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Teaching the Whole Child: Longfellow-Augustana Partnership Brings the Liberal Arts to Primary Education - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Tushar Rae   
Wednesday, 29 July 2009 15:13

Learning Through Experience

Pat SheaConnections also entail the ways students articulate what they have learned. "How can we express what we learn, not only in writing, but in a drama or in a play?" Shea said.

The fine arts will be used to reach students who learn best through music and art, said Bill Osborne, the school district's assistant superintendent for instruction and school improvement. Once a principal at Longfellow, he suggested that the new partnership be based in the liberal arts to tap into the entirety of what Augustana has to offer, as opposed to simply the college's education department.

Hyser, who will spend two-thirds of his teaching time working as a liaison between Longfellow and Augustana, plans to add three to four new initiatives every year. The Augustana physics department or club might come to the school to conduct experiments, he said, or the environmental group Global Affect could talk to students about recycling.

He also hopes that as professors at Augustana incorporate more service into the learning experience, they will consider Longfellow as a vehicle. Hyser said that Karin Youngberg, publisher of the East Hall Press at Augustana, has already expressed an interest in having her students collect and publish a volume of Longfellow students' work.

Beyond the liberal arts, a core element of the Longfellow approach comes from the constructivist philosophy of teaching. Schroeder, co-author of Constructivist Methods for the Secondary Classroom: Engaged Minds, said the method involves students learning through experience. They guide their own learning to some extent, becoming practitioners of the discipline they are studying - children studying history become historians, those studying science become scientists, etc.

For Schroeder, constructivism helps students with "the relevance factor" - they get a better understanding of why they're learning what they're learning. Constructivism also places an emphasis on good communication and social skills through collaboration.

Kim KetteringKim Kettering, a teacher who moved from Horace Mann Choice School to Longfellow, was drawn to Longfellow because of the increased emphasis on constructivism. In her multi-age classroom, students will learn about how civilizations are born and function by creating their own civilization.

Multi-age classrooms - the pairing of two consecutive grade levels - aim to improve social skills and student-led learning, and are already in place in other schools in the district. Hyser explained that traditional grades overlap in student ability, and this method presents a more natural learning process. "It is a very comfortable pattern once you are in and used to it," he said.

The hope is that these changes will help move students toward "deep learning ... , deep thinking, ... good problem-solving, and good creativity," Shea said.

"Anytime you can engage the learner to tap into their own creative resources, ... that is obviously going to transfer to higher levels of learning," said Vicki Peterson, a longtime Longfellow kindergarten teacher and member of the development team.

Applying Educational Methods

The partnership will also give Augustana teacher candidates the opportunity to apply the educational concepts they learn.

Augustana professors will teach methods courses in a dedicated classroom at Longfellow, and then give their students - who have not yet done their student teaching - classroom experience.

"We talk sort of idealistically about curriculum, about engaging activities and experiences," Schroeder said. "If you can see that in action someplace and come to believe that it is possible to do some of these things in a real classroom setting, in a real school, I think it makes the experience so much more powerful for the students."

Longfellow teachers will benefit from having more adults to assist with one-on-one and small-group instruction, and also from being exposed to new educational theories and instructional methods.

They will also become partners in the Augustana students' education by helping them understand what went wrong and what went right in the classroom. "It is going to be an opportunity for them to share their experiences and become in essence co-teachers with us," Schroeder said.

Shea, who teaches courses in assessment, sees an added benefit in being able to ask those directly affected by educational models and theories how they feel: "How rich to get to look at it from kids' perspective," she said.

Her students will be able to ask Longfellow students about which assessments they prefer, and also to get a glimpse into how students learn, and how they know they are learning.

The new entrance to Longfellow

Planting A Seed

As the partnership gets underway, problems inevitably lie ahead. "We see the road, but we have never driven down this road before, so we are not really sure how it is going," Shea said.

Loy stressed that it will take two to three years before the new Longfellow model can be properly evaluated. And Loy knows about these matters; he opened Horace Mann 18 years ago as the first year-round and choice school in the district.

"In my 30 plus years in education, I have learned that it is very difficult to bring dramatic change into the educational system, into the classroom across the district," he said. "If you really want to bring a dramatic change, first of all you need to bring it in pockets - you need to try it one place to see if it works first."

"Nobody has ever heard about ... a partnership that has included the entire institution," Hyser said.

"It is a little seedling that we are planting, and in 10 years' time it is going to be a gorgeous tree with all kinds of branches and leaves growing in ways we would not even imagined," Shea said. "But by tending to it and caring for it, I think it will become a national piece of educational research."

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