On April 29, I moderated a session on the Value of Higher Education with the Mohammad Qayoumi, President, California State University San Jose; Claude Steele, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, UC Berkeley (pictured) Alecia DeCoudreaux, President, Mills College, Mary Marcy, President, Dominican University of California, Rchard Ekman, President, Council of Independent Colleges
Schools must take deliberate actions to teach students how to become responsible for their own learning.
By Monica R. Martinez, Ph.D.
and Dennis McGrath, Ph.D.
This article was originally published in Kappan Magazine , October 2013
©Phi Delta Kappa International, Inc.
The capacity for self-direction is the foundation for learning. Stu- dents who develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning are prepared to master rigorous academic content, think critically and analytically, communicate effectively, and collaborate productively.
That is the view of teachers and principals we interviewed and observed in action for our forthcoming book, Deeper Learning: A Blueprint for Schools in the 21st Century (New Press, 2014). Supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as part of its Deeper Learning Initiative, we developed case studies of eight schools committed to deeper learning. The schools we examined (see p. 26 for a list of schools) develop students as self-directed learners through three common practices: experiences that disrupt traditional expectations of teaching and learning; socializing students into a school culture rich with messages and rituals signaling the expectations for learners; and using a consistent pedagogical approach in which students manage complex projects and assignments, seek feedback, revise work, and reflect on what they’ve learned.
Education leaders and educators can benefit from examining how the schools we visited have enabled students to assume responsibility for their own learning.
PRACTICE #1. Disrupting student expectations
Because incoming students have been shaped by passive rote learn- ing, the principals and teachers at the schools we visited have developed disruptive socializing experiences to teach the attitudes and behavior required for self-directed learning. As a teacher from Science Leader- ship Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, Penn., said, “New students need to understand that this school is not about where learning just happens . . . but where responsibility for learning is expected from everyone.”
Orientation at SLA, Avalon Charter School in Saint Paul, Minn., and MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio, socializes students into the respec- tive school’s expectations through similar activities. Incoming students are immediately immersed in a learning experience that reflects what learning will be like at the school, including working in groups to conduct research or develop a product and ending with a presentation. SLA introduces incoming stu- dents to project-based learning and scientific inquiry as a foundation for learning. MC2 introduces project- based learning and design thinking, and Avalon helps students understand how to connect their interests to academics through group or independent projects.
Incoming SLA students form small groups led by a teacher and an upperclassman and then fan out across the city to develop questions, observe how people use urban space, and record their observations. The upperclassmen and teachers then help each team analyze their findings and develop a presentation to the entire freshman class.
If students are going to become self- directed, a teacher cannot be “the sage on the stage.”
At MC2, seniors use orientation to introduce freshmen to the school’s language and core elements. The seniors explain project-based learning and de- sign thinking, share examples of their products, and describe Capstones (cross-subject projects) and mas- tery learning. On the second day of orientation, 10th and 11th graders immerse freshmen in the design process with a Penny Launcher Competition. The seniors give each freshmen team broad directions and common materials to design a penny launcher. By the time the teams compete, incoming students have a significant experience of what the prototyping and design processes entail.
Because Avalon’s curriculum is built around indi- vidualized learning plans, student-initiated projects, and a multidisciplinary senior thesis project, orien- tation helps students understand their interests and strengths. Teachers lead exercises where students identify what they want to learn and what they wish they were better at and then what they’re already good at and what they already know. Upperclassmen help by sharing how they turned their own interests into independent projects such as writing a play, de- veloping a community service project, or writing a paper based on a family vacation. As explained by Avalon teacher Nora Whalen, “The point of both exercises is for students to understand that every- one has something to offer to their own and others’ learning.”
Immersing students in the school’s culture and learning approach and using upperclassmen as mod- els provide a powerful experience to incoming stu- dents. As Jeremy Spy, an SLA staff member said, “The older kids are really important in socializing the new students. They [the upperclassmen] tell their story to the newer kids that this is a great school and that the work they do here is meaningful to them.” Everything the student sees says to them that this is like no other school they have attended before and signals the expectations that will direct them as they become responsible for their own learning.
PRACTICE #2. Using school culture to promote self-direction
After disrupting initial expectations, the schools use their strong cultures to socialize students into a new approach to learning. Allison Rowland, former principal of City Arts & Technology High School of the Bay Area Envisions Charter School Network, said, “We’ve had to develop a culture that not only holds high expectations, but consciously works to develop learners.” The schools are distinctive in that everyone — the principal, teachers, staff, and cur- rent students — harness the power of the school’s culture to help new students become self-directed and responsible learners.
Upperclassmen walk the talk. Tyler Fister, a teacher at Impact Academy in Hayward, Calif., said, “This is the first school most kids have ever attended where they know they are here to study and to be successful and not fool around. They get that message from the older students much more than teachers.” Some schools rely on formal pro- grams. Avalon has peer-to-peer mentorship, and SLA uses upperclassmen as teaching assistants. At Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine, seniors offer freshmen formal advice in the form of a letter and an interview following their orientation week. Many schools have mixed-grade advisories to en- sure that younger students continually learn from upper-grade students.
The schools further socialize students through a common language and consistent messages about the importance of becoming self-directed and responsible learners. At Impact, each student, along with teachers and parents, signs a Community Agreement that includes four tenets: “We are respectful, we are safe, we work hard, we support one another.” The four agreements are a constant presence at the school, posted in the hallways, on the walls in each classroom, and are part of the school’s classroom management system.
The value placed on self-direction is also integrated into assessment tools such as rubrics. Rochester High School in Rochester, Ind., has a set of school-wide learning outcomes that include work ethic and collaboration. When Rochester students work in groups, they are assessed on their individual work including leadership and initiative, collaboration, facilitation and support, and contributions and work ethic. Casco Bay teachers communicate the value placed on student responsibility through a school-wide rubric, “Classroom Habits of Work” (HOW), to assess student behavior aligned to school values: accountability, work ethic, community,
collaboration, perseverance, and pursuit. The schools have a systematic approach to inculcating the value placed on self-direction.
PRACTICE #3. Using the learning loop to teach self-direction
The development of self-direction is reinforced by a pedagogical approach the teachers use across the schools, referred to as “the learning loop.” Be- cause the learning loop is used in all classes, stu- dents have a consistent model of what learning is like. Students continually cycle through a process where they are given a complex task or assignment along with the criteria and a model for quality work. They are provided with extensive feedback and op- portunity to revise their work, and they are given time to reflect on what they have accomplished and how they might improve with their next project or assignment.
Projects with clear standards and expectations
If students are going to become self-directed, a teacher cannot be “the sage on the stage” but has to back away so students can take responsibility for their learning. As an Avalon teacher said, “My job is to fade into the background in a classroom. If I have planned well, the set-up is good, and the directions are clear . . . the students can do it.”
Teachers make the standards of quality work transparent when they launch a unit by showing students exemplar products such as designs, essays, or art work produced in prior classes and provide rubrics that will be used to assess student work. This degree of transparency enables students to make de- cisions about what they will do and the degree of ef- fort they will invest in their work while developing a shared understanding of what high-quality products are like.
Every school used a rubric that reflected the school’s overall learning approach. Avalon’s rubric is a particularly powerful tool to guide students through their independent projects. The rubric assesses goals, research, and quality of product, process, and project management. For SLA, common rubrics are used quarterly to assess benchmark projects across all subjects. The rubrics include the same criteria for design, knowledge, application, process, and presentation. Principal Chris Lehman explained how rubrics contribute to a common language. “When everyone uses the same language of assessment, students don’t have to spend time figuring out the adults to guess what makes for a good paper, and even before they begin working, they have a well-developed sense of the elements of a quality product.”
The learning loop teaches students that learning requires long-term effort where they must persevere until they have done high-quality work and can reflect on their growth as well as their challenges.
The learning loop teaches students that learning requires long-term effort where they must persevere until they have done high-quality work and can reflect on their growth as well as their challenges.
Feedback and revision
The centerpiece of the learning loop at these schools is the emphasis placed on students revising their work in response to feedback. In going through a continual cycle of feedback and revision, students discover that learning requires consistent effort and self-direction. As David Grant of King Middle School says, “the point is learning and understanding. School is revision.”
In classes across the schools we visited, students review one another’s projects and offer feedback on papers, poems, and other assignments; present multiple drafts of their work to a teacher, or solicit feedback from an expert on a project. As a Casco Bay student said, “We feel like we get feedback from our peers and teachers on every essay, if not every paragraph, we write.”
Teachers often use collaborative processes in pairs and small groups to facilitate peer feedback and revision. Eighth-grade students at King swap their papers with a partner and talk about whether they met the expectations of the assignment so they can move on to the next phase of the project. A set of Roch- ester team teachers, Ryan Helt and Valerie Hoover have upperclassmen and freshmen in their integrated digital arts and English class provide peer critiques of papers written to demonstrate quality work and show how feedback is a natural part of learning. Similarly, Dan Wise, the humanities teacher at High Tech High, uses extensive peer editing for a major project in which students turn their family’s life sto- ries into a book on the immigration experience. By using peer editing, the teacher noted that student groups had so improved each other’s work that he was able to include every student’s story in the published book.
The Eight Schools
For this article, the authors selected eight schools for intensive examination of their approach to learning. The sites are all public schools — either charter or traditional public — that serve a cross-section of students with high graduation and college-going rates.
All of the schools are inquiry based, many using project-based learning, some using mastery, and two using Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) as a focus.
The schools are:
Avalon Charter School, Saint Paul, Minn., is a charter school, grades 8-12, that uses the Edvisions model and has a teacher-owner governance model.
Casco Bay High School and King Middle School, Portland, Maine, are traditional public secondary schools that use the Expeditionary Learning model.
High Tech High, San Diego, Calif., is a charter high school operated by High Tech High.
Impact Academy of Arts & Technology, Hayward, Calif., is a charter school operated by Envision Schools and is using its college-ready model.
MC2 STEM High School, Cleveland, Ohio, is a public high school that is part of a subset of Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools called New and Innovative Schools. MC2 focuses on STEM education, including design-based thinking.
Rochester High School, Rochester, Ind., is a single district public high school that uses the New Tech Network’s model.
The Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, Penn., is a STEM- focused magnet public high school established through a partnership between The Franklin Institute and the School District of Philadelphia.
Teachers believe that offering individual feedback and encouraging students to write multiple drafts of papers before turning in the final product are essential in helping students reach professional standards of performance. As a teacher at Impact said, “We want students to learn a process and understand that a project won’t be done the first time.” A Casco Bay senior said, “Before I was a minimalist in school. I did just enough to get my passing grade and quit. Here it [feedback and revision] makes you want to do your best the first time, and if it isn’t enough, the revision system helps you improve.”
The teachers equally value the contribution of their community partners as experts who provide professional feedback to students. Avalon requires that students have an outside expert on a review panel for their senior project who provides guidance, feed- back, and access to unique resources or networks. Seniors at Casco Bay receive feedback from a lo- cal nonprofit writing program on their major writing assignments in humanities as well as their college application essays. Juniors in humanities receive feedback from The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies when they practice their interviewing skills in preparation for a multimedia storytelling project. When 9th graders from MC2 complete their design and construct a model bridge, engineers at the NASA Glenn Research Center test the model bridges on “shaker tables” for structural integrity. The engineers videotape the testing and review the video with students and help them identify structural defects and revise the design if necessary.
The Role of Reflection
Just as students discover that their work is not finished after one draft, they also learn that they don’t complete a product without reflecting on what they have done, including the choices and decisions they made throughout the project. As an Avalon teacher said, “It starts with putting the questions out there. Even simple things are useful. What did you do? How did it go? If given the chance, what would you change?”
Students have extensive and varied opportunities to reflect on their work through oral and written reflective exercises and major culminating events and rituals. Teachers facilitate whole-class conversations and writing where each student is given prompts for reflection, such as being asked to identify, “What did you do well, what can you improve on, and what do you still struggle with?” Advisory classes at Avalon often begin with reflective questions, such as, “What is going well with you this week?” Additionally, stu- dents typically have a reflective writing assignment as the final step of their project, most often in the form of journal writing with guiding questions. Many teachers use electronic journals stored in the school’s learning management system, and some use blogs as the modern day journal. For instance, at SLA, instead of students writing their reflection pieces in a private journal, students make their reflections public to the larger community and where others can respond to students’ thoughts.
Helping students develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning is invaluable because it allows students to successfully master rigorous academic content, think critically and analytically, communicate effectively, and collaborate productively.
Reflection is also practiced throughout the year in major events. One of the most powerful events to promote self-direction is the student-led conference many of the schools use. At the conference, with a parent or guardian present, the student is responsible for leading the discussion by talking about examples of their work and discussing their strengths and weaknesses as well as plans for improvement. The teachers’ role comes beforehand, helping students’ review, select, and present representative samples of their work and lead the conference. In describing her role, Pia Martin, an SLA teacher, said, “I want students to be able to talk about why they are getting the grades they are getting but also to be able to identify the issues that keep them from getting good grades.”
End-of-the-school-year rituals are designed to help students reflect upon their overall development and on their goals for the following year. Casco Bay has Freshman Finales and Sophomore Passage where students reflect on a product or project that exemplifies their best work and shows their growth over the year or demonstrates their ability to persevere in the face of difficulties. In High Tech High’s transitional presentations of learning, students formally present their work at the end of every academic year and talk about projects that they’re particularly proud of or that have some special significance to them. Students continually review and reflect on their growth by maintaining a digital port- folio of the work that they’re required to update regularly.
The learning loop teaches students that learning requires long-term effort where they must manage their work, stay on task, solicit and integrate feedback, and persevere until they have done high-quality work and can reflect on their growth as well as their challenges.
Helping students become responsible for their own learning is an incredibly challenging task since it requires transforming their previous, passive “sit- and-get” learning style into a “go-and-get” orientation. The schools we have discussed offer valuable examples of how to develop students as self-directed learners. The principals and teachers purposefully disrupt students’ expectations of passive, rote learning and immerse them in active and self-directed learning that is buttressed by the school culture. The pedagogical approach of the learning loop reinforces the value of self-direction and helps students internalize an understanding that the ability to produce professional quality work requires sustained effort, incorporating feedback from others, and reflection on the choices and decisions made during the learning process. Helping students develop a sense of responsibility for their own learning is invaluable because it allows students to successfully master rigorous academic content, think critically and analytically, communicate effectively, and collaborate productively.
By Monica R. Martinez, Ph.D.
This article was originally published in Kappan Magazine , October 2010
©Phi Delta Kappa International, Inc.
Newly minted teachers have consistently complained that their teacher education programs don’t prepare them for the real world of teaching. Courses in the history, philosophy, and psychology of education plus a few methods courses culminating with a semester or maybe a year of teaching under a mentor teacher— this is essentially the standard teacher preparation program. Then, they enter a classroom, and people wonder why they’re not prepared for reality.
Teacher candidates must learn differently if they’re going to create classrooms that meet the needs of a new generation of learners.
Re-imagining how teacher education might look requires that we first imagine how learning might look different — and already does look different for some students in K-12. I’m not confident this is foremost in the minds of those thinking about how to provide a more experiential teacher preparation program.
Consider a few examples, some drawn from real schools and some from scenario planning. They depict the way that schools can adapt to the different ways that children learn and want to learn. Ask yourself if the teacher education programs you know are preparing teachers who can create and provide this kind of instruction for children.
Ninth graders at Green Tech, which is part of Eastside High School in Austin, Texas, a traditionally low-performing school, complete 30 minutes of silent reading twice a week and then log on to a web site to join a teacher-created group that’s essentially a Facebook for book lovers that includes a discussion board. The teacher posts a discussion topic, and students write about what they’ve just read. On Friday, the teacher leads a face-to-face discussion in class with students who are reading the same book.
After reading, these same students “work together in teams, writing and designing a children’s book.” To do this, “they have a choice of either illustrating by hand or using Comic Life, which is a program that they have just learned in another class on computer applica- tions” (Handel and Heaps 2010). When the children’s books are completed, the teacher shares them with students at a nearby elementary school. Green Tech is a school in the New Tech Network.
In a scenario depicting schools of the future, Christensen and Horn describe students learning Mandarin Chinese grammar by using lap- tops and wearing noise-canceling headphones (www.edutopia.org/student-centric-education- technology). One student directs the work of a brick mason on his computer screen by having him assemble a sentence in the same way that he would construct a wall — block by block. Stacks of blocks with words on them are in the background of the screen; each is colored for its potential role in the sentence. The student directs the mason to pick blocks out of the appropriate stacks and put them in the correct order of a Mandarin sentence. When all the required blocks have been assembled in the proper sequence, the Mandarin word replaces the English on each block, and the student joins the brick mason in reading the sentence (which is written phonetically in the Roman alphabet). Another student in the same classroom is learning the same material from the same software program by rote memorization — listening to a native Mandarin speaker and then repeating the sentences, in a mode of learning familiar to her parents’ generation. Providing customized and individualized learning is the outcome for this school.
Quest to Learn School, a public school in New York City, uses the video game as its model for how to teach. Students use and design video games as part of their classes. For instance, math students “travel around the world” as a citizen of Creepytown — an imaginary city where students learn math and English. Students play travel agent, convert currencies, keep blogs about their travel experiences, and budget trips. At one point in the school year, Creepytown went broke because an economic crisis is built into the game. Stu- dents had to figure out why Creepytown’s economy collapsed and how to bring in revenue to rebuild the economy. In response, students proposed designing a theme park as a way to generate revenue.
Through Creepytown and other games, Katie Salen, a game designer who is executive director of Quest to Learn, believes “students learn to adapt and improvise.” More important, Salen believes that computer games provide a complex dynamic system from which students will develop systems thinking. “Be- cause of the complexity of problems, if you’re not able to look at them as a system, you’re just going to look at a blur. You will just be over- whelmed by the complexity,” Salen said.
We have to recognize that learning is most often taking place anywhere but “in school.” Being in a traditional school has become the equivalent of a simulated experience from the 20th or 19th century. In our current form of school, students are reduced to executing discreet tasks in isolation from other classes and peers, and most often out of context of other courses as well as their lives and experiences. But in the schools identified in this column, teachers are mentors and individual learning coaches who enable students to become engaged and motivated, partaking in interactive learning with computers and other technology devices across content areas.
“In the digital age, the learning environment is turned on its head — it’s no longer just the dynamic of the student, the teacher and the curriculum. Today, kids learn and interact with others — even from around the world — every time they go online, or play a video game, or engage through a social networking site.”
— Connie Yowell, director of education, MacArthur Foundation (www.macfound.org)
Such schools and classrooms will not be- come widespread until incoming teachers and current teachers learn technology skills and applications along with new pedagogical methods of incorporating that technology into classrooms. They must have opportunities to have fieldwork in a teaching environment that’s con- sistent with what they have learned in their teacher preparation programs. For instance, the University of Texas at Austin started UTEACH in 1997 and certifies students to teach math, science, and computer science at the secondary level. UTEACH prepares teacher candidates to use student-centered, rigorous, applied, and engaging pedagogy, but it also immediately immerses students in the classroom through internships and fieldwork. UTEACH students don’t wait for a single culminating experience, such as a practicum or student teaching. The program works hard to place students in schools consistent with their preparation and teaching methods. In the Austin area, and formerly in the Denver metroplex, UTEACH students were automatically placed into a New Tech school for their long-term teaching experience specifically so that they could prac tice project-based teaching.
Being in a traditional school has become the equivalent of a simulated experience from the 20th or 19th century.
The most common immersion experience is a clinical program or a teacher residency program, such as the Urban Residency Program. But many of these programs don’t help candidates develop new pedagogical methods to in- corporate technology into the classroom. They may want to learn how to do this from the University of South Dakota, which trains all secondary majors in project-based learning methods. Funded by a Bush Grant, this work occurs through a partnership with the Project- Based Learning High School in Sioux Falls, supported by the New Tech Network.
Increasingly, the onus is on teacher prepa- ration to reimagine how to most effectively prepare future teachers to teach students to be successful in the kinds of classroom described here — and how to create more classrooms that comprehend how today’s young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.
Harvard University education professor Chris Dede was talking about higher education faculty when he said this, but his comments are just as relevant to K-12 teachers: “If you were going to see a doctor and the doctor said, ‘I’ve been really busy since I got out of medical school, and so I’m going to treat you with the techniques I learned back then,’ you’d be rightly incensed. . . . Yet there are a lot of faculty who say with a straight face, ‘I don’t need to change my teaching,’ as if nothing has been learned about teaching since they had been prepared to do it — if they’ve ever been prepared to.”
Handel, Stephen J., and Alan Heaps. Teachers Are the Center of Education: Profiles of Eight Teachers. New York: College Board and Phi Delta Kappa International, 2010.
by Monica R. Martinez, Ph.D.
Originally published in Kappan Magazine, March 1, 2010
©Phi Delta Kappa International, Inc.
There is an increasing consumer value on personal growth that is driving a diverse market for educational and learning products ranging from food, toys, and games to housing and travel. Think about it. We eat specific kinds of food or take supplements that will help sharpen our minds. We buy toys for newborns that enhance their developmental and cognitive skills and games to enhance learning for children and even adults. More often than in the past, many of us book travel and social opportunities that expand our learning, whether it’s about food, history, literature, wine, or any niche interest.
The “knowledge economy” presents opportunities to create seamless learning that puts schools at the center of our communities.
Because we live in the “knowledge economy,” knowledge is the crucial resource. The pervasive use of technology, the Internet, and social networking makes it cost-effective to serve niche markets with learning opportunities. The number of informal learning opportunities that will be available for an adult, yet less those for school-aged children, will be enormous. This will easily translate into a formalized system of production and exchange of multiple learning resources that will make up a learning economy. As a result, individuals and organizations from inside and outside of the formal public education system will be part of a diverse market of personalized, diverse, and niche learning opportunities for students. Organizations that once weren’t considered part of the public education market now offer concrete benefits that are evaluated alongside the formal school system. In the learning economy, “school,” particularly the brick and mortar version, owns only one part of the learning economy.
This isn’t hard to imagine. Parents are already exploring alternative educational and learning opportunities for their children. For in- stance, homeschooling has been one of the fastest growing education trends in the United States. Homeschooling provides an alternative form of education that allows parents to bypass the public school system by teaching their children at home. Online learning, or virtual schools, is another growing trend and is even being used by homeschoolers. According to T.H.E. Journal, more than 2 million preK-12 students take some form of schooling online right now — whether attending a virtual school for all their classes or just taking one or more courses through the Internet. “The number of students taking courses online will jump to more than 10 million by 2014,” claims this article (Nagel 2009). Online schools provide enormous flexibility in scheduling and the type of courses offered — core curriculum classes, credit recovery classes, accelerated learning opportunities, and more rigorous classes or enrichment courses (Nagel 2009). Parents who want a public school option also are enrolling their children in char- ter schools. While more than 4,900 charter schools serve more than 1.5 million students (www.chartergrowthfund.org), this is still a small sector of public schools.
Consider the array of enrichment services being offered directly to consumers — parents and students. Some were designed for enhanced or cultural learning and others for students with learning challenges. Numerous supplemental education services, such as Sylvan Learning Services, originally used to help students with learning challenges, are now being marketed as entities that can accelerate learning. Some product developers have suggested that “homework has been outsourced” as a result of the increase in tutoring companies across India that are helping American children complete their homework and prepare for tests (Rai 2005).
Open source courseware, shared curriculum repositories, home-school community networks, and many other bottom-up activities are unbundling education from the traditional system and providing children and families with new ways to experience learning. A growing system of free and easily accessible online learning resources is supporting students, educators, and parents.
Education companies, with over $80 billion in annual revenues, already constitute a large sector in the education arena. According to the Education Industry Association (EIA), education is quickly becoming a $1 trillion industry, representing 10% of America’s GNP and sec- ond in size only to the health care industry. EIA estimates that federal and state expenditures on education will soon exceed $750 billion annu- ally. EIA believes the education industry plays an increasingly important role in supporting public education by meeting the demand for products and services that both complement and supplement basic education services.
If we could consider all of these learning re- sources — whether at home, online, in school, informal, or supplemental — as part of a co- herent system of learning resources, then school could be the main “hub” of formal learning and other opportunities would run in tandem with school. We could be more delib- erate in ensuring a seamlessness across learn- ing opportunities.
Blended learning, or “hybrid schools,” is an example of integrating learning resources. Hy- brid schools offer a blend of online or e-learn- ing and face-to-face instruction and are increas- ingly popular in schools and colleges nation- wide. According to a seven-year study by the University of Central Florida, when compared to equivalent, fully online courses, blended courses — the combination of face-to-face in- struction with online learning and reduced classroom contact hours — have the potential to increase student learning while lowering at- trition rates (Dziuban, Hartman, and Moskal 2004). This could fundamentally redesign our instructional model to be more student-centric, to introduce new theories of learning, and per- haps to shift the education paradigm.
For example, at the School of One, a pilot program for middle school math students at Middle School 131 in New York City’s Chinatown, student schedules are called playlists. These individual playlists identify lessons they must complete for the day, which can include virtual tutoring online, computer worksheets, or small-group lessons with a classroom teacher. A complicated computer algorithm generates each student’s lesson plans. New York City Chancellor Joel Klein pointed to how transformational such an approach could be: “We’re looking at a way that I don’t think anyone has looked at — at the way children learn, pacing them at their own pace, all of it tied to the mastery of content and skill and achievement” (Medina 2009). The School of One was named one of the top 50 inventions of 2009 by Time last fall (Nov. 12, 2009).
More common, but possibly equally as transformative are schools that use two modalities of learning through the classroom. For in- stance, the iSchool, a developing small school in New York City, prepares students for the state exit exam through online courses using outside vendors or developers. Multiple schools in the New Tech Network, particularly in such rural areas as Indiana, use Rosetta Stone — an interactive language learning software that teaches a new language by immersion and previously was marketed only to individual consumers — as the primary means of offering a foreign language. Schools and districts are buying software in bulk as a way to offer courses that they could not offer otherwise.
Schools at the Center
Models for organizing learning experiences can diversify and extend beyond those found to- day in private, parochial, home schooling, and charter schools. Public schools can then become a hub in the midst of other networks. The challenge is to identify innovative ways for schools or districts to create relationships among various players in the expanding learning economy to ensure that everyone has equal access.
Do a little imagining about what this could look like: Someone in a community could map the tangible and intangible sources available in the learning economy. Imagine that there is an individual who taps the collective intelligence of their local community to identify emerging learning opportunities in the community, organize community members, and locate community resources for learning. Or imagine that every student has an education adviser who is assigned by certified local education agencies — such as schools, resource centers, and libraries — or selected and contracted by families and who supports families to create, nurture, and maintain integrated and personal learning resources for their children.
Education institutions would no longer be the exclusive agents of coordination, service provision, quality assurance, performance assessment, or support. Other organizations would be equipped to provide these functions and diversify the system. Would this create a robust learning economy or lead to an in- equitable distribution of learning resources? Would this create a new paradigm for learning and new roles for learners? Some food for thought.
Dziuban, Charles D., Joel Hartman, and Patsy D. Moskal. “Blended Learning.” Educause Center for Applied Research Research Bulletin 2004, no. 7 (March 30, 2004). http://net. educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ ERB0407.pdf.
Education Industry Association. www. educationindustry.org/tier. asp?sid=1.
Learning Agents. “KnowledgeWorks 2020 Forecast.” www.futureofed.org/ forecast.
Medina, Jennifer. “Laptop? Check. Student Playlist? Check. Classroom of the Future? Check.” The New York Times, July 22, 2009. www. nytimes.com/2009/07/22/ education/22school.html
Nagel, Dave. “10.5 Million PreK-12 Students Will Attend Classes Online by 2014.” T.H.E. Journal (Oct. 28, 2009). http://thejournal.com/Articles/ 2009/10/28/10.5-Million-PreK- 12-Students-Will-Attend- Classes-Online-by-2014.aspx.
Rai, Saritha. “A Tutor Half a World Away, but as Close as a Keyboard.” The New York Times, Sept. 7, 2005. www. nytimes.com/2005/09/07/ education/07tutor.html.