Learning Beyond The Classroom

One way to deepen learning and drive toward true understanding is to provide as many opportunities as possible for learning to continue beyond school, or outside the classroom. This does not mean homework. Indeed, a great deal of research has been carried out on the proper type and amount of homework students should engage with at various ages. The research is not entirely conclusive, but overall results indicate that completing well-designed homework is correlated with success at tasks demanding recall of facts and information, but not so much with critical thinking and understanding. A clear exception is just plain reading - which seems to have a strong impact - regardless of the type of reading material. The reading can be the newspaper, articles about music, blog posts. 
The other type of homework that can make an impact on thinking, understanding, resilience, and other important goals is not characteristic homework at all, but rather experience. For kids, that means play, exploration, cultural visits, dinner with family, and the list goes on. In short, these experiences are far from “breaks from learning,” but are rather extensions of an important part of learning. They lead to confidence, centeredness, and strength in many of the dispositions we have discussed in previous blog entries. Some might read this and think “But what really matters is those test scores.” Fair enough. It is interesting to note that several of the highest performing countries on the PISA, a global standardized test of science, reading, and mathematics administered through the OECD, have found that the number of times a test-taker eats dinner with his or her family is much more strongly correlated with high scores than tutoring or test-preparation materials in the home. Books and cultural items (art, poetry) in the home also correlate strongly with high performance. In other words, students who have the characteristics of a stable, safe, loving environment at home have the strongest results even on these broad standardized measures.
So how can a school replicate or extend these experiences and characteristics of centeredness and connection that are clearly correlated with well-being and understanding? We cannot enforce a “dinner at home” program (tongue firmly in cheek). We can try to create as many out-of-the-classroom experiences that extend, but not completely replace, the learning that happens in a classroom. We should be seeking opportunities to get students involved with as many caring adults as possible - teachers, counselors, coaches, mentors - who can support learning beyond subjects and expose students to real-world contexts. Volunteer projects, community clubs, internships, excursions, cross-grade buddy systems are all examples of the types of activities that have the potential to encourage this further learning. 

For some, it may seem counter-intuitive, as traditional (but as we have seen only just over 100-year-old) models of education are measured by “seat time” and assume the classroom is the prime place for learning. We should be striving, over time, to extend our learners’ reach into the broader world and into further learning. This is something that has arisen clearly from the feedback we have received in our strategic planning exercise as well. As we develop plans for projects over the next semester, I can predict we will be reaching out to parents, their companies, universities, and local organizations to help us find opportunities for all our learners to gain valuable out-of-the-classroom extended learning experiences - inside the buildings and beyond the school’s walls.

#ASHexperience #ASHfutureslab #ASHadapts