Authentic learning experiences in the classroom

Authentic learning is a relatively new term that describes learning through applying knowledge in real-life contexts and situations. They are real-life tasks or simulated tasks that provide the learner with opportunities to connect directly with the real world.


The four themes in authentic learning:

  1. An activity that involves real-world problems

  2. Use of open-ended inquiry

  3. Students engage in social learning in a community of learners.

  4. Students direct their own learning in project work.

When students are able to have a say in their learning and explore topics of interest, that they have a personal connection with, they are excited to learn.  We call this ‘student agency’. Teachers can harness that excitement by integrating authentic learning into their class programmes. The teacher becomes a guide on the side or an event manager, a facilitator rather than the ‘font of all knowledge.’

Based on the idea that students learn best when actively engaged in something that is of personal interest to them, authentic learning can take many shapes including project-based-learning, community connections, and experiential learning opportunities. The important part is that this is student-driven and applicable to the real world.

Wairakei Primary School promotes Authentic Learning Experiences.

Aratiatia Team had a NZ poet, Te Kahu Rolleston, visit their classes, as part of their Inquiry Unit.  Matua Te Kahu is also a spoken word performer, actor and battle rap artist.



Ihaka was inspired to write a poem after Matua Te Kahu’s visit.

I like my marae because you get to meet you ancestors.

My favourite place on the marae is where we sing waiata.

My whare has strong legs that carry us.

When I walk to my marae I hear ‘STOMP’.

My marae used to talk but now it doesn’t.

Ihaka - He told us about how he got to like poetry – words make you feel different things.

It was great to meet a real poet in person.


Miss Crawford spoke about her impressions of authentic learning situations in her classroom. ‘Using authentic learning in the classroom motivates and inspires our students. We brought in Te Kahu to help the children to make connections as well as to inspire them. He motivated our reluctant writers. Authentic learning is all about making true connections.’

Room 4 students were tasked to investigate and report back on a famous New Zealander.

Abbie had a family connection to Richie Stanaway, an NZ sportsman in motor racing.



Abbie - I found out information from my step-dad and his workers and some off the internet.  I thought that some websites might not carry the right information and that real life people might have true information. I like to learn about people and connect with people.

Mrs Isaacson - During our ‘Making a Mark’ inquiry unit the children had to choose a topic that meant something to them.  Abbie was very focused and motivated during this unit as she chose a person that was a family friend.  It meant something to her and she was excited to learn new things about her person that she didn’t already know (and she knew a lot already).  Abbie was also the first to present her learning to the class and it followed on after we had finished - she was able to send her assignment to the family and get feedback from them.  A very authentic learning experience for her.

Room 13 students have been learning about money and giving change as part of their maths programme.  





Oscar - We have been learning maths with shops and banks and counting how much the money is worth. We have made shops and banks. It’s fun learning like this.

I gave money to Katelyn and then I helped Katelyn count the money. I was helping her learning with maths.

Mrs Woodcock - What I enjoy about authentic learning experiences is that the children can use their own real life experiences and make them a part of their learning. For me, this integrates real life with learning - and they mostly don’t realise they are learning. They are able to practice skills, for example maths facts, in an experience that mimics the real world. Engagement is high, they are self-directed and social skills are practised.

As an Enviroschool many Wairakei Primary School students have the opportunity to learn about sustainability and caring for the environment within an authentic learning environment


Mrs Fitzsimmons - Being a member of the Enviroschool group provides children with the support and resources to assist with making sustainable choices and changes in our school environment – great skills for the future.

Wairakei Primary School will be continuing to develop authentic learning situations across all curriculum subjects and in all areas of the school.


Keywords: authentic learning, inquiry, student agency, engagement

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