Thursday, April 25, 2013

Question the Answers

Best for students or what is most convenient for adults?

“Student-centered” learning is a hot topic in the world of education, no doubt, but what does that really mean and what are the implications for schools if taken to its logical end? For the community of Lindsay Unified, a K-12 school district in the heart of the Central Valley, “student-centered” is the foundational idea upon which every educational decision has been made for the past 5 years, with astounding results.

Kami Thordarson, the LASD Innovative Strategies Coach, and I had the opportunity to visit Lindsay Unified a few weeks back. We spoke with students, met with teachers and administrators and got a first-hand look at this student-centered district. Over the course of that day, we learned that Lindsay Unified began their journey with a question: If the system currently in place is failing students, why not change the system to better meet student needs?

With that question, they began a process of pushing back against prescribed answers and began focusing on student empowerment and student need. They moved away from a traditional educational model to a Performance Based System. For example, in this new system, students at every grade level have an understanding of what standards they have completed in each content area, what they still need to learn and are encouraged to learn at their own pace. There are third graders receiving instruction in 5th grade content areas! There are eighth graders taking classes at the high school because they have progressed beyond the middle school curriculum! An emphasis is placed on critical thinking and problem solving skills, moving students beyond just mastering the basic skills.

And how’s this for a revolutionary concept? Instead of tailoring a school’s master schedule around what would be most convenient for adults, schedules are created around what would be most conducive to learning, flexibility across grade levels and student collaboration. It seems so obvious but in reality, this is a real mind shift away from the roots of our educational system, a system under which a majority of our nations’ schools still operate.


The current educational system was born at the height of the Industrial Revolution, out of a necessity for workers that could support a growing society. Schools were built around the idea of preparing students for a future in the labor force. The physical space of schools and factories even looked similar.


In the past 100 years since it became compulsory that all students in the U.S. attend school, there have been revolutionary shifts in the way we view education, how students learn and what preparation students need to be successful in life.

We know that kids and adults learn best when they are:
  • engaged in collaborative, hands-on projects that require them to pull knowledge from many different sources and curricular areas
  • given real-world problems to solve and, thus, are invested in their learning and
  • quite simply, encouraged to have fun working through the learning process!

Kids are no longer viewed as products to be churned out as on an assembly line but instead beings whose creativity and skills must be nurtured and cultivated in order to prepare them for their future in college and/or career.

It is astounding to consider that given this profound shift in the way we view learning, that our schools still continue to operate as if they are still stuck in the year 1913 instead of 2013.

Lindsay Unified is an inspiring example of how a group of adults continually look past how things have always been done and, with student empowerment firmly in mind, choose to take the risk of trying something new in the hopes that student needs will be met, even at the risk of momentary failure.

So I leave you with this question: What would your classroom, school or district look like if you began to question the answers?

By Raquel Matteroli, Coordinator of Categorical Programs and Student Assessment

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