REACHING BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
FRAMEWORK OF A LEARNING EXPEDITION
Topics are selected to engage student curiosity and passion. They provide opportunities to connect historic, scientific, and other disciplinary concepts to specific case studies that make learning concrete and relevant. Literacy is integrated in every learning expedition to build skills in context and as a means for engaging deeply with content.
The process of learning shouldn’t be a mystery. Learning targets provide students with tangible goals that they can understand and work toward. Rather than the teacher taking on all of the responsibility for meeting a lesson’s objective, learning targets, written in student-friendly language and frequently reflected on, transfer ownership for meeting objectives from the teacher to the student.
Guiding questions are open-ended essential questions that synthesize the “so what” of the topic students are studying and link all elements of a learning expedition or unit of study. Guiding questions often represent key concepts of a discipline. For example, “Where does history come from?” or “What conditions are necessary for a species to survive?"
Building Background Knowledge
Building background knowledge is a protocol that generates enthusiasm about learning new content. It is a short hook into a longer unit of study that builds curiosity and mystery as teachers guide students through a series of texts and other media, helping them to generate questions and promoting a spirit of inquiry about a new content area. BBK's help learners link prior knowledge to new learning, make connections between the various content areas and construct new content area skills.
Case studies are concrete, often local, studies of subtopics within a discipline. They are used to make the major concepts of a discipline or broad topic come alive for students. Sometimes, a case study means investigating a unique person, place, institution or event. Other times, a case study refers to a narrowed subtopic, allowing students to focus their research on one aspect that animates and clarifies the topic. Learning expeditions include one or more case studies; ideally they connect students to a local natural or residential community to provide a window on national or global concepts.
Experts are often invited into classrooms or teachers take students to an experts workplace. This can serve several purposes. Masters in a field can hook students on a new unit of study and extend learning, can help students make connections between their learning and the real world and possibly provide a chance for students to get authentic feedback on their work.
Fieldwork allows students to use the natural and social environments of their communities as sites for purposeful learning. As opposed to field trips, in which students are often passive spectators, during fieldwork, students are active investigators, applying research tools, techniques of inquiry, and standards of presentation used by professionals in the field.
Projects and Products
Projects are a primary structure for in-school learning, teaching core skills and content through classroom lessons, discussions, labs, and work sessions, as well as through student research and fieldwork. Projects are used to teach literacy and math skills, critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving. Projects result in products that are modeled on real-world documents and artifacts, with professional models guiding student work.
Culminating Event or Action
At the completion of a learning expedition a performance or presentation for an authentic audience often takes place to celebrate student work. Other times a solution to a local community problem is presented to stake holders to be considered for implementation.
In service learning, students learn educational standards through tackling real-life problems in their community.
Community service, as many of us know, has been a part of educational systems for years. But what takes service learning to the next level is that it combines serving the community with the rich academic front loading, assessment, and reflection of Expeditions. There are many kinds of projects that classrooms can adopt. Classes can be involved in direct issues that are more personal and face-to-face, like working with the homeless. Involvement can be indirect where the students are working on broader issues, perhaps an environmental problem that is local. The unit can also include advocacy that centers on educating others about the issues. Additionally, the unit can be research-based where the students act to curate and present on information based on public needs.
LITERACY AND MATHEMATICS
THE WORKSHOP MODEL
Reading and writing are taught using the Workshop Model.
Why workshop? It is good for kids because it provides a framework for instruction that is flexible enough for student choice and passion and to allow for differentiation with individual work and conferences, small group work, partner work/coaching between students and whole group work. It is not a curriculum to follow but allows the teacher and students to choose what to learn and work on and at what pace and schedule. Workshop provides the balance between teaching students valuable basic skills - thinking, reading, writing, math, etc. - and having a total immersion in student passion projects. Workshop meshes with inquiry learning, project based learning and Expeditionary Learning to develop deep thinkers.
At Renaissance math is not quiet. Students work to solve problems and then engage in mathematical discourse in order to develop and discuss solution strategies. This process helps them make connections between their solutions, other students’ solutions, and to deepen their understanding of the mathematical concept that they are building.
Students build proficiency with these concepts and strategies by using them to solve new problems both collaboratively and independently.
We use data to differentiate instruction and create flexible groups.
Amanda Deegan serves as Math Specialist and Elisha Giger serves as Literacy Interventionist at Renaissance. Both teachers have multiple roles and are crucial to the success of Renaissance students. They are interventionists first and foremost, putting serving kids face-to-face, as their number one priority. Their roles are layered with paperwork and mandates from the state, which in other schools, becomes the primary allocation of their time. It looks different at Renaissance. Amanda and Elisha put serving kids first. Their positive attitudes and expertise in their fields complete a well-rounded education.
Not found in other schools, the Math Specialist position is unique to Renaissance. Teaching all grade levels of math, Amanda pulls groups with similar needs allowing for smaller, more targeted learning. Another essential part of her role is coaching teachers. Amanda models, gives feedback and supports the growth of teacher development in the area of mathematics. Fine tuning the mathematical learning experience of each child Amanda’s mission is to erase student’s “I am not a math person” thoughts and show them they can be successful in math and even learn to like it!
Elisha sets a strong foundation of reading and writing for students at Renaissance. Following the Read Act she tests students for reading skills, and for those not reading at grade level she develops individual READ plans. Collaborating with teachers, Elisha helps create goals, track data, facilitate testing and implementation of new reading curriculum and break the classroom down into groups based on ability level so she can work with each group on the specific skills needed. Elisha pulls individuals who need more help to provide an extra level of support boosting the amount of reading intervention time each struggling student receives. By providing early intervention before a student shows a significant need our “fail-rate” is extremely low. The “I can’t read” attitude is dissolved and is replaced with the “I’m a reader” belief.
Wednesday Workshops are a time to follow dreams. A time when students and teachers can explore their interests and passions while learning important life and content skills through traditional and contemporary topics.
Empower kids to change the world
Eliminate perceived boundaries between individual crews
ADVANCED LEARNING PLANS
Advanced Learning plans or ALP’s are created for one or more areas of strength to meet the needs of precocious students. Multiple points of data are taken into consideration when identifying students for an Advanced Learning Plan. The data may include, but is not limited to: cognitive scores, achievement scores, academic profile, portfolios, teacher and parent referrals, and other various pieces that build a body of evidence. The identification process may be initiated by students, parents, teachers, or other district personnel and will be decided upon by a panel of experts at the school.
A student’s ALP is like a blueprint that maps out what the student hopes to learn and accomplish in their area of strength. In addition ALP’s may include some social/emotional learning goals. By becoming autonomous with guidance from home and school the benefits are endless. When students become independent learners and self-advocates they will:
Take control of their learning
Have a deeper understanding of their learning style and become strength based learners
Become the driver in improving their education
Acquire learning skills that will apply to situations in life
Will develop a greater sense of their abilities and become autonomous