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The following information on Authentic learning is excerpted from:

Dennis, J., & O'hair, M. (2010). Overcoming obstacles in using authentic instruction: A comparative case study of high school math & science teachers. American Secondary Education, 38(2), 4-22.

Authentic instruction is the combination of instruction and assessment that is designed to bolster student achievement through lessons which are taught at a higher intellectual level and that contain information and skills that are of value beyond school (Newmann and Associates, 1996; Newmann, Bryk, & Nagaoka, 2001).

Authentic lessons include asking students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. Students working at these levels might be asked to produce a diagram depicting the cause and effect of a science experiment, draw conclusions as to what happened, and then predict multiple ways to solve the problem and argue which method is the best. In comparison, inauthentic methods would include lower level skills, such as memorization, regurgitation of facts, or solving pages of math problems that have no relation to a real life scenario. Student learning is often based on rote memorization of useless facts, skills taught in isolation hat students are unable to apply to their daily living, or meaningless trivia that has no value outside of school (National Research Council, 2004; Wood 2005). Authentic achievement consists of three criteria: construction of knowledge, disciplined inquiry, and learning that is of value beyond school (Newmann and Associates, 1996).

Construction of knowledge involves students producing original work, such as through writing or art. In a traditional setting, students are mainly asked to reproduce the knowledge they gain, such as demonstration of memorization of facts on a multiple choice or matching test. Disciplined inquiry involves students using their prior knowledge in an attempt to understand on a deeper level, rather than a superficial level. Value beyond school is exactly what it states—students should be able to use the knowledge and processes that they learn at school in their everyday lives. Authentic instruction can be an overwhelming undertaking and shift in style for teachers and schools, especially for those still using traditional approaches. It has been noted that instruction that emphasizes meaning and understanding is demanding on teachers and not all teachers are willing to use these practices (Knapp et al., 1992; Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, & Hewson, 2003). Authentic instruction is not easily implemented; higherorder thinking skills and connecting material to the outside world have been noted as two of the more difficult components to emphasize when using this method (D’Agostino, 1996).

Real World Problems


  • D’Agostino, J.V. (1996). Authentic instruction and academic achievement in compensatory education classrooms. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 22(2), 139-155.
  • Knapp, M.S. and others (1992). Academic challenge for the children of poverty. Study of academic instruction for disadvantaged students. Summary report. District of Columbia: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Policy and Planning. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 353 355)
  • Loucks-Horsley, S., Love, N., Stiles, K.E., Mundry, S., & Hewson, P.W. (2003). Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics. Thousand Oaks: CA: Corwin Press.
  • National Research Council and the Institute on Medicine. (2004). Engaging schools: Fostering high school students’ motivation to learn. Washington D.C.: The National Academies Press.
  • Newmann, F.M., & Associates. (1996). Authentic achievement: Restructuring schools for intellectual quality. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Newmann, F.M., Bryk, A.S., & Nagaoka, J.K. (2001). Authentic intellectual work and standardized tests: Conflict or coexistence?Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research.
  • Wood, G.H. (2005).
  • Time to learn: How to create high schools that serve all students
  • (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.