Tag Archive for progressive-education

Lessons Learned from Progressive Education

The progressive-traditional education debate makes for provocative discussion, but in reality effective educators blend different educational theories to reach their students. Actual students in actual classrooms are not reduced to a single theory of education to the exclusion of others. Here is the first of at least two blog posts that describe aspects of different education models I have found valuable in my work in education.

Progressive education emphasizes student experience, construction of knowledge, thinking about learning, and the development of lifelong learning. Progressive educators worry that too many students have lost interest in the conventional curriculum, particularly at the high school level. Schools can design more engaging, effective programs that appeal to all learners.

I first started teaching directly after college in a teacher intern program at an independent boarding school. I taught two sections of ninth grade Biology and met daily with an experienced teacher mentor. I was pretty unprepared to teach but did my best to convey and assess the content. When I walked past the classroom next door, I was often captivated by the discussions in Bill Z.’s ecology class. Students developed questions about the campus pond and then designed independent research projects to answer those questions. Class time was spent at the pond, over lab equipment, or in group discussion. Students were highly engaged, defying the stereotype of the non-AP kid. I wondered whether I could make my classes this engaging.

I took my next teaching job in Botswana. The curriculum there was not progressive, tied to the U.K. O-level and A-level programs. However, the school itself was imbued with a strong social justice orientation, founded on non-racial principles during the height of apartheid South Africa. After school activities commenced at 2pm, and students were required to pursue sports, service, and clubs equally. I have not yet since seen a school with such a comprehensive commitment to community service. Global citizenship and cultural competency have since featured prominently among my educational values.

The Stanford University School of Education provided me with access to the study of experiential education, educational equity and school change theory. Nine months of intensive study with experienced professors and student peers helped me develop a comprehensive internal framework for my view of education. I wanted to design educational environments to enhance student experience, assess learning, and prepare students for a democratic society.

I took my next position at a San Francisco public charter school that had opened only the year before. Coming on board in the school’s second year was a real adventure in painting, lab construction, curriculum development, and building new information systems. Growing a school from one grade level to four required a ton of work and many long days. It also provided an opportunity to found a school on new assumptions about students and learning. I have never experienced a stronger commitment to success for all students, experimentation with teaching methods, and heterogeneous student groups. These principles of educational equity became permanently ingrained in my educational philosophy.

Becoming a technology director helped me further explore progressive educational methods using technology tools. I came to see so much potential for electronic tools to connect learners and prepare students to fully participate in a democratic society. Schools that feature students as content creators and teachers as facilitators came to feel so possible, if not likely. Expansive electronic information sources, online discussion forums, multimedia publishing, communication networks could be used to support full student participation and experiential learning.

My current school embraces the term “progressive” in both public-facing materials and internal discussions. We highlight so many examples of active student exploration of knowledge, reflection about one’s own learning, interdisciplinary study, 21st century themes, and school as community. Global education, urban studies, outdoor education, and sustainability all have a place in the curriculum and often dedicated staff. The school also has a tremendous arts program, truly an equal to the other departments and a statement about the vital importance of instruction for arts literacy, creativity, and discipline.

Progressive education has played a significant role in my education history, but it is not the only relevant theory of practice. In the next post, I will explore cognitive psychology and its effects on my conception of learning theory.


21st Century Learning and Progressive Education

Many education technology bloggers (1, 2, 3) have issued a call to transform schools into “21st century” learning institutions. Speaking broadly, these schools would emphasize student-centered instruction, project-based learning, and lots of technology use.

These authors make frequent reference to popular new books that describe how society is changing as a result of ubiquitous communication and productivity technologies. Titles include Switch (Heath and Heath), The World Is Flat (Thomas Friedman), A Whole New Mind (Daniel Pink).

I think they’re reading the wrong books. Adding more technology does not change teaching practice. The educational revolution they describe already has a name: progressive education. Over 100 years old, progressive education emphasizes learning through experience, the unique qualities of each learner, and the critical role of education in a democratic society.

Let us adopt a new reading list for 21st century learning, grounded in education theory and schools rather than technology and social change.

John Dewey: Democracy and Education, Education As Experience

Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences, Five Minds For the Future

Alfie Kohn: Punished By Rewards, The Homework Myth

Nell Noddings: The Challenge to Care in Schools

Collaborative Learning on an International Stage

I will present two sessions at the above-named conference on Friday, September 24 in Boise, ID. Here are my two sessions.

Structuring an Online Conversation: the Why Not? Model

Let’s imagine that you have found an international partner for a virtual exchange. Now what? This session will describe the key features of a rich online environment and curriculum for international collaboration. Learn how to take your virtual  exchange beyond the “pen pal” stage. We will explore the “Why Not?” model used to connect Oregon schools with teens in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Jordan, and Iraq. Session participants will be invited to share success stories and challenges from their virtual exchanges.

Global Education: More Than Just Trips

The presenters will share global education projects that go beyond cultural exchange and language learning. Examples will highlight international service, the Global Viewfinder Film Series, trip planning, curricular integration, cross-grade collaborations, technology, ongoing partnerships, and sustainability. We will encourage attendees to share interdisciplinary global projects that happen at their schools.