Reflexive/ergative pedagogy is the practice of teaching whereby students' relationship with their instructor is dialogical; learners experience the following (as described by Mary Kalantzis and William Cope in their New Learning module (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d.)):
I have created assignments that included knowledge production in the form of artifacts and reflection. I give students multiple ways to interact with concepts; and they often have a choice as to how they may present what they have learned. In the classroom, I have used the concept of the social mind through small group work.
Kalantzis and Cope write about philosophers and educators, John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Rabindranath Tagore, as representatives of reflexive pedagogy. “They represent in certain senses a revival of the dialogical, where the agency of the learner is at play in a dialectic between teacher and learner, the to-be-learned and the learning” (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d.)
What underlies the idea that learning should include a dialogical relationship between learner and teacher is the belief that students, adults and children, have enough knowledge or capabilities to actively contribute to their learning.
No one would argue that some educational topics are pragmatic and necessary.
Christine Kupfer (2016) writes that Tagore felt that “children need indefiniteness, surprises and discovering the world first-hand without a clearly prescribed purpose.” Tagore believed that that was how children learned their first language and could learn other things this same way (Kupfer, 2016, p. 63). In order to achieve this, Kupfer (2016, p. 65) quotes from Tagore’s ‘The First Anniversary of Sriniketan’, The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume 4, A Miscellany, ed. by Nityapriya Ghosh (Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2006 ), pp. 493-498 (pp. 497-8):
Dewey’s, Montessori’s and Tagore’s educational philosophy were reactions to didactic teaching whereby the teacher is the main source of information and students are passive recipients.
Kalantzis and Cope in their New Learning module (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d.) lists four essential components of didactic teaching:
Kalantzis and Cope (2018) in a presentation at 2018 symposium contrast didactic pedagogy to reflexive/ergative pedagogy.
Table 1 created from Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (2018). Multiliteracies: Meaning making and literacy learning in the era of digitaltext. Paper presented at University-Wide Teaching and Learning Symposium organized by Center of Teaching, Learning andTechnology. https://ctlt.illinoisstate.edu/downloads/symposium/2018/Kalantzsis-Cope%20Morning.pdf
As one moves from didactic to reflexive/ergative the student can express their agency more liberally. Self-discovery is encouraged. Technology makes long-term memory less necessary. In a world of diverse students from different cultures, in the reflexive/ergative model, knowledge is seen as judgment which is subject to argument, and justification instead of absolute fact. The different perspectives of the same event are acknowledged. The role of a community in learning is emphasized and encouraged. Assessments occur before the end of term or project and are an active part of the learning process.
In the world of Adult Education, reflexive/ergative pedagogy is embedded in many course curricula. An example of this is a course called Career Foundations. This course was designed to help students learn and establish career pathways that include entry into college with the purpose of obtaining a credential or degree. The course was specifically designed to be studentcentered. Students do most of the work as they analyze their skills, interests; research various industries and jobs then decide which one is best for them, then chart out a career pathway that will lead them to the career they want.
The course was created jointly by City Colleges of Chicago and the not-for-profit organization, Women Employed. A report by Women Employed (n.d.) states:
Two other examples of the application of reflexive/ergative pedagogy are apprenticeships/on-the-job training and bridge classes. Bridge classes are courses created to bridge the gap in education between an adult learner’s current educational level and the math/science/technology and language arts knowledge needed to succeed in a chosen career. Bridge students learn contextualized STEM and language arts related to their chosen industry.
An innovative application of reflexive/ergative pedagogy is the flipped classroom. Though the flipped classroom has grown in popularity, it is not the standard. In a flipped classroom the student has considerable responsibility to obtain knowledge outside the classroom. The student then comes to the classroom and must be ready to either share the work that they have done and/or work on a project in a group setting. If the project is intentionally ill-defined then the student may have to use multiple knowledge gathering processes to complete the project or solve a problem.
The Montessori method of education focuses on self-discovery, hands-on learning and collaboration. Tagore and Dewey share these beliefs about pedagogy. In a longitudinal study that looked at Montessori schools, it was observed that “although not different at the first test point, over time the Montessori children fared better on measures of academic achievement, social understanding, and mastery orientation (Lillard, Heise, Richey, Tong, Hart, and Bray, 2017).
Chloe Marshall (2017) reviews research on the Montessori method, including earlier research by Lilliard. She points out the weaknesses in some of the research methodologies (for instance studies that look at students only in school).
In her conclusion Marshall (2017) states:
Dewey, Montessori and Tagore’s philosophies of education were a rebuke of didactic pedagogy. In playing devil’s advocate, how might a proponent of didactic pedagogy respond?
Teacher centered vs Learner as knowledge producer – When a student has zero experience in a subject it might save
significant time for instructors to teach foundational material such as general rules on pronunciation or word stress in a foreign language.
Knowledge transmission and replication vs Knowledge as discoverable – A piano teaches a student in a didactic manner the names of the keys on a piano and how to read notes written on a sheet music. Another student learns to play the same song without knowing the names of the notes or how to read a music sheet. The second student learns by listening to the song. Both learners would have to practice repeatedly to memorize the song. This is a moment when long-term memory is wanted. There are many subjects that benefit from repeated practice and long-term memory such as skills of a surgeon.
Knowledge as fact vs Knowledge as judgment – If all perceptions of events are valid then this can lead to what ideas deemed as dangerous by a community to have equal say and influence on an individual or society. Can a hate crime exist if a group of people believe it is okay to treat another group as inferior and worthy of scorn? Does everything need to be re-evaluated constantly or can some values be absolutely better than others? If the idea of value is excluded from the definition of knowledge, then what is the point of trying to avoid some history repeating itself?
Individual minds vs Social, dialogical minds – If the learning is 100% social, there is still the need for some individual
assessment to ascertain if a student is actually learning something substantive and not hiding lack of knowledge or
understanding. There are also factors that affect learning such as anxiety and stress. These experiences are felt individually.
Long cycle feedback that is retrospective and judgmental vs Short cycle feedback that is prospective and constructive - The two can co-exist. It does not have to be one or the other. A summative assessment at the end of long term will force students to revisit what they learned during the term which can reinforce the learning.
Alberto Piedra (2018) summarizes some of the criticisms leveled at John Dewey (some of which echoes what I stated before):
Another criticism of Dewey I would like to add has to do with the notion that learning should be about the near and probable future. Much focus in education is on what is considered teaching 21st-century skills. Many articles have reduced these skills to:
The reason for the focus on these competencies often given is that these are the skills most needed by students to adapt to a world that's ever-changing technology-wise and is more culturally diverse; therefore, the success of students post-formal education depends on their adaptablity to change, ability to apply what they've learned to new situations;and ability to work with others. Underlying this is the belief thatthe future is not as predictable as it may have been during Dewey's time.
A blog post written on a Montessori school website (Meade, n.d.) discusses and responds to nine criticisms of the Montessori method. The listed criticisms are:
In Tagore’s case some of the criticism is that his school focused too much on the spiritual and aesthetic. He chose as a location for his first school a forest glade. He “envisaged an integrated view of education in which the physical and the intellectual, the social and the moral were not seen as separate from one another, but as interrelated, as parts of a single comprehensive truth” (Jalan, 1976, p. 125).
Reflexive/ergative pedagogy moves from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. With its strong focus on knowledge production, it could be considered a combination of constructivism and authentic learning.
C., Thriveni. (2018, February 6). Raindranath Tagore’s philosophy on Indian education. In Bhoomi magazine.
Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). John Dewey. [Image]. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-
Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Rabindranath Tagore. [Image]. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rabindranath-Tagore
Jalan, R.V. (1976). (Ph.D). Tagore: His educational theory and practice and its impact on Indian education.
Jean-Baptiste, K. C. (2019, November 2). Dialogical relationship between instructor and learner. [Image]
Jean-Baptiste, K. C. (2019, November 8). Main interaction between teacher and learner in a didactic relationship. [Image].
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (2018). Multiliteracies: Meaning making and literacy learning in the era of digital text. Paper
presented at University-Wide Teaching and Learning Symposium organized by Center of Teaching, Learning and Technology.
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (n.d.-a). John Dewey on progressive education. https://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (n.d.-b). Rabindranath Tagore’s School at Shantiniketan. https://newlearningonline.com/newlearning/
Kupfer, C. (2016, November). Atmosphere in education: Tagore and the phenomenology of spheres. In Gitanjali & beyond, (1), 59-81. http://dx.doi.org/10.14297/gnb.1.1.59-81
Lillard, A.S., Heise Megan, J., Richey, E.M., Tong, X., Hart Alyssa, & Bray, P. M. (2017). Montessori preschool elevates and
equalizes child outcomes: A longitudinal study. In Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1783. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01783
Maria Montessori: Portrait. (n.d.) [Image]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maria_Montessori_(portrait).jpg
Marshall, C. (2017, October 27). Montessori education: A review of the evidence base. In npj Science Learn (2)11.
Mead, S. (n.d.). Montessori criticism debunked: 9 incorrect assumptions about student centered learning.
North Star Montessori Elementary School. (n.d.) Role of teacher. https://northstarmontessori.ca/montessori-philosophy/role-ofteacher
Piedra, A.M. (2018, February 1). The tragedy of American education: the role of John Dewey.
The Montessori Group. (n.d.) Origin of Montessori. http://www.montessorischools.org/montessori-overview/origin-ofmontessori/
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (n.d.). [New learning module by Mary Kalantzis and William Cope].
Women Employed. (n.d.). Progress, pathways, & possibilities. https://d2kmvo39x6ghl9.cloudfront.net/wpcontent/
Authentic learning refers to educational activities that are “grounded in the lifeworld of the learner … and aims at being relevant and meaningful to learners, its practical application and benefits apparent.” (Kalantzis & Cope, n.d.) Authentic learning consists of exercises or student-derived products that simulate real life. The concept of authentic learning is not new. Philosophers have spoken about it as early as the 1700s and some educators throughout history have implemented it n various forms. Maria Montessori is one of the more well-known ones. (1870-1952).
Jan Herrington has written much on authentic learning. She discusses authentic learning tasks versus decontextualized learning tasks in terms of academic and nonacademic settings. She defines authentic learning as "realistic tasks in an academic setting".
Herringnton, J. (2011, September 26). Authenticity in academic settings. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/
10 Characteristics of Authentic learning
According to Herrington (2006), authentic learning has ten characteristics:
1. Authentic tasks have real-world relevance: Activities match as nearly as possible the real-world tasks of professionals in practice rather than decontextualized or classroom-based tasks (e.g., Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Jonassen, 1991; Lebow, 1993; Oliver & Omari, 1999; Cronin, 1993; Young, 1993; Winn, 1993; Resnick, 1987; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990a)
2. Authentic tasks are ill-defined, requiring students to define the tasks and sub-tasks needed to complete the activity: Problems inherent in the activities are ill-defined and open to multiple interpretations rather than easily solved by the application of existing algorithms. Learners must identify their own unique tasks and sub-tasks in order to complete the major task (e.g., Lebow & Wager, 1994; Bransford, Vye, Kinzer, & Risko, 1990; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990a)
3. Authentic tasks comprise complex tasks to be investigated by students over a sustained period of time: Activities are completed in days, weeks and months rather than minutes or hours, requiring significant investment of time and
intellectual resources (e.g., Bransford, Vye, Kinzer, & Risko, 1990; Lebow & Wager, 1994; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990b; Jonassen, 1991)
4. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity for students to examine the task from different perspectives, using a variety of resources: The task affords learners the opportunity to examine the problem from a variety of theoretical and practical perspectives, rather than a single perspective that learners must imitate to be successful. The use of a variety of resources rather than a limited number of preselected references requires students to detect relevant from irrelevant information (e.g., Young, 1993; Spiro, Vispoel, Schmitz, Samarapungavan, & Boeger, 1987; Bransford, Vye, Kinzer, & Risko, 1990; Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990b)
5. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to collaborate: Collaboration is integral to the task, both within the course and the real world, rather than achievable by an individual learner (e.g., Lebow & Wager, 1994; Young, 1993; Gordon, 1998)
6. Authentic tasks provide the opportunity to reflect: Activities need to enable learners to make choices and reflect on their learning both individually and socially (e.g., Young, 1993; Myers, 1993; Gordon, 1998)
7. Authentic tasks can be integrated and applied across different subject areas and lead beyond domain-specific outcomes: Activities encourage interdisciplinary perspectives and enable diverse roles and expertise rather than a single well-defined field or domain (e.g., Jonassen, 1991; Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer, & Williams, 1990)
8. Authentic tasks are seamlessly integrated with assessment: Assessment of activities is seamlessly integrated with the major task in a manner that reflects real world assessment, rather than separate artificial assessment removed from the nature of the task (e.g., Reeves & Okey, 1996; Young, 1995; Herrington & Herrington, 1998)
9. Authentic tasks create polished products valuable in their own right rather than as preparation for something else: Activities culminate in the creation of a whole product rather than an exercise or substep in preparation for something else (e.g., Barab, Squire, & Dueber, 2000; Gordon, 1998; Duchastel, 1997)
10. Authentic tasks allow competing solutions and diversity of outcome: Activities allow a range and diversity of outcomes open to multiple solutions of an original nature, rather than a single correct response obtained by the application of rules and procedures (e.g., Duchastel, 1997; Bottge & Hasselbring, 1993; Young & McNeese, 1993; Bransford, Vye, Kinzer, & Risko, 1990; Bransford, Sherwood, Hasselbring, Kinzer, & Williams, 1990).
10 Examples of Authentic Learning
So what are examples of the tasks above? Let's take a look at a fictional student studying accounting (which was one of the courses I taught while teaching in a business career program).
1. Example activity for real-world relevance. A student using Quickbooks as part of an accounting course, instead of
learning the software in a separate course.
2. Example activity for Ill-defined task. The same student is given the responsibility to audit a mock company's accounting records without being told the proper procedure.
3. Example activity that is complex and can only be studied over time. The accounting student only over time would figure out all that is required to audit a company's books: what forms are needed, what is considered generally accepted accounting practices; reconciliation of records, etc.
4. Example activity of a task that allows research from multiple perspectives. One aspect of accounting that can be viewed from more than one perspective is whether a company should recognize revenue on a cash or accrual basis.
5. Example activity of collaboration. In a role-play situation a student can act as a CFO for a small company while another acts as the CPA. Many companies audit themselves before an independent CPA arrives. Students grouped into pairs would give each member an opportunity to research and determine what is needed then meet and come to terms.
6. Example activity of reflection. Students in the accounting class would reflect on what they have learned; discuss the positive and negative impacts of business financial decisions.
7. Example activity of interdisciplinary studies. Students in the accounting class could work with students in a business management class. The students in the business management course could play the role of department heads who are responsible for the individual department budgets which contribute to a whole. The "CFO" from the accounting class would create a company-wide budget from the department ones. The students of the buisness management course could also work with students who are studying tax law in order to understand how their decisions could impact themselves or their companies tax-wise. The "CPA" would work with the tax-law students to develop her/his own knowledge-base, which is key knowledge that a CPA should have. Students in the business management course could compare the advice received directly from the tax students to what was received from the accounting student.
8. Example activity of integration with assessment. Essential to the collaborations and interdisciplinary work mentioned above is consensus building and understanding of roles. For these to occur students would have to communicate often; discuss their point of view; relay what they need; and perform peer reviews.
9. Example finished product. For the accounting class, the final product would be a complete CPA report.
10. Examples of competing solutions and diversity of outcomes. A company's needs, and who its target audience
determines help determine which of 3 types of reports will be completed by an accountant. In this project, the students could create one of each kind of report.
One cannot bring up the subject of authentic learning without authentic assessment.
That authentic assessment must be integrated with authentic learning has been stated by many. In a republished post of Grant Wiggin's, 27 characteristics are listed for authentic assessment; divided into four categories (Wiggins, 2018).
Content in Table 1 is from Wiggins, G. (2018, December 12). 27 characteristics of authentic assessment.
Returning to the fictional example of the accounting class, the authentic learning activities that are also assessments are the reflection, and peer reviews. Below are two tables that list which of the 27 characteristics these assessments reflect.
Reflection is an indirect assessment of student learning. Aspects of reflection that match Wiggins’ 27 characteristics have been identified and listed in Table 2 using Wiggins’ categories. The categories and complete list of 27 characteristics can be found at Wiggins, G. (2018, December 12).
Peer review is a direct assessment of student learning. Aspects of peer reviews that match Wiggins’ 27 characteristics have been identified and listed in Table 3 using Wiggins’ categories. The categories and complete list of 27 characteristics can be found at Wiggins, G. (2018, December 12).
Authentic learning refers to tasks that simulate, mimic, or actually are the activities that a student would do in a real world setting. They occur in the classroom, out in the field; as an exercise, assessment; as a practicum, on-the-job training; an apprenticeship. Authentic learning tasks are the application of situated learning theory and social constructivism in the education.
A Couple of Theories
Situated Learning Theory
Situated learning theory posits that learning only happens within communities. Learning is social. It includes behaviors and beliefs. According to Besar (2018):
When learners are newcomers they move "from the periphery of this community to its center, they become more active and engaged within the culture and hence assume the role of expert or old-timer. Furthermore, situated learning is usually unintentional rather than deliberate. These ideas are what Lave & Wenger (1991) call the process of “legitimate peripheral participation"” (Kearsley, G. & Culatta, R, (n.d.)).
Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge according to which human development is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others.
Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, stated that this acquisition of knowledge occurs with the help of a more knowledgeable other who provides the link to the learner between what is already known and what cannot be learned without assistance (McLeod, 2018).
Situated learning theory states that learning is often incidental. When teachers or technology serve as creators and facilitators of zones of proximal development through scaffolding and other strategies that help students connect the dots or pursue independent learning that creation is deliberate.
An overview of authentic-learning-task benefits leads one to notice that some of these tasks are value-laden. (See tasks 2, 3, 4, 5 & 7). Some, despite being categorized as authentic, do not take into account some of the realities of the real world.
The ten characteristics in column 1 evaluated for benefits and criticisms come from Herrington's (2006) Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks. It was presented at the World conference on e-Learning in corporate, government, healthcare, and higher education (ELEARN) 2006, 13-17 October 2006, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Application of Authentic Learning in the Classroom
Application in the classroom can take many forms depending on the subject taught. For instance, a financial literacy class would have activities where students create their own budgets, complete appropriate tax forms. Students in an art class create work for display at a museum. Students taking a customer service class could use role play to demonstrate how to deal with various situations. In a customer service class that I taught I had students take the role of mystery shoppers. They reviewed each store according to criteria used by professional mystery shoppers. Additionally, students visited stores that were similar to each other and compared their experiences and observations. They wrote detailed reports on each store. In the real world of mystery shopping the reports are specific to one store. For this class I added questions to the mystery shopper form that allowed students to make comparisons. Those comparisons were the foundation for the post-field trip discussion.
This video shows students experiencing authentic learning inside and outside of the classroom.
Edutopia. (2016, November 1). Real-world problems: Bringing authentic context to learning. [Video]. Youtube.
As Herrington (2011) states, authentic learning does not have to happen only in a real world setting. Having students solve a real-life problem while in the classroom is authentic enough.
Authentic Learning has many benefits but like all learning theories and practices has its limitations. Teachers must be judicious in their application of this and all learning theories. I have found it most beneficial when the subject by nature is a practical one. I believe in hands-on learning where it is appropriate, but I also like to have discussions and learning activities around best practices, ethics, big picture, they why of things and for me authentic learning is one of many strategies to use in the classroom.
Besar, P. H., & Norainna, D. S. (2018). Situated learning theory: The key to effective classroom teaching?
Edutopia. (2016, November 1). Real-world problems: Bringing authentic context to learning. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3IL0J3XMbA
Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks. Paper presented at World conference on e-Learning in corporate, government, healthcare, and higher education (ELEARN) 2006, 13-17 October 2006. pp. 3164-3173. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. https://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/5247/
Herringnton, J. (2011, September 26). Authenticity in academic settings. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=195&v=8BOy5IhoRF4
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, W. (n.d.) New Learning [Website]. http://newlearningonline.com/learning-by-design/glossary/authentic-learning
Kearsley, G., & Culatta, R. (n.d.) [Website on instructional design]. https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/situatedlearning/
Kiraly, D. (2000). A social constructivist approach to translator education: Empowerment from theory to practice. Routledge.
McLeod, S. (2018). Lev Vygotsky. https://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html
Wenger, Brittney. (n.d.) Project Summary [Website]. https://sites.google.com/a/googlesciencefair.com/sciencefair-
Wiggins, G. (2018, December 12). 27 characteristics of authentic assessment. https://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/27-characteristics-of-authentic-assessment/
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