Authentic: : not false or imitation : real, actual via Merriam-Webster
Have you noticed the number of times people have thrown around the word authentic, especially when relating to student work? I have been guilty of that myself, I have talked for years about authentic student blogging. But, I don't think that word means what we think it means.
Can we really have authentic student work in the classroom? Since we require the work, doesn't that make it not authentic? Or, by definition is all work students do real?
I have given assignments to my students where I thought they were doing authentic work. For example, I have had students write fiction which they shared on the internet through their blogs. Of course I was looking for an authentic audience to read their authentic writing. But, on considering what I had them do, I wonder if there was anything authentic about it.
I know that some of my students really enjoyed writing fiction. Not only did they thrive with the assignments they were given, they spent their time writing new fiction or reworking older assignments to make them better. I believe that was authentic. It was true to them.
Many of my students did not want to write fiction. Some wrote some amazing stuff anyway, but it wasn't their choice. They did great work but had no choice about having to do it. Was being able to decide on what the story was about enough to make the assignment authentic? Did it become authentic when they took ownership? Is the fact that it was assigned enough to make it false?
At this point you are probably wondering why I care. I worry that we are lying to ourselves about the work we have our students doing. I worry that we placate our assignment
decisions through words like authentic when they really aren't.