In their article Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom, William Guariento and John Morley address the issue of material and task authenticity. The former- including written and spoken text- is important because it helps students apply in real life situations the knowledge they acquired in the classroom, while not only maintaining, but also increasing their motivation for language learning (Guariento and Morley: 347). The latter- task authenticity- is classified into four categories, according to different factors that are taken as referents for determining the authenticity: authentic tasks leading to a real communicative situation, authentic tasks that prepare the learners for real life target tasks (i.e. renting an appartment), authentic tasks in terms of the degree of student-student and student-teacher interaction it leads to and last but not least, authentic tasks based on the level of engagement it produces in learners.
As for the use of authentic texts, rather than editing the text in order to make it more accessible and predictable for beginning learners - as the authors of this article suggest- I tend to agree more with other research trends that opt instead for the editing of tasks, making them appropriate for the learners' level, while leaving the text intact, therefore authentic, also because a broader context would help the learner in creating meaning while dealing with authentic language. Of course, I understand that especially in the case of lower level learners, the editing of tasks required by obvious necessities might conclude into less authentic tasks- as the authors of the article discuss. But I think it's very important to expose students to authentic texts starting from the very first level(s).
Regarding the authentic tasks, I think Steve has brought up interesting questions: were do we draw the line between authentic and unauthentic tasks and who should decide when a task is authentic for the students, the teachers or the students themselves? In my opinion, if we think of authentic tasks as activities leading to communicative situations that replicate real life, there are cases when students are not familiar with some culture aspects related even to very general topics like shopping or buying tickets (in Italy, for example, you need to validate your ticket when you get on the bus or the train, otherwise even if you have the ticket with you and show it to the train conductor, it's not considered valid). So, in cases like these, I think that the teacher's help is not only needed, but also necessary. As for who decides if a task is authentic or not, in my opinion, there shouldn't be absolute answers like only the teacher or only the students (we saw the same case when we talked about the right mix in interaction). I think a good teacher tries to know her/his students well enough in order to be able to say what's meaningful to her/his students (according to their L2 level and interests) and knows when to intervene in order to add that specific detail or cultural information etc., in order to make the tasks authentic. I also agree with Guariento and Morley when they say that it's up to the teacher to decide the "right mix" of the four categories of authentic tasks- discussed in the article-, or which one is more appropriate in a given circumstance.