About Expeditionary Learning
|"[Expeditionary Learning] brings the values that come from Outward Bound to a school — values of collaboration, of high expectations for everyone." — Tom Glennan, advisor for education policy at the RAND Corp. and New American Schools|
What is Expeditionary Learning?
Expeditionary Learning is an educational system that differs from traditional systems in three main ways:
The Expeditionary Learning system holds, as Massachusetts educator Ron Berger says in A Culture of Quality: A Reflection on Practice (from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform's Occasional Paper Series, Number 1, September 1996, Brown University), that "the quality of a school lies in its culture." Expeditionary Learning affects standards, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and school organization. At a successful Expeditionary Learning school, teachers, parents, staff, and students work together to create a school culture of collaboration, respect, and high expectations.
What is the Expeditionary Learning "philosophy," and where does it come from?
The Expeditionary Learning system is based on ten design principles. Those principles grew in large part out of the experience of Outward Bound. The design principles are abstract and aspirational. Nonetheless, they are worth reading, because so much of the Expeditionary Learning system is derived from them. The preface to the design principles sums up the Expeditionary Learning approach to learning:
Given fundamental levels of health, safety and encouragement, all people can and want to learn. We believe Expeditionary Learning harnesses the natural passion to learn and is a powerful method for developing the curiosity, skills, knowledge and courage needed to imagine a better world and work toward realizing it.
The design principles inform all aspects of the Expeditionary Learning system — from how furniture is arranged in the classrooms to how an Expeditionary Learning school is evaluated. The principles have been fleshed out and "brought down to earth" in a set of specific educational guidelines labelled "Core Practices." The Core Practices provide direction on how a school becomes an Expeditionary Learning School. They also give a better description of what is actually going on in an Expeditionary Learning classroom.
What is a typical school day like?
|Gone are the ringing bells, rows of desks, and fill-in-the blank worksheets. For all or most of the day, students and teachers are engaged in challenging learning expeditions. They explore a topic or theme in depth by working on projects that call for intellectual inquiry, physical exploration, and community service.
On a given day, their explorations may take them outside the school building to do scientific research in natural areas, conduct interviews in local businesses, or carry out a range of other fieldwork assignments.
Each day provides opportunities for quiet reflection — time for students to write in their journals, gather their thoughts, and reflect on what they have learned. Students work individually and in small groups. Together they learn to draw on the strengths of a whole class and are not separated into "ability groups."
What is a "learning expedition?"
|In Expeditionary Learning schools, students spend most of their time engaged in purposeful, rigorous "learning expeditions." These special expeditions are the core of the curriculum. Although learning expeditions often take students outside of school, unlike the familiar "field trip" or outing, these expeditions are in-depth studies of a single theme or topic. They are very carefully planned to have a clear set of learning goals built around a compelling topic and learning targets.
"The compelling topic articulates the content of the learning expedition, links the content to big ideas, and specifies the context in which that content will be studied. Developing a compelling topic is the first step of planning learning expeditions. The compelling topic is a cohesive package that includes in-depth investigations and one or more guiding questions that connect those investigations. In-depth investigations engage students in long-term study of one aspect of the compelling topic. Compelling expedition topics take content standards and shape and organize them to make them engaging and accessible to students. They motivate students to become experts, to generalize to big ideas, and to experience how depth leads to breadth." (Expeditionary Learning Core Practice Benchmarks, 2003)
What evidence is there that Expeditionary Learning works?
Two independent research groups, the Academy for Educational Development and a team from the University of Colorado's Department of Education, have studied Expeditionary Learning programs. Both groups found dramatic increases in students' levels of engagement and motivation, as demonstrated by high attendance and low rates of disciplinary problems. All of the original demonstration schools, most of which are located in inner cities and serve high proportions of low-income, at-risk students, showed dramatic improvement in the high stakes test used in their districts.
In our own city, the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning continues to thrive. Spring 1997 scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills administered by Denver Public Schools generated the following results.
Elsewhere, the evidence of Expeditionary Learning's success continues to accumulate:
How do Expeditionary Learning schools assess the performance of their students?
|Assessment is also embedded in an Expeditionary Learning school's curriculum and instruction. Expeditionary Learning nurtures a culture of continuous reflection, revision, and improvement. Expeditionary Learning schools make explicit the criteria they apply to judge student performance, and they expect students to work hard until they have achieved their best work. Expeditionary Learning schools try to avoid setting assessment apart as an isolated, dreaded event. Instead, Expeditionary Learning makes assessment indistinguishable from quality instruction.
Expeditionary Learning recognizes that effective assessment is impossible unless one has clearly defined standards. We require students to meet skill and content requirements identified in the Colorado State standards. Students, at the end of 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th and 12th grade, present their portfolios for evaluation by a panel of people who represent the RMSEL community, and then discuss their work in terms of effective communication, deep knowledge and higher order thinking. This demonstration of understanding is meant to further uncover student skill and knowledge. Students whose work is not judged by the passage panel and crew leaders as meeting passage requirements are not promoted until they demonstrate that they have completed the required work and attained the necessary knowledge and skills.
How do Expeditionary Learning schools assess their own performance?
|Creating a culture of reflection, critique, and revision pushes students to better performances. Expeditionary Learning believes the same is true of entire schools. Expeditionary Learning has created Core Practice Benchmarks to help schools use the same cycle of self-evaluation and improvement. Expeditionary Learning schools participate in a school-wide implementation review annually that engages staff members in self-reflection based upon these Core Practice Benchmarks.
How does Expeditionary Learning change the role of the teacher?
|Teachers are the key to Expeditionary Learning's success. As designers of Expeditionary Learning curricula and guides of learning expeditions, teachers must be engaged in their own learning process as well as that of their students.
Instead of working in isolation behind closed classroom doors, teachers collaborate closely with colleagues, family and community members. This openness and collaboration ensures rich and high quality learning experiences for students, and significant professional growth and renewal for teachers.
Is there an Expeditionary Learning school near me?
|There are over 150 Expeditionary Learning schools in 30 states. The easiest way to tell whether one is near you is to use this map.
Where can I find more information?