Authentic Communication vs. Pseudo-Communication

Much of what students are asked to do in lessons (read, write, listen, speak, converse) is not authentic communication. They answer questions to make the teacher happy; they write essays that have the right features on the rubric to get as many points as possible; they tend to read texts just to get answers right on tasks and tests--actually, they often read the questions and then search for answers without reading the text completely. This is pseudo-communication, and it tends to foster what I call the "bare minimum syndrome."

Authentic communication, by contrast, means that a student uses language (along with gestures, facial expressions, visuals, etc.) to communicate a message to others who want or need it for some engaging and/or meaningful purpose (i.e., beyond getting points or praise from the teacher). Authentic communication also includes understanding messages from others orally or in writing and engaging in conversations that build up ideas. 

Benefits of Authentic Communication: 

  • Language development (first, second, third, academic) occurs best when students use it to communicate, which includes listening, reading, speaking, writing, and conversing. Language was created to get things done, to communicate—to solve problems, express needs, create ideas of value in the world. We learn when we need to use language to do interesting and realistic things. We learn when we push ourselves to communicate.  
  • Content understandings and skills are reinforced and retained better when communicating them authentically. Students push themselves to be more like experts in the topic or discipline.
  • Socio-emotional skills development. When students do more than go through the motions or "play school," they try to understand others and learn how to care about others, their ideas, and their feelings. 
  • Agency and identity development. When students are given the freedom to be creative in how they construct ideas and communicate them, they develop their sense of academic agency and identity.

Authentic Communication vs.

Authentic Literacy

Authentic Speaking & Listening

Authentic Conversations​

Authentic Content Learning  

Formative Assessment

Enhancing Instruction with Authentic Communication

How can we enhance the communication of any activity in any discipline in any lesson? To begin, we look for and build up three features of authentic communication, which are:

  • Purposeful building of relevant idea(s)
  • Clarifying and supporting are needed and pushed
  • Information gaps  (students need to use language (or other means) to give or receive information needed by them or others)

For example, let’s say my initial idea for a lesson activity is having students listen to me read an article aloud about Columbus and then answer comprehension questions in pairs. How can I strengthen this with the three features? Here is an example.
building of idea(s)

In the activity, students use language to do something meaningful and engaging (beyond just to answer questions or get points); the activity (or something similar to it) prepares students to use language for academic purposes.

In a listening activity, for example, I might tell students, instead of just writing down what they listen to for points, to take notes that they will use in order to prepare for a roundtable discussion to decide whether or not Columbus Day should be celebrated.
Clarifying & Supporting
are Needed & Pushed

In order to build up meaningful ideas, students need to clarify language and support ideas  with evidence, examples, and reasoning. If clarifying and supporting are not needed (e.g., just do a quickwrite that the teacher glances at), then they won't happen. These skills should be "pushed" by aspects of the activity, peers, and/or teacher.

For example, in pair-shares and peer editing of articles on Columbus, students need to get different perspectives and evidence from others; and the teacher requires students to ask at least one clarify and support question in each pair-share and during peer editing of their article drafts

Designing & Leveraging Information gaps

In the activity, students get or give information that they want, need, and don’t have.  For example, if all students read the same story and answer questions about it in small groups or whole class, many will know the answers and not need to put extra effort into speaking or listening.

Instead, I might have students read different texts about Columbus and create podcasts based on several prompts. There are now more information gaps to cross, in which students need to clarify their ideas to others, using language on deeper levels.