As a writing instructor and National Writing Project site director I often hear and read the term “authentic writing” bandied about, but I suspect (from the conversation that follows) that many educators do not have a considered definition for the term. I know that I am guilty. To be completely honest, I am not sure that I have a working definition myself other than the indefensible “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. So in the interest of being the reflective practitioner I advocate, I want to further consider my definition of authentic writing.
I will begin this consideration by exploring the definitions of writing instructors I consider mentors. Two Writing Teachers defines authentic writing as writing for an audience while Literacy For Pleasure challenges that authentic writing has to be relevant to the students’ world. Talks With Teachers shared the views of a variety of educators who described authentic writing to include the previously offered definitions as well as writing that gives students voice and agency. Writers Who Care agrees that authentic writing gives students agency and additionally a real world audience.
Exploring these definitions really helped me clarify my thinking about authentic writing. I think writing that has a real world audience is definitely authentic writing and one reason I include real world writing in the final projects for my Writing I and Professional Writing classes. However, I do not think that is a requirement for all authentic writing. I prefer the wider definition offered by John Warner that includes a genuine rhetorical situation which includes, as Literacy For Pleasure notes, writing that is relevant to the student. There are reasons for students to write in order to learn or explore an idea or simply to have some fun or exercise their creativity or maybe exorcise some demons. Sometimes we write for our internal audience (the class community for example) although I never want a deliverable that was created for and read by me alone. However, as other educators have noted when not writing for a real world audience it is even more important that students be given the agency to write in their own voice. I also think the idea that the writer must be given the opportunity to choose a topic and approach relevant to their world is an important part of authenticity. This choice is one of the guiding principles to my own pedagogy.
My definition of authentic writing certainly includes real world writing, but is not restricted only to writing for a real audience. Authentic writing gives students agency and choice to pursue writing that matters to them and is relevant to their world. How do you define authentic writing? What does authentic writing look like in your classroom?
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