New Vermont Education Quality Standards, Flexible Pathways and PLPs are both mandates and opportunities. Unless classroom practice for students and teachers is redesigned, the danger is that these initiatives will be little more than "check off lists," and significant and persistent disparities between groups of students - the "achievement gap" - may widen. Unless strategies and structures that encourage students to take charge of their own education are implemented, young people will not have the skills and the dispositions to take ownership of PLPs. Without guided practice and clear models, teachers will not know how to work in new and innovative ways. We must undo what previous schooling has done to inhibit curiosity and the creative thinking of students. "If we want to engage students in thinking through our content we must stimulate their thinking with questions that lead them to further questions. We must resuscitate minds that are largely dead when we receive them. We must give our students what might be called "artificial cogitation" (the intellectual equivalent of artificial respiration)" (Paul, Martin, Adamson, 1989).
My initiative is to investigate the ways that Socratic dialogue can be used at the classroom level to create the fundamental shift to student-directed learning that must be at the heart of school transformation. Socratic dialogue places students at the center of the educational process; it fundamentally shifts the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship and places ownership and initiative for learning on the student. "It reduces the impact of misconception, aids students in organizing knowledge, cultivates higher order thinking skills, and helps students to direct and monitor their own learning" (Lam, 2011). In Socratic dialogue, students drive the discussion by asking deep, probing questions to investigate meaningful content, working collaboratively to search for knowledge, understanding and application.
Through my fellowship, I will work with students, faculty and administration to integrate Socratic dialogue into the fabric of our school, beginning in the ninth grade Core, including our Advisory program and the Personal and Future Explorations class (PFE) where students conceptualize their PLPs. The benefits to Harwood will be immense and transformative, radically altering the dynamics of instruction and our school culture. Student voice will grow, students and teachers will develop new partnerships and Harwood gain the tools to transform into a school where all students have the initiative, skills, self-confidence and self-knowledge to drive their own learning. As Peter Senge argues in Schools That Learn, "Schools can be re-created, made vital, and sustainably renewed not by fiat or command, and not by regulation, but by involving everyone in the system in expressing their aspirations, building their awareness, and developing their capabilities together."
I will be researching, designing and implementing the Rowland Center for Global Activism at Lyndon Institute. The Center will house the five world languages taught at Lyndon Institute (Chinese, French, Latin, Russian and Spanish) as well as our English for Speakers of Other Language classes. In addition to the physical space, the center will incorporate an integrated, inquiry based curriculum for students to identify and research the global issues they feel are most pressing. Using current technologies, LI students will collaborate with classes in partner schools around the world to conduct this research and identify how it is influencing their local community. Both teams will then brainstorm ways they can address the problem in their respective communities. Students will work together to research and identify the best solution and then implement their plans. Finally, LI and their partner schools will compare the work they have done - analyzing what worked, what could be improved, and what they would do differently next time. The program will provide an opportunity for LI students to expand their perspective and gain greater global awareness. It will provide them a chance to identify what issues are important to them and to have a strong influence on how their community responds to those threats. Finally, through an inquiry based curriculum, students will enhance their higher order thinking skills, and will be able to transfer these critical thinking skills to other subjects as they become lifelong learners.
Rivendell Academy is committed to moving away from a pedagogy in which teachers provide information and students are expected to absorb that information. We view students as creators of their own understanding and the role of teachers as providing materials and situations that support student investigation and discourse. One approach to fostering rich student thinking is the use of Critical Explorations. With the support of the Rowland Foundation, we will support Rivendell staff in implementing Critical Explorations in their classrooms. To do so, we will collaborate with Rivendell Academy staff and students and with the Critical Explorers Inc. criticalexplorers.org to identify and assess appropriate materials for use in classrooms throughout the school.
Critical Exploration is a philosophy and pedagogical approach that focuses on advancing student thinking as students interact with specifically chosen materials through observation, experimentation and discourse. In this model, the role of the teacher shifts from a provider of answers to a facilitator whose goal is to elicit student thinking and pull in all learners. The role of the student shifts from a passive absorber of information to an active driver of classroom conversation and ideas. We believe that as students develop their own ideas and meaning in classrooms throughout the school, they will also develop confidence in their thinking and problem solving abilities. These skills will support them as learners beyond the classroom, and will help them chart their own course for learning throughout high school and beyond.
With the generous support of the Rowland Foundation, Rutland High School has been engaged in a process of building personalized learning opportunities for students. Currently, some of our students are pursuing concentrations in either Global Studies or STEM, and many of them are researching and creating Capstone projects.
We plan to research and build an internship program which will allow a broader population of students to extend their classroom learning into community action. Students will choose a topic of personal interest and global import and, either before or after completing a Capstone project, pursue that passion in a local setting. Our goal is to lay the necessary groundwork and establish relationships with a variety of local businesses, corporations, schools, and nonprofit organizations that will help us provide a plethora of community-based learning opportunities for our students.
Students who complete a Capstone project first will apply their academic knowledge in a "real world" setting, taking action to make meaningful progress on the issue of their choice. Other students might use an internship experience in the community to discover and fuel their interest in research on a particular topic. We hope to provide enough options so that, ultimately, each student at RHS will graduate with a commitment to self-directed, lifelong learning and will leave here feeling empowered to enact positive change in both our community and our world.
Vergennes Union High School has long been recognized regionally for progress in school transformation, especially for our development of Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements (PBGR), a portfolio system piloted by the Class of 2016. As originally envisioned, our PBGR portfolio would honor long-term, holistic, real-world projects driven by student interests, rather than merely a checklist of competencies and teacher-designed activities in the classroom. As with many schools, such experiences are already offered to some VUHS students through special programs, but the vision of all VUHS graduates completing similar work has yet to be realized: finding time in the schedule for universal, student-selected, project-based learning remains a challenge. A few proposals, such as special days or weeks designated for school-wide independent projects, have proven unwieldy especially for students lacking intrinsic motivation; other solutions, narrowly tied to existing classroom structures, too teacher-centric.This project is intended to address some of the key issues facing Vermont schools at this important juncture: specifically how, when, and where we will support and assess truly student-directed personalized learning. We propose to build within our schedule a flexible system of "workshop" classes to support independent student projects, whether in school or outside, across all areas of learning, staffed by teachers with relevant expertise and passion for mentoring independent work. Some workshops would likely reflect familiar themes such as Science Inquiry; others would cover non-traditional interdisciplinary topics such as Leadership Development or Community Issues. As a 2016 Fellow, I will facilitate design of this system by exploring possible revisions to our schedule, researching best practices for workshop classes around New England, identifying local resources and opportunities for real-world student projects, and leading the initial cadre of collaborating teachers in our joint professional development activities.