No Assembly Required (Authentic Task #1)

A few months ago I was honored with an invitation from a close friend to present at the Winter Gala hosted annually by JCIRA, our local literacy council.  Sounds fancy, right!?! It’s the same gala that has hosted the likes of Ellin Keene and Mark Hoog, among others.  The event that should inspire and engage colleagues and that I have attended numerous times for the same reason.  No pressure, right?!?

I said yes before I even knew what I would present about.  Thankfully she was understanding and gave me the time and space to think things over.  See, I have many presentations in my back pocket, everything from writing workshop to whole-group reading instruction, from rigor to read aloud.  I have presented hundreds of times, far beyond the length of this event and to far larger crowds.  But the topic for this hour-long keynote remained elusive.

Yes, with my job site-based position as instructional coach, I no longer have insight from a district-level balcony view.  What topics are important to those who will be there?  I envision the audience full of many people I know, people I admire, people who have mentored me, people I have gotten to know through shared learning experiences.  What message will inspire them?  and more humbly, What could I possibly have to teach them that they do not already know?

I reach out and ask for feedback from some of the same people who would be seated in the audience, asking the very questions that were swirling around my mind.  The ones that had me blinded to the very topic that was keeping me awake at night.  Two colleagues came back with the same answer:  we’d like to hear your take on the district vision for “authentic task.”

My reply:

I am getting closer on narrowing my topic and appreciate the push toward “authentic tasks.”

I have been thinking about authentic task a lot and have come to a few conclusions, though I am still in an exciting yet somewhat unsettling dissonance:

  • reading and writing are authentic tasks in and of themselves.  They serve a purpose to the reader and the writer alike.
  • reading and writing tasks can be authentic in either product or process.

Perhaps what needs to happen to ignite the Renaissance in Literacy is for those of us who have been apprenticed into the craft of practices anchored in an inquiry stance to transition into the role of masters.  We have hesitated long enough.  We have studied long enough.  It is time to take a stand and speak the truth we know: reading and writing do not need a fabricated problem or cooked-up scenario. They are in themselves the tasks that introduce our students to problems around the world, ignite their curiosity, and incite them against injustice.  No assembly required. Hmmm.  Maybe that’s a good title:  

Authentic Tasks: No Assembly Required

Joining the Ranks of the Master Craftsmen in Literacy

And there it is! What started out as a passionate stream of consciousness in an email to a trusted colleague and friend becomes the topic I aim to tackle,

not for my audience,

but with them.


I hope you will consider joining in the blog series that begins today and continues each Making Space Iconweekend for the next several weeks as I seek to capture the journey that our learning takes:

  • This post and the next one serve as preview to the Winter Gala on January 18.
  • Each week that follows, I will layer on the learning.  I’ll share insights gleaned from the Gala, and we might even have a few participants from the event stop by to lend additional perspectives and applications.

I cannot wait to discover the learning that emerges,  what will we create together.  And to think it will all begin on a night of simply, and humbly preaching, to–and singing with–the choir.


On second thought, maybe can get a head start right here:

  • What are your reactions to the two bullets in the email stream above?
  • How do you define authentic tasks in literacy?
  • What does authentic look like?  What does it sound like?
  • What additional questions are you hoping will be answered in this series?
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