October 16, 2008

Interest-led Learning in Public Schools?

I think the best education allows a child to follow his interests because he'll be enthusiastic and motivated, searching out what he needs to know to succeed--in essence, learning how to learn. I've only seen this philosophy lived out in a small setting like homeschooling or specialized private schools. But it seems even the public school system is catching the vision of what interest-led learning can look like in their sphere. Here's a great article about Grand Prairie South High School from Edutopia. I'd like to know what you think about it.


Unknown said...

I always hate to be the first to comment because after hearing others views, I will think, "Yeah, that is true." Anyhow....just some first opinions of the video.
~I do believe schools work hard to make it so students succeed (it is just a difficult job with so many personalities and learning styles) and I always enjoy viewing videos like this where schools are going outside the norm.
~It appeared the students were very confident and had a sense of belonging. That is a definite plus.
~What I liked and didn't like is that schools are always preparing for the "future". As a homeschooler, I see how my child likes to live in the moment and by doing so, they are preparing for their future. Does that even make sense?
~Although the students are choosing fields of interest, what goes on behind the scenes to evaluate what they have learned? If it is "saving a life" as they were doing, that is excellent because I believe that is truly evaluating what you have learned. But if they are having to write papers and such, than I don't feel it would be a real evaluation but just making sure the schools have officially evaluated the students.
~Overall, I liked it and hope to see more of this kind of thing happening in the public schools. Good for them.

Jena said...


Thanks for the thoughtful feedback (as usual!). I agree--I'm glad to see a school thinking outside the factory mentality. Preparing for the future, yes, I know what you mean, collecting skills instead of developing learning to create their lives (the two go together somehow, I think).

My favorite aspect of this story is how it looks like the kids are enjoying themselves and get to hang out with people of similar interests and abilities. Ex: artists hang with artists to learn from and understand each other.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the kids in this video seem incredibly mature to you? Much more confident and competent than the average high schooler. I wasn't sure if that was because focusing on a career goal made them more mature, or if they were already more mature and stood out because they took the courses so seriously. I was impressed with the idea overall, and I think it could definitely give floundering kids some "purpose," but it also gave me this strange sensation of too much, too soon. I've always wanted my kids to be kids as long as absolutely possible, and homeschooling has allowed that to happen. Somehow this seems to just reinforce the general public school trend of growing up too quickly. I would love to see a public school embrace child-led learning where it wasn't quite so career oriented. My 2 cents anyway...

Anonymous said...

It seemed that treating these young men and women as thinking, capable individuals as opposed to viewing them as "troublesome teens" brought out their best. The cynical side of me wonders how they meet federal testing goals, or what is going on outside the video.

This school is definitely an improvement on traditional education.

Jena said...

Interesting. Peter, my son, thought the same thing. He thought it was too young to do vocational training. But I do like the idea of treating them like adults and giving them real world skills. I agree that it makes them act more mature. I think we expect too little of teenagers.

The mention of federal guidelines just reminds me how impossible it is to teach large groups with government expectations. If only all teachers could focus on a small group of kids they know really well and not have so many government constraints, they might have some success (like in homeschooling). :)

Unknown said...

There was a regional vocational high school in our district when i was in high school. I never thought much of it but I've often thought since then that it was wonderful! And for all of the reasons listed in the video. My next door neighbor went through the plumbing curriculum and is very successful AND could go straight to work after high school.

Mindy said...

I have to agree with other commenters that I thought the kids did all seem very confident and mature. I think that probably ahs to do with studying in fields that they are truly interested in, with teachers who share their passions. I too am really glad to see a public school tmoving away from methods that obviously are failing and trying nre things.

As to the issue of federal testing, that is something I wonder about as I consider an unschooling approach for my youngest child. Here in NC, we are required to administer standardized grade level tests annually to homeschooled students, and that is really my only concern about my unschooling aspirations.

Jena said...

about the standardized tests at grade level--we don't have to do those things in Illinois, so I have no personal experience. But, if I was in that situation, I'd find out what's on the tests. What are they looking for? Is it specific content? Are there any guidelines to refer to? If so, get the study book and spend some time on it in advance.

You can let your kids follow their interests, but have those guidelines in the back of your mind and have your child do some specific study to prepare, if necessary.

Anybody else in that situation?

My Journey so Far... said...

Just to quickly address the standardized tests. I've lived in WA state and am now in Oregon. Both states require testing. The kids have always done fine.

My oldest now 17 tested at 12th grade level in 8th grade. He aced the Algebra and had only completed about 1/2 of Saxon algebra.
We don't do science, do some history reading, but do not use a formal curriculum. I've read aloud to the kids since they were babies, but we've never done formal spelling or vocabulary.
So, I guess we are definitely unschoolers.

Exposing your dc to the world around them, good books, good movies and helping them find the answers I believe is the key to learning. And helping them understand that learning does not equal school. Learning happens all around us our whole lives.

What if they don't do well on the test? Well, you chalk it up to a learning experience and move on.
I don't know your state hs laws but I know that here in OR no one receives the test scores except the parents and if the child test below the 15th percentile they have to repeat the test the following year.

Hope that helps.

Letitia said...

My first reaction was that I think it's great. I still do in many ways. Even if they are having to do other subjects behind the camera that they don't enjoy, it's much better than the typical high school. They have a reason to look forward to learning. And, chances are they are more eager to learn the other subjects because they now have a goal. If most of their focus is on their chosen study, as far as testing, I guess they pass the govt tests the same way our kids do. They learn how much they learn just by doing what they love and through the course of living. And, I'm sure they do some "studying for the test."
For some reason, I did have some issue with so much focus on career building, but then again, is that not what we tend to do with our high schoolers? They are looking at that point in their lives for what their purpose is, what need they can fill, what they are good at doing. That seems to be what these programs are doing.
Another thought is how it is probably blending backgrounds. All art kids go to this program. It (seemingly) doesn't matter if they are rich or poor, popular or not.
And, lastly, I thought it good that the kids are able to test a field of interest, then change if they found out it wasn't what they thought. We know it is preferable to do that before college, but most people can't or won't homeschool. It is unbelieveable how many kids are in college, spending tens of thousands of dollars a year, with no clue as to what direction they want to go. These kids are getting to dabble in that and test their interest a year or two before college. Overall, from that clip, I think it's a good program for institutional learning.

Letitia said...

I also wanted to add about testing....Our first two were not as unschooled as the 2nd two. We were pretty relaxed, though, especially as we got toward their high school years~backwards, I know, but I was just learning more about what's important! My oldest really struggled in math. In high school she took a course on consumer math, algebra 1, and a few weeks of geometry. We were also not really big in the science area (they were writers and artists, with an interst in history.) We did not do yearly testing, but they both took the ACT. A few months before they took it, they began studying an ACT prep computer program, focusing on math. The oldest mentioned above scored a 24 on her math. I had been praying for a 19! She scored a 28 overall. My 2nd child scored a 30 overall. If you're not familiar with ACT scoring~those are GREAT scores. 30+ will get Presidential scholarship offers.
My point is that they will learn, even with relaxed methods. They will have to make a decision when the time comes for high school if going to college, which requires passing those tests, is important enough to them to learn the skills needed.
If so, then that's the time they can take a prep course, or study some of a text course in it. Unschooling doesn't mean you can't ever touch a textbook. It means learning what's important to you.

sgaissert said...

I think it sounds on-the-right-track. I believe that the less "school-y" schools become, the better they will be. The use of real people as teachers is good -- in keeping with John Taylor Gatto's idea of apprenticeships. I agree with other commenters that the future need not be the focus. Learn in the moment. Live in the moment. The future is going to happen. You'll be there, and you'll be doing what you're doing, which will be what you want to do, because that's what you've always done -- what you want to do.

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