Part I – Maximizing Potential through Learner-Aligned Educational Options
By Dr. JEFFREY L. MITCHELL
In a series of Extra Credit articles I will explore some important contemporary issues in education.
Inspiration for this series of articles comes from What are the 10 Most Critical Issues in Education Today … originally a blog post by Bernard Bull and, due to its popularity, a book resulted, called “What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education.”
The first in this series of articles focuses on the issue Bull described as wasted gifts, talents and abilities and I might describe as the need to maximizing potential. This Extra Credit feature will focus on several school types and models that seem to tap into the gifts and talents of its students by providing an educational model specifically designed and aligned for them.
Imagine a world of education in which there was alignment between content, teacher and student; that educational context maximized interest, motivation, and learning potential.
Below I describe some unique educational models that recognize the individual differences among learners and describe educational programs that are less “one size fits all” and more aligned with student interest and abilities.
Models to Consider
Before I comment on more contemporary approaches, you could argue that traditional private and independent schools have as a driving principle, specialization of their educational environment so as to be more aligned with and to maximize the gifts and talents of it students.
The most common models are religious schools, where education without God, is not complete. They might reference, for example, Colossians 1:16-17, that Christ is before all things and in Him all things hold together. For some families the connection of scripture to the educational experience is fundamental.
The “college preparatory” independent school is another traditional model. Typically, the intent of this model is to provide a well-rounded educational experience, with a rigorous liberal arts academic approach at its core.
Within the independent school model there are interesting variations that maximize the potential of unique segments of the student population.
Boarding or residential programs have been popular with families who see the potential benefits of fostering independence and maturity in students.
Within independent schools, there are single-gender options. An often cited benefit, supported by much solid research, is that boys might do better in single-gender environments (especially in Middle School) because they are not tempted as much to act the fool and girls might do better academically (especially in math and science) because they feel less bound by cultural stereotypes.
The college preparatory independent school model spawned many, typically more accessible, public school versions, like magnet (e.g., Hume-Fogg) and charter schools (e.g., Valor Collegiate Academies.
Also from the traditional independent school model, have stemmed very specialized “academies” in the arts, athletics and academics.
The Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan is nationally and internationally renowned and described as the “destination for inspiring, world-class arts education and cultural programs.” It is a school for students and families that want a performing or visual arts infused education.
Similarly, there are many academies (tennis, golf, skiing, hockey, soccer, etc.) for aspiring athletes who want to train for the next level.
As stand-alone public and private schools, and as distinct programs in schools, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) and STEAM (add “A” for Arts to STEM) programs have blossomed in the 21st Century generally, as a response to America’s poor performance on international assessments in the areas of math and science.
Locally, there are a number of options including, STEM Preparatory Academy, which is dedicated to delivering a rigorous, inquiry-based education with a strategic focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
High Tech High School has received a lot of accolades for its problem-based learning approach. Starting as one public charter school in September 2000, High Tech High has grown to more than a dozen schools, including middle and elementary school versions.
Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. It is experiential and very student-driven, deemphasizing traditional lecture-based learning and emphasizing exploration (see HTH Student Projects). The Ingenuity Program at The Forman School in Litchfield, Connecticut is described as “a talent-driven, student-developed course of study that allows for the time, freedom as well as structure, and support necessary to foster and augment such talents. Students choose a talent or passion they are interested in pursuing and develop a project that could revolve around that talent.”
The Alt School is an interesting hybrid between traditional independent schools and magnet/charter schools. Infused with a blended learning approach, combining online instruction with traditional classroom methods, their model reduces staffing needs while preparing students for an ever-more digital world. As digital natives, many 21st Century students thrive in this context.
In Currey Ingram Academy, I’m proud to work at a school where individualized/personalized is the default orientation. The very nature of learning differences require that our bright students have the curriculum presented to them in a way that fits their brain. Thus, I agree with Bernard Bull when he states that, “Education, at its best, is about helping people discover, refine, and develop their gifts, talents, passions and abilities; and then helping them discover how to use those gifts, talents, abilities in ways that benefit others and oneself.”
Despite the examples given, there are still not enough schools where this happens, but I am encouraged and hopeful that better-aligned opportunities will continue to grow and untapping the unique gifts, talents, abilities and passions of all students will be the primary rationale for education.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Mitchell is head of school at Currey Ingram Academy.