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Friday, October 24, 2014

What Happens When Students Control Their Own Education?

Follow on Twitter as @EWAEmily
Emily Richmond, public editor for the National Education Writers Association writes, "When a New Hampshire district found itself struggling with low test scores and high turnover, it made a radical decision: Flip the traditional model and let kids take over the classrooms."

Teacher Jenny Wellington (bottom) sits apart from her students, taking notes on their self-led discussion. (Emily Richmond)

In an 11th-grade English class at Pittsfield Middle High School in rural New Hampshire, Jenny Wellington’s students were gathered in a circle debating Henry David Thoreau’s positions on personal responsibility.

“Do you think Thoreau really was about ‘every man for himself?'” asked one 16-year-old boy.

“He lived alone in the woods and didn’t want to pay taxes,” another student shots back. “So, yeah.”

Sitting off to the side, Wellington took rapid notes. When she noticed the conversation being dominated by a couple of voices, she politely suggested someone else chime in. Otherwise, she stayed out of the way and let the discussion take shape.

Welcome to student-centered learning at Pittsfield, a grade 7–12 campus in its third year of an innovative approach to education.

“There used to be a lot more of teachers talking at you—it didn’t matter if you were ready to move on. When the teacher was done with the topic that was it,” said Noah Manteau, a senior this year at Pittsfield. “This is so much better.”

Educators, researchers, and policymakers at the state and national level are keeping close tabs on Pittsfield, which has become an incubator for a critical experiment in school reform. The goal: a stronger connection between academic learning and the kind of real-world experience that advocates say can translate into postsecondary success.

Pittsfield, a former mill town, has about 4,500 predominately white residents, and the Middle High School serves about 260 residents. Fifty-six percent of them qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Student-centered learning is fully in place in the high school, and elements of it are being phased in at the middle-school level. The long-term plan is to eventually add it to the nearby elementary school.

Source: The Atlantic

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