Saturday, June 27, 2009

Open Schooling

I just read a very interesting article on a school in Camden, NJ, that allows students to study things that they are passionate about. Teachers are called "advisers" and every student has to do a senior project that benefits the community. All of this takes place in a smaller environment (about 100 students) with students in cohorts, or "learning communities" throughout their school experience.

So, this is an example of pure constructivism really being successful and making a difference in people's lives. I would LOVE to have the opportunity to be an adviser at one of these schools.

On the other hand, I also believe that a comprehensive, liberal arts education is important. I feel that people within a given culture/country/nation should have a common vocabulary - in this case, the vocabulary of literature, history, mathematics, etc.

How do I reconcile these two facets? I believe students are motivated by and therefore learn more deeply things that they are passionate about. But I also feel that they should have a general education. I think the answer here is relevance - showing students how the things they are learning in general education courses relate to them and will help them solve or interpret problems in their own lives. This means that teachers need to be passionate about their subjects and step away from the direct instruction, lecture format to allow students to find the meaning in what they are learning.

This is something that I want to do and have tried to do in my own teaching with mixed results. When I try it, my students seem to have a deeper understanding of the issues, but they are missing the vocabulary and details on which they will be tested. That's OK for me - they'll be able to apply it even if they can't talk about it in the correct terms - but not OK for the Praxis exam that they'll all have to take. So how do I do both?

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