Real Learning vs. Not-Real Learning

All students deserve real learning. Real learning prepares students for their future. These checklists describe real learning and not-real learning in high school English classes.


Real learning is about students constructing their own knowledge and creating personal meaning by being actively engaged in the language acts of reading, collaborating, and writing.  They are taught to think critically, divergently, and innovatively, to broaden and deepen their individual thinking by being in dialogue with others, and, to express themselves effectively in writing as well as orally. As students develop as readers, writers, and thinkers, they also learn how to learn and are prepared when new situations and problems present themselves. 

 If you check all of the following boxes, the English class is preparing students for their  future.

Students pose and shape their own questions as they interpret literary texts and evaluate ideas the texts offer.

☐ Students create individual meaning and construct new knowledge as they read literary texts.

☐  Students read informational texts in order to analyze and evaluate author’s purpose and rhetorical effectiveness. 

☐ Students participate in and lead whole class discussions with one another and the teacher so they deepen and broaden their initial thinking.

☐ Students cite textual evidence as they read and and as they write.  

☐ Students  examine their personal and cultural assumptions as they read and write.

☐ Students make connections to their own lives and to the larger world as they read and write.

☐ Students create individual meaning and construct new knowledge as they write.

☐ Students write for two different purposes: 1) to form their thinking and 2) to express their thinking to others.

☐ Students write daily either in preparation for class, as part of the class, or in response to ideas discussed in class.

☐ Students write three kinds of essays: 1)arguments with deductive reasoning in which they defend a position, 2)essays with inductive thinking in which they explore a question of their own from multiple perspectives and 3) essays with narrative thinking in which they tell the story of their thinking.

☐ Students participate fully in the writing process, including deciding what to write about and revising their writing in order to express their thinking in increasingly clear ways.

☐ Students develop skills for writing in both a personal voice and an academic voice.

☐ Students write in a variety of genres: memoir, poetry, fiction, and essays.

 ☐ Students conduct research in order to “dialogue” with experts and bring the ideas of those experts into the classroom collaboration.



Not-real learning is based on the premise that there is information to be conveyed by teachers to students and if students acquire that information, they will have what they need to be successful. Students do not make personal meaning or create new knowledge as they read and write. Not-real learning doesn’t recognize that the communities in which students will live and work will be increasingly diverse and contain a multitude of perspectives so students need to learn how to think critically and creatively in the midst of competing ideas and a broad range of possibilities. Students do not explore their own questions or explain how their thinking is growing and changing.  Students do not develop learning how to learn skills needed for new and demanding situations  in our rapidly changing world and economy. The Common Core State Standards mandate not-real learning. 

If you check all of the following boxes, students in this English class need additional learning experiences in order to be prepared for their future.

☐ Students are taught that the meaning is within “the four corners of the pages” of literary texts, and they dig it out with the help of the teacher who is familiar with that meaning. 

 ☐  The teacher asks the students questions for which the teacher already knows the answers.

 ☐  Literature is studied in the same way as informational tests are studied instead of as a means for developing skills in individual interpretation and evaluation of ideas.

☐   Literature is studied for structure and style without regard for historical and cultural context of the text. 

☐ Literature is studied for structure and style without regard for the readers’ personal connections to the ideas in the texts.

 ☐  Students write only essays of argument with deductive reasoning, often on assigned topics.

☐  Students cite textual evidence for only their deductive reasoning as they read and and as they write.

☐  Students conduct research for the purpose of finding information and reporting that information.

☐   Students write all their essays in an impersonal voice.

☐  Students practice writing timed, single draft, unrevised essays.

 ☐ Class time is spent preparing students for standardized tests.


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