Thursday, January 12, 2012

I wanted to share the following excerpt from Tom Vander Ark's post How Digital Learning Will Benefit Low Income Students that appeared on the Huffington Post's education site.   Mr. Vander Ark shared the following:

Good schools have a powerful culture of high expectations and strong support.  As education shifts from a place to a service, social learning groups will extend a culture of learning beyond traditional classrooms.

I wonder how many of us see school as a service and not a place individuals have to be for an established period of time.  How would viewing school as a service change school structures and the manner in which engagements are conceived?

At the school where I work, we instituted a different approach to reach struggling learners.  
In previous years, students who experienced difficulty in Math and or English were recommended for lab classes.  This year represents a re-envisioning of lab classes into a service called Instructional Seminar.  As opposed to a set curriculum, Instructional Seminar is anchored by a core set of principles and potential pathways.  The first component is to develop a profile of each learner.  The intent at the beginning of the service (Instructional Seminar operates for an entire semester) is to conduct interest surveys and deliver diagnostic measures.   Additionally, teachers who work with a particular student, that reside outside of Instructional Seminar, are surveyed as a way to provide anecdotal information.  All of this information is analyzed to develop a profile that acknowledges a learner's interests/passions and identifies cognitive strengths and weaknesses.  

This profile is needed to provide a foundation for work to be accomplished during Instructional Seminar. Throughout the duration of the service, Seminar teachers collaborate with students to build passion projects through which learners can demonstrate core proficiencies and address areas highlighted by diagnostic measurements.  Passion projects can serve to replace class assessments. For learners who struggle, for various reasons, to make connections, a passion project can exist as a vehicle to demonstrate growth.  The vision behind Instructional Seminar sees the service as a conduit between different subjects.  The service attempts to foster cross-curricular connections.  This is primarily achieved through linking class assessments.  As opposed to a student producing distinct summative assessments in Science, English, Social Studies, Math and World Language, a single engagement can be crafted. A learner can demonstrate proficiencies via a cross-curricular endeavor. Taking this a step further, the Seminar service mediates against the issuing of a one size fits all model of assessment to struggling learners. Seminar teachers can work with classroom instructors, tailoring engagements to reflect individual interests and acknowledge cognitive growth.

The key point is that Instructional Seminar is a service not a course.  A curriculum is not being delivered.  Instead a pathway is being forged that is unique to each learner.  The end goal is to service the needs of students through a truly personal approach.

Again, the idea of seeing school as a service is intriguing.  Beyond mandates (state, federal) each academic institution is accountable for achieving, school systems have to evaluate the effective ways individual needs are serviced ?  Working under the construct of a social contract, what is the give and take for learners?  Students attend school, but what are the benefits of spending so much time in the K-12 or K-16 system? 

It is worth noting the rhetoric attached to formal and informal discussions about education.  From my perspective using the word service to describe schools alters the approach to teaching and learning and the types of experiences central to school.