Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

Leaving to Learn

CJ Westerberg, April 11, 2013 7:45 PM


(Ed. Note: Tom Friedman writes today about internships in TNYT.  Why wait until a student graduates college before internships matter? - CJW)

"Just because you leave
does not mean that your education
is necessarily interrupted."
-Ralph Caplan, p. 39 - Leaving to Learn

Getting Out of the School Silo
Internships, On-Campus Maker-spaces and more . . .

DSC_0163-1_2.jpgby C.J. Westerberg

Every so often a book comes along which shakes up the way we look at education.This is definitely one of them. It skewers the concept that learning only happens in a place called school (but read more, this is not about home schooling, or unschooling).   

 Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Leaving-to-Learn.jpgIt is a game-changing book in a profound way because it clearly and succinctly addresses student expectations about their own learning.
When was the last time we had a deep conversation about students and what they expect from their learning?

This concept of student expectations - the Big E - is perhaps the most signature aspect of this book, which entails a wonderful way of empowering students yet, at its core, creates the conditions for students to take ownership and increased responsibility of their learning. Broadly speaking, it is a powerful book about  engagement and motivation as it applies to learning.

Leaving to Learn (L2L) is authored by Big Picture Learning's Elliot Washor and Charles Mojkowski, who "have been listening to young people and observing how they relate to their schools" for more than fifteen years. Here's the premise of leaving-to-learn which also applies to "come-back" students, those who drop out of school and return for various reasons (bold emphasis added by editor)

All students need to leave school - frequently, regularly, and, of course, temporarily - to stay in school and persist in their learning.  To accomplish this, schools must take down the walls that separate the learning that students do, and could do, in school from the learning they do, and could do, outside. The learning in both settings and contexts must be seamlessly integrated.

 . . . If the notion of leaving school in order to learn appears counter-intuitive,
that's all right . . .

 . . . To answer this question we need to push back the boundaries of what we take for granted about learners, learning, and schools.

Think of the internships, extracurricular activities, travel, gap years, entrepreneurial pursuits, work, apprenticeships, on-line learning, college courses, and field trips that coulda-woulda-shoulda been a part of a deeper, richer and academically challenging learning experience.

"A child educated only at school
is an uneducated child."
- George Santayana, p. 87 Leaving to Learn

 The big IF here is whether the school culture at-large accepts the premise that this kind of learning should have the same credibility and credentialing as "seat time"in a classroom.  Schools may dabble with this, especially with sports and the arts, but not as Leaving
describes (bold added by editor)

"Many schools provide a few of these opportunities,
but it is rare to find whole-school leaving-to-learn programs
that are open to all students in all grades,
are an integral part of students' learning plans,
and are awarded academic and graduation credit.
If you are shaking your head saying this type of learning can never happen at your school because it is too big of a leap or because of logistics, fear not. If you dig deeper into the lessons from Leaving to Learn, not all "leaving" needs to happen off-campus.

Chapter 7 includes a robust list of options, variations and tools that include opportunities of being on campus but with a L2L design and goal structure, such as experts-in-residence. 
An extension of this concept is the makerspace:

Modeled after hackerspaces, a makerspace is a place where young people have an opportunity to explore their own interests, learn to use tools and materials, and develop projects.
(Makerspace 2012)  (p. 90)

Establishing a makerspace in a school is an excellent
way to attract local artisans, designers, craftsmen, and tinkerers
to work with students as models, coaches, and mentors. 
The space might operate on weekends and
be open to all 'makers' in the community. (p.90)

Leaving to Learn is an intriguing and gutsy call-for-action from these two authors
who are well-steeped in the U.S. education system.There are over 50 Big Picture Learning (BPL) schools - in the US and over 50 schools internationally. A core component of BPL schools is learning outside of the school environment. 

Yet this is clearly not a book about PBL but about how all schools can create more inspiring and dynamic learning environments - which include school and the community-at-large NOT as distinct learning silos. In many ways, this concept goes back to the pre-industrial revolution apprenticeships-model - - - picture Ben Franklin in his early years along with
some inventions that have been re-imagined and iterated over the centuries.

Okay, you may say, that sounds all well and good, but what's the bigger deliverable?


By employing such programs, schools can deliver on students' expectations and help them learn at "the edge of their competence".  (p.xxvii)

It makes little difference whether students learn in or out of school if that learning does not prepare them for success as lifetime learners in all their "careers" within the workplace, the family, and the community. . . . . (p. 51)

 . . . To help all students succeed, schools need to address a much broader set of competencies stretching far beyond the current myopic focus, embracing the whole person - academic, thinker, inventor, fabricator, performer, entrepreneur, citizen - and moving beyond competence to craftsmanship, mastery, and artistry. (p.69)

What was the reasoning behind this leave-to-learn design and approach?  The authors listened to student stories that revealed "another deeper layer of more complex reasons" for disengagement and dropping out. As an example, "not mattering" came out as a key factor impeding learning and promoting disengagement in the learning process. 
Here is how leave-to-learn frames the issue:

Mattering is how students see themselves as significant.
. . .Young people need to know that who they are, what they want to become, and what they are going through matters in school and in the greater community, and they need it affirmed by the school and by their teachers.  Young learners ask themselves,
Does the school care about my interests or who I am? (p.12)

My interview with Washor and Mojkowski on separate occasions revealed both 
to be passionate about their work (no surprise here), consistently telling stories about individual students, deliberating as to how to share some of this intentional design, as in organization architecture, and features of their student-centric practices to other schools.

The conversations ranged from references to the work of Clayton Christianson
and Seymour Sarason and included rhetorical questions such as this one from Washor, "What makes us think that increasing 'seat time' in school increases learning? It's not the same thing as the 10,000 hour rule! People have it wrong. When you are interested in something, you lose track of the time that you put in because you want to be doing it. THAT's the goal!"

Go To Part 2 - 10 Student Expectations about Learning (right back at you!)  What is your school's user experience?

Related:  Advice for Teens Going to College - Video via Jon Stewart - The Daily Show -
                Internships and Apprenticeships!

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
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