Authenticity, Awareness, Appreciation, and Assessment

I have recently found myself completely engaged in a New Directions issue titled Authenticity in Teaching as part of a project that I am working on with my colleague Harriet Schwartz.* The first sentence of the first chapter “Authenticity and Power,” by Stephen Brookfield (who I’ve cited before), begins with this statement, which at first read seems somewhat redundant:

An essential component of skillful teaching — teaching that is grounded in, and responsive to, awareness of how students are experiencing learning — is the attempt to find out how students experience learning and perceive teaching. (p. 5)

This sentence captures two key ideas about teaching: awareness and assessment, both positioned within Brookfield’s ideas about being an authentic instructor, a construct that he calls Personhood:

Personhood is the perception students have that their teacher is a flesh-and-blood human being with a life and identity outside the classroom. (p. 10)

The presence of personhood, according to Brookfield, supports student learning. And that makes sense to me. Notions of authenticity, assessment, and awareness are also reflected a statement I used (repeatedly) to make a case for my dissertation research:

If we  wish to benefit from research then at least some of it must adopt the learners’ frame of reference: It must address the concerns which they think are important and respect their felt experience. If, as teachers of adults, we wish to understand our role better we also need to become sensitive to what learners are experiencing and, perhaps, more aware of our own assumptions about learners and learning. We have all been learners, but it is important to know if our experience is the same as that of others. If it is, we are in a good position to help others in their learning; if it is not we can become more effective through developing an appreciation of the variety of learning processes that other people go through. (Boud & Griffin, 1987, p.8)

Again, we see a call for developing awareness, becoming sensitive to, and appreciating our students’ learning processes. As Marton and Booth (1997) put forth in their book Learning and Awareness, if you become aware that something is a certain way, then you can also become aware that it could be some other way.

"Another Way" - Thanks to Vincepal on Flickr for making this image available.

Being aware, being authentic, and developing appreciation for our students, from an assessment standpoint, might result in a new paradigm about assessing their learning, something like this, as put forth by Darren Cambridge in this slide show:

Deliberative Assessment for Integrative, Reflective, and Lifewide Learning

Slide 24, bullet 1 says it best: Students are privileged informants of their own learning.

To accept this premise (as I wholeheartedly do), one must come from an authentic stance — if we are human, so are our students. If we have a perspective, so do they. If we have had an experience of our teaching and their learning environment, so have they. If we are informants about their learning, so are they. Katherine Frego writes this in her chapter of the New Directions book titled “Authenticity and Relationships with Students:”

The first criterion of effective teaching must be to care that learning happens but is coupled with caring about the learner as a person. (p. 42)

I have come to see a new relationship between being authentic, being aware, and assessing students’ learning, authentically, and with appreciation. But I still keep hitting a wall:  Since when has assessment become uncoupled from teaching, from learning, from what happens with the learner as a person through a care-full learning experience? Is this what standards / outcomes-based education has done for us? Has it taken care out of teaching? Has it focused so much on measuring students’ learning and reporting gains and showing results that we’ve forgotten about caring for our students, about caring about their learning experiences? This commentary from The Chronicle of Higher Education makes me think that this is the case:

Student Learning: Measure or Perish


Reading this makes me think we might want to focus a bit more on care. We might want to focus more on being authentic, on developing our own awareness, on appreciating our students’ learning (appreciative inquiry might be a methodology to explore for learning assessment; perhaps someone already has).  We might want to call again on Marton and Booth:  If we become aware that something is a certain way, then we can also become aware that it could be some other way.

Let’s find some other way. For our learners’ sake, let’s find Some. Other. Way.


* Regular Noggers will know Harriet from The Encouragement Lounge – a great blog for adult learners; she also has a website and podcast series about The Art of Relational Practice – good stuff!!!

Boud, D., & Griffin, V. (Eds.). (1987). Appreciating adults learning. London: Kogan Page.

Marton, F., & Booth, S. (1997). Learning and awareness. Mahwah, N.J.:  Erlbaum.


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