Design for Learning through Real Experience
Jennings Community School recognizes the significant difference between active and passive learning experiences. As the center for learning, the brain learns more, deeper, and with longer-lasting effects from real-life learning experiences. In one-way classroom experiences such as listening to a lecture or merely observing, learning occurs but with less impact and fades more quickly as compared to getting involved and participating actively. The school places its students in situations where they have to think, solve problems, interact with others in situations as close to real-life as possible. Students must establish goals, create learning plans, establish courses of action, present findings, and be held accountable for results. This happens most effectively through experiences and activities where students have important roles and exercise responsibility. This is learning by doing. With experiential learning everyone is a learner, and everyone is a teacher. JCS teachers act in the role as “facilitators of learning” in helping students be responsible citizens, achieve fulfilling careers, become lifelong learners, and achieve their passions. The assorted items around this wheel describe key features of the school.
Service-learning offers opportunities for students to make a difference in their school and the community through their efforts and applying school learning. This results in good feelings of self-efficacy or knowledge that “I can make a difference.” Examples include volunteering at a community agency such as Goodwill, helping in a food kitchen, and helping maintain the school’s computers or touring visitors. JCS expects every student to serve in a “department” that accomplishes important school tasks. Community service is required of every student.
Personal Learning Plans
Every student has a Personal Learning Plan (PLP) at Jennings Community School. The PLP, tailored to their needs, learning styles, and school expectations are developed by the student in consultation with their advisor and their parents. It contains goals, how to achieve those goals, and evidence of progress toward goals, projects, and graduation. The PLP is reviewed and updated periodically by the student, advisor and parents. Goal setting and its attainment determine elements for success at school and in life.
Trips to various places in the United States and beyond increase understanding of diverse cultures, history, geography, and other areas. Students plan trips by researching budgets, meals, lodging, maps, and using the Internet to learn about destinations and route highlights. Trips include journals, interviews, photography, and reflection. Many students report that trips have been among the most important stimulating eye-opening learning experiences of their schooling years.
Courses, Seminars, Workshops
The school provides specific short courses on topics of importance and standard school subjects often in a seminar or workshop mode to increase active learning by participation and involvement. These might include, for example, the science of nutrition or modern politics with students carrying out activities that pique interest for further exploration or community action. Many seminars or workshops emerge from the world, state, or local current news events. Community experts and local resource people share their experiences with students as “sparks,” activities to spur interests, excite ideas, and serve as jumping-off points to new vocabulary and concepts. The world and all its complexity and variety need to be understood by students.
Restorative justice is a process where all people affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the wrong and to decide what should be done to repair the harm. Three key ideas support restorative justice. First is the understanding that the victim and the surrounding community have the action of the offender affected both. Second, the offender’s obligation is to make amends with both the victim and the community involved. Third, and the most important process of restorative justice, is the concept of ‘healing,’ or the collaborative unburdening of pain for the victim, offender, and community. All parties engage in creating agreements to avoid recidivism and to restore how the wrongdoing can be righted which allows the victim to have a direct say in the judgment process. This gives offenders the opportunity to understand the harm they have caused while demonstrating to the community that the offender might also have also suffered harm. Healing by reintegration of offenders into the community strives to restore harmony, health, and well-being by comprising personal accountability, decision-making, and the making right of harm.
Exchanges help students to understand how another community or culture works by exchanging positions for a time. For example, a student or several students go to a rural community for two weeks and live in the homes of their exchange students and attend their school. This is often followed by a reverse exchange in which the rural students attend JCS. Exchanges have occurred across towns and across national borders. Students report these as immensely powerful and stimulating learning experiences. They learn how other families manage, how other schools work and they experience community resources. Often these involve values quite different from their own background and broaden understandings. Such experiences better prepare students for the real world of diversity that they will experience for the rest of their lives.
Project-based learning involves a student or several students working on a topic of interest. The process includes researching the topic, gathering information, organizing information, and reporting findings. The reports may take the form of a written essay, a dramatic presentation such as a play or musical, discussion with adult resources, and always include a public presentation before an audience of peers and adults. Student interest areas vary enormously, and projects provide an outlet for exploring what may range from a passing interest or what turns out to a lifelong career or avocation. Exploring a topic requires a rigorous application and demonstration of many skills and knowledge areas. For this reason, project-based learning has become an important part of the school’s curriculum and mode of operation.
The advisor-advisee program is the heart of the JCS school. Each student is assigned to an advisor with an advisory group, the major subdivision of the school. The advisor works with the student to establish a Personal Learning Plan and its accomplishment. This involves daily contact, regular meetings, and parental involvement. The advisor’s role includes many functions: friend, helper, guide, counselor, appraiser, record keeper, critic, facilitator, expediter, and arranger. The advisor helps the student grow in all areas–intellectual, social, physical–and to develop talents and uniqueness. The advisor is an educational broker. Like a travel agent, the advisor asks students where they want to go and helps make the best educational plans and schedules for accomplishment. The advisor helps parents and students fashion and design programs that best fit the needs of students. The advisory group of 15-20 students establishes a supportive home base where the group can plan activities and feel included.
Students as Resource
Students as a resource is a concept that recognizes the worth and value of every student and that each has gifts and talents to share with the community. Schools short of resources such as money and staff often overlook the greatest resource in their midst, that of the students themselves. Students can teach, help, handle responsibilities, exercise initiate, manage and make decisions given an environment where their talents are given rein and appreciated. For example, students can tutor, teach about a passion to others and participate on the school’s Board of Directors.
By serving an internship in an organization for a period, students learn a great deal about how an organization works, how adults interact, and their own abilities and potential. These include internships without pay and formal Work Experience programs for pay. Both immerse students in real-world community organizations and businesses outside the school. Students learn the importance of record-keeping, writing skills, and math skills which increases their motivation to improve their academic learning in school. Students learn that punctuality is critically important, schedules must be met, behavior must conform to norms, dress is important, and courtesy is essential to an organization’s bottom line. These are real-world learnings of significant importance and have a significant impact on students.
Online and Technology
JCS gives every student an “office”, meaning a home base desk exclusively with a computer linked to the Internet. The Internet and other technology resources are valued by students carrying out their projects, satisfying interests, or other learning activities. All students are expected to become proficient at word processing, e-mail, graphic programs, presentation programs, Internet searching and other technology tools. Online learning programs are used for specific skills and knowledge development. For example, Kahn Academy provides an individualized program in math and other topics that have proven of value.
Cooperative learning refers to a learning strategy in which small teams–often as an aspect of project-based learning—each with students of various levels of ability, use a variety of learning activities to improve their understanding of a subject. Each member of a team is responsible not only for learning what is communicated but also for helping teammates learn, thus creating an atmosphere of achievement. Students work through the task until all group members successfully understand and complete it. Cooperative efforts result in participants striving for mutual benefit so that all group members gain from each other’s efforts (Your success benefits me, and my success benefits you.); recognize that all group members share a common fate. (We all sink or swim together here.); know that one’s performance is mutually caused by oneself and one’s team members (We cannot do it without you.); feel proud and jointly celebrate when a group member is recognized for achievement. (We all congratulate you on your accomplishment!).
An interdisciplinary curriculum removes the boundaries between school subjects and increases the likelihood that skills and knowledge from different disciplines are applied to solving problems or learning about new topics. This departs from the standard school curriculum of separate subjects or what is sometimes referred to as “silos of knowledge.” The real world is not made up of just biology or just literature. Rather, the brain sees the world in totality with a mixture of understandings and learnings. It learns from complexity although it sometimes requires highly specific knowledge. The mistake many schools make is to assume that dividing knowledge into separate areas will somehow combine in the brain as a more generalized picture of the world and knowledge. This does not happen for most people. It is important that students see the broader picture of the world, its features, its problems, its triumphs to better understand how the world works.
Hart, L. A. (2002). Human brain and human learning. Black Diamond, WA: Books for Educators. See also Jones, T. P. Educating for the human brain. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
De Carlo, G. (1969). Why and how to build school buildings. Harvard Educational Review.
For a delightful and convincing discussion of the power of play, see the Tinkergarten site: https://www.tinkergarten.com/.
Gardner, H. E. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Dunn, R., & Dunn, K. (1986). Teaching students through their individual learning styles: A practical approach. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Reston. http://www.ilsa-learning-styles.com/.
Kohl, H. (1994). I won’t learn from you and other thoughts on creative maladjustment. New York: New Press. Also, Harbour, P. M. (2012). Community educators: A resource for educating and developing our youth. Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation Press.
Hirsh, S. (1955). The fears men live by. New York: Harper and Brothers. An excellent book on how prejudice develops. Based on the studies by Theodor Adorno, author of The Authoritarian Personality, Hirsh writes a readable, compelling, and provocative book about what science has learned of prejudice and what can be done about it. It also explains the frightful long-term impact of rigid authoritarian parenting.
Wallace, T. L. & Chhuon, V. (2014). Proximal processes in urban classrooms: Engagement and disaffection in urban youth of color American Educational Research Journal, 51 (5).
Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A review of school climate research. Review of Educational Research.