Authenticity in Academic Writing

Blog post to respond to questions relating to this topic 


Authenticity in Academic Writing—

Summary Response to article “Individual Goals and Academic Literacy:

Integrating Authenticity and Explicitness”

Michele L. Davis

University of New England



                Teaching in a time when high-stake testing can mean job security, salary freezes, or federal monies, focus on improving students’ conventions and structure is essential. Yet how do teachers motivate students to care about their writing when the topic is lacking interest or connection to it is missing? How do teachers prove the importance of writing well when they have nothing to say? Authenticity must be found. Allowing students to add in personal connections to academic writing or even adding authentic voice as one element of the grade, give students the opportunity to connect to their writing.



Authenticity in Academic Writing—

Summary Response to article “Individual Goals and Academic Literacy:

Integrating Authenticity and Explicitness”

            Writing is technical, persuasive, narrative, and informative. Researchers have found that it also is transformative. Emotions paired with reflection on the event, creation, and completed piece can be cathartic. Teachers can create lessons stretching memories into pieces of pride; through writings and sharing, students can empathize and achieve greater self-awareness. Despite the pressures, however, to write academically, much can be said about authenticity of voice and engagement of personal writing; "At a time when institutional pressures to employ formulaic approaches to teaching and assessing writing appear to be holding steady, teachers must not lose sight of one of the main lessons to have emerged from the authentic assessment movement of the 1980s and early 1990s: providing students with tasks and resources that encourage them to connect their school work to ideas of personal or wider significance can encourage them to produce higher quality work" (Beck, 2009, p. 259). Teachers can use authenticity and explicitness to connect students to literature.

            Beck (2009) believes that the connection students make to a text is more authentic and transforming than if a teacher dissected a paper to make it a technically well-written paper. By allowing some grammatical mistakes, students can use personal experience and observations to make profound realizations; "teachers need to remind themselves that analyzing and explaining the components of successful writing are no substitute for helping students discover a reason to write, nor for acknowledging what motivates their uses of and attitudes toward written language" (Beck, 2009, p. 260). This reason to write is something I see when a student connects to the literature, the topic for persuasion, or the memory. I have had seniors write incredibly memorable pieces about reading struggles, losing a parent, or participating in a mission trip. The technical difficulty may have lacked, but the language, the voice was their own. Students receive scholarships, entrance to colleges, and kudos from peers because of their heart-felt, authentic writing. We remember their story, not the structure of the piece.

            With this being said, Beck also argues that teachers must strive to marry both authenticity and technicality. In our high-stakes society that can determine salary, federal funding, or job security, teachers must teach explicitness to improve students' scores on standardized tests; "Finding a way to integrate authentic learning experiences and explicit instruction is essential if teachers are to adapt to the current policy environment while at the same time acknowledging the rights of students to determine their own goals for literacy learning (Beck, 2009, p. 261). This balance is essential in order to meet federal and state expectations, as well as find students' authentic voices.

            Beck submits a case study of Sheila, one of her African American students, who benefited from a pairing of voice and conventions. As stated in Beck’s article “Individual Goals and Academic Literacy,” Oldfather and Dahl (1994) explain their research findings in regards to motivation and literacy; “When students have a chance to declare ‘who they are, what they know, and what they care about’ (Beck, 2009, p. 262) in their literacy activities, and when they ‘perceive a sense of competence as literate persons-as readers and writers who use tools of literacy for their learning goals’ (p. 262), they are more likely to be motivated to take an active stand as agents in the pursuit of their own literacy learning (p. 262). A writer’s engagement in what they are writing about can motivate a struggling student like Sheila to value conventions instruction and revision. She cared about her ideas and made thoughtful connections to the literature. These connections allowed her to press forward on her writing assignment when often, she chose to skip such writing assignments; Sheila stated in response to her feelings about academic writing, she stated, "I don't like them . . . 'cause they're too hard. [What's hard is] going back to the book and finding quotes and things. And . . . remembering the book" (Beck, 2009, p. 266). However, because Sheila connected with the prompts and was allowed to insert personal narrative into her writing, she wrote five essays by the end of the year and eventually passed the statewide test to graduate. She did not receive passing grades on some, due to her grammatical mistakes. She did improve her writing through the year and earned a C+ on her last literary analysis paper; authenticity motivated Sheila and her inadvertently improved her conventions.

            Teachers of all ages can learn from Sheila’s success; if we focus on conventions but find ways to connect text to students, student motivation will improve. Likewise, finding student connections and allowing students to add these connections into their academic writing, their writing will be transformative. Sheila found strong links between Mama’s life from Raisin in the Sun to her own life making for an incredibly memorable piece, despite its grammatical mistakes; “Sheila's discovery of thematic connections between text and life meant not only that she had more to say in her writing but that she was better able to meet at least some of her teacher's requirements for conveying meaning” (Beck, 2009, p. 270).



Beck, S. (2009). Individual Goals and Academic Literacy: Integrating Authenticity and Explicitness.


                English Education, Volume 41 (Issue 3). Retrieved from http://0-