their learning in practical life.”   Authentic means true, real or genuine.  Real learning is that which is relevant, builds upon what one already knows, and is then remembered and used over time.  Making use of intellectual knowledge actually helps one to better assimilate and remember it.  This in turn can inspire one to want to learn more!  So I contend that authentic learning leads to more learning, more remembering, and more practical use of that learning.

Too much learning these days is irrelevant to the needs, emotional state, growth and natural development of children and the world they live in.  Yet, even for us at Progressive School, it is so hard to break away from that model because the entire society around us depends on it, reinforces it, and even demands it.  The parroting of information via tests administered under pressure does not lead to information being stored in long term memory.   In the final stage, the lack of application of learned facts results in the total loss of the initial knowledge, or any inspiration to learn more.

Examples of traditional learning might involve students reading a textbook, answering a few questions related to the content, and getting a score.  Perhaps in a mathematics class students would be solving problems in a workbook.  However, if students were engaged in an authentic lesson—related, let’s say, to reducing a city’s air pollution—their classroom environment probably would look quite a bit different.  Students could work in groups and divide up the various tasks needed to be accomplished to impact this real-world issue:  looking through news stories of cities that suffer from the same problem, checking on the relationship between car exhaust and weather, gathering data on industrial waste output, reviewing statistics about the city’s population and health, getting air samples, or contacting organizations already working on the issue.  These students would simultaneously be engaged in science, social studies, mathematics, and reading.  While utilizing their technical skills, they would be honing research and social communication skills.

Authentic Learning promotes interest, motivation, problem solving, long-term memory, social skills, and metacognition.  Its key components are:  it involves real-world situations, it exercises inquiry and thinking skills, it includes a discourse in a community of learners, and it is student-directed.

Now comes the hard part.  How do you evaluate authentic learning?   Well, that is the subject of a much lengthier article.  For now, suffice it to say that a truly educated person is obvious in their ability to find needed information, apply intelligent process, and solve problems.  They quickly rise to prominence in the real world, and contribute substantially to the development of society.

So far, I haven’t found a test which covers that.

Progressive School of Long Island

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