Students Take Charge of Learning in the New Classroom

Of the following two options, which would be your preferred way of learning how to change a tire?  Option 1: You attend a lecture on how to change a tire and then have to change your first tire in a real-life scenario. Option 2: You take a hands-on class where you learn about changing the tire by actually changing a tire. Then, you’re confronted with a real-life scenario. Which option do you think would have better prepared you for the real-life scenario when you need to change your own tire? New research would say option 2.

Growing trends in education are putting students at the helm of their own learning, providing them with real-world experience and applications before heading out into the “real world.” Student-led learning is emerging in flipped classrooms, virtual classrooms, and brick-and-mortar settings.Project-based learning is taking knowledge to a deeper level by allowing students to physically show their knowledge of concepts, instead of taking an exam on new concepts. Another form of learning that is emerging is competency-based learning.

Schools in New Hampshire are aggressively adopting competency-based learning, which requires students demonstrate mastery of a subject before being advanced, according to the article “N.H. Schools Embrace Competency-Based Learning.” Traditional schools require students to put in approximately 4 years of “seat time” before getting a diploma, whether or not they are walking away with long-term knowledge that will help them in college, career, and life.

According to the article:

“[Competency-based learning] means letting students learn academic content in new ways. It means agreeing on what constitutes mastery, and holding all students to it, instead of letting some earn diplomas with weak skills. It means figuring out multifaceted ways for students to show what they know, and, ideally, it means letting them progress toward mastery at their own pace.”

The program has three key ideas that separate it from traditional learning:

  1. Learning is “anytime, anywhere.” This means learning can take place in school, outside school, on the Internet, on school time or after hours.
  2. Learning is personalized. Lessons should be tailored to students to be most effective for the individual.
  3. Learning is measured by competency-based standards. Instead of measuring a student’s knowledge of a subject or concept by how much time they put into it, they must demonstrate mastery of the subject or concept.

As schools look to adopt new programs to boost student performance, debates arise over what much of the new language means and how it can be measured. We want successful students, but what is success? Students should master a subject, but how do you define “mastery”?

One school in New Hampshire is helping to define mastery by making changes in their grading policies. They are separating grades for attitude and effort from grades for content mastery. They are also doing away with Ds and Fs. In addition, students will be allowed to retake tests they didn’t do well on. This new testing policy reflects the idea that mastery of a concept may not come at the same time for all students.

Whether it’s learning about civics, radiation, fractions, or how to change a tire, students need to be active and engaged in their own learning. How can you teach by experience in your classroom? If you are a parent, how can you help relate your child’s school lessons to real experiences?


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