If you visit K-12 classrooms today, they look much the way they have always looked in modern memory. A standing teacher leads sitting students in curriculum. Student work is hung on the walls and the black board is filled with chalk scribilling. The visual sameness of these classrooms is reassuring to any adult—precisely because it looks like the classroom they used to attend. This is the routine of an older paradigm for schools that is slowly giving way to a new paradigm. The older paradigm is often referred to as graduating by seat time, charter schools, new visions, knowledge is power, standards-based standardized tests—but these contributions to school improvement don’t capture the deeper learning component of the new paradigm very well. They also don’t capture the social-emotional component of deeper learning—i.e., the unmet need of student well being.
Perhaps the idea of deeper learning helps to describe the new paradigm. The new characteristics include a teacher who is coaching student groups around different tables of student-lead work. The classroom might look more like a lab where different student groups are digging into their work, developing hypotheses, presenting evidence, challenging their evidence, and crafting group conclusions. They might use their curriculum to launch an interdisciplinary study using math and ELA to write letters to mayors. At the lower grades you might see students lead other students in learning how to read. For example, you might see students combining tasking in an interdisciplinary way by building clay playgrounds as models for a proposed playground outside of their Kindergarten classroom, all based on a book they are learning to read.
Most importantly to the success of this new paradigm would be the use of assessment as a diagnostic record of the evidence of student progress. Standardized tests have a small role to play, but most of the assessment would be to help teachers and students learn better by combining data from multiple disciplines. For example, assessment results might include both academic and social emotional outcomes that would be used to help teachers teach the next day. Students would get valuable feedback on how their feelings influenced their academic learning, and be asked to make changes because of it, right away. A much more transparent use of assessment will help teachers and students learn more quickly and it will be available to administrators and parents right away so that everyone is on the same page.
What is the Same Page of Learning?
The same page of learning used to mean students would learn the same curriculum by rote, and get the same test of their memory. The new same page of learning includes diagnostic evidence of student learning progress, and social emotional well being. Cognitive and academic concerns have always come before social emotional concerns, so this is a really big change, as researchers have uncovered the undeniable connection from how students feel to how they perform. The same page of learning includes academic, social emotional, inclusion and diversity, support, and resources for every child, in every school, every year.
Equal Access to a Quality Education
A long standing problem in education is equal access to a quality education. Although schools appear to offer the same curriculum—in fact they are mandated to provide that—the implementation is quite uneven. This can be seen in the qualifications of the teachers who are tasked with curriculum in different schools, different subjects and different grade levels. Instead of producing an entire grade level of students who can achieve to a standard, student outcomes can be more reliably traced to their own IQ, the quality of their school, or the funding their school receives, rather than to their instruction.
Community-Based Learning Paradigm
That same page of learning is not standardized, but might be called interdisciplinary—applying evidence of student learning across multiple curriculums and disciplines to solve community needs. When K-12 schools can see and discuss real evidence-based data on academic and social emotional learning, we can make much more powerful decisions about how to move our schools into the future where they become inter-disciplinary, inter-connected with their community and a valuable member of the neighborhood’s needs.