Sunday, November 13, 2011

Youth Led Social (R)evolution

Remember when that loud, unruly kid was a punk? Remember when that quiet girl doing art in the back of the room was weird? Remember when the kids who were leaders were predictable and understandable? What a cool world that we live in that none of that is true anymore!

Over the last 100 years our society has been busy birthing new realities, thrusting itself forward into an unfamiliar, unknowable future. Women's suffrage and civil rights were the cusp of these changes, as our family structures, social relationships, and cultural growth has reflected an even broader transformation. Young people, who at first were merely keeping pace with those changes, went from being the canaries in the coalmine to being the leaders at the front, taking charge, making movements, and driving social change as never before. Today, young people are the bellweather of the brave new future we continue to move towards.

Look around you! See those kids fixing their own problems on the playground? That's (r)evolution! See the teens in the alleyway finishing that tremendous graffiti mural? That's (r)evolution! See those tents and that meeting in the park where the Occupy movement is keeping hold? That's (r)evolution! Who is at the head of all this? Young people.

I challenge you to see today's reality: The (R)Evolution Is Underway. Can you see it? Can you feel it? The economy, politics, education... Young people are stepping in front of these speeding trains that are bulleting their ways through our society, and they're doing what appears to be "crazy stuff". But that crazy stuff, unfamiliar and scary as it may seem, is bringing us towards a positive, powerful future for all people everywhere all the time.

New Orleans Liberation Academy is steadily moving towards demonstrating this (r)evolution. Step with us into the future to see where we're all going - together!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Transformational Change

Our friends at the Q.E.D. Foundation have created a graphic that does a great job describing the type of transformational learning community we are working to develop. We hope it can also serve as a tool for anyone else working to make transformational change in learning and teaching. Q.E.D. Foundation is an organization of adults and youth working together to create and sustain student-centered learning communities. Their work is based on relationships and practices that first and foremost support students’ growth and learning while simultaneously improving the health of our communities and our society.

Download PDF Version.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Graduation by Validation

The New Orleans Liberation Academy (NOLA) educational program for high school graduation is organized around a competency-based, outcome oriented curriculum.  In a competency-based system, desired learning outcomes are clearly defined and stated up front. Students are assessed by whether they can demonstrate those outcomes.  In the NOLA curriculum, the different learning outcomes are called "competencies." Students progress through the NOLA curriculum by demonstrating that they have met the learning outcomes through a process we call “validation” in a variety of skill and knowledge areas. We call this demonstrating a competency.
What is a competency?
A competency is simply a statement of learning outcomes for a skill or a body of knowledge. When students demonstrate a competency by completing a validation they are demonstrating their ability to do something. They are showing the outcome of the learning process. Lots of the things that people do in their lives can be defined as different competencies - job skills, living skills, etc. In the NOLA curriculum we've taken the different kinds of skills and knowledge that are important for our students success, whatever path they may choose after high school. and we have defined them as different competencies or validation areas.

In most educational programs, a student moves through the requirements by taking a class and being assessed and earning a grade at the end of that class on how well she has done meeting the requirements of the class. The assessment says how well a student has done in a class, but it doesn't necessarily assess what a student has learned. Wherever the student is at the end of the class - that's what the assessment shows. When the semester ends, the student is done with that learning and moves on to the next class.
NOLA’s educational program is different (and we think more like the real world). Students at NOLA know up front what the expected learning outcomes are and each student is expected to fully demonstrate them all.  It's not enough to be part way competent in something, our goal is to help every student reach the level of demonstrating their competence/mastery.  If it takes less than a semester to acquire a particular validation, the student can demonstrate the competency and move on.  If it takes more than a semester, that's okay, too.  All students are expected to demonstrate the required outcomes, but different students will do it in different ways and at different paces.

How do students graduate from NOLA?
NOLA students graduate by doing projects, performing internships, completing suplumentary learning packets and/or taking classes towards twelve different learning areas.  Not everyone’s learning experiences will look the same; each student, their advisor and their validators will create a plan that will best suit their needs and interests.  As the student works on the twelve validations, they will also receive traditional credits for the time they put in.  Student’s transcripts at graduation will consist of at least 30 semester credits, and twelve summaries of learning, called validations

NOLA’s competency-based graduation process allows learners to earn a diploma through demonstrations of competence in addition to or in combination with traditionally determined credits.  In addition to meeting the state’s minimum graduation requirements, the student must meet the desired outcomes in twelve validation areas, and must demonstrate competence through projects and summaries of real-world learning experiences.  Each of these validations must be signed by an expert in that particular area called a validator.  The validator should be involved in the creation and execution of the learning plan, as well as its final assessment.  Upon successful completion of all twelve validation areas, the learner will amass a portfolio consisting of the twelve validations, or summaries of learning, as well as projects that showcase the student’s work.  The student will then present the portfolio to a graduation committee comprised of the student’s advisor, one or more family or community members, a program director, other staff, and a current New Orleans Liberation Academy student who is also on the competency-based plan.

Some of the validation areas will be met through traditional classes; however, students are encouraged to create their own learning and assessment plans in most of the areas.  The following is a list of the twelve validation areas in which NOLA students must demonstrate competency in order to graduate:

à        Effective Communication
à        Literary Analysis
à        Effective and Informed Citizenship
à        Valuing Diversity and History
à        Mathematics
à        Science and Technology
à        Physical and Mental Well-Being
à        Artistic Expression and Appreciation
à        Accessing Information
à        Community Involvement & Leadership
à        Employment Skills, Entrepreneurship & Career Exploration
à        Philosophical, Emotional and/or Spiritual Awareness

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Humanizing Education

Yesterday, we met with a group of students at Sci Academy, a Charter school in New Orleans East. The students we met with are part of a ReThink club, a group of students who come together weekly to work on creating solutions to challenges students feel in the school.

One topic emerged as central to the students' experiences at school: dehumanization. Students have fealt that in their school they are unable to be their full selves, express who they are or the struggles they face.

Paulo Friere wrote that central to authentic liberation is the process of humanization.

What then is a human education?

Currently few schools exist that are actually designed for human learning.  Traditional school was designed to turn human children into adult factory workers.  It succeeded, but what if we no-longer desire such a system? What if our desired outcomes for children and youth have changed since the industrial revolution? 

Our desired outcomes for our children have changed. What are those desired outcomes today, and can the kinds of outcomes you would choose for your child’s life be effectively measured by a multiple choice test?

When parents are asked what outcomes they would like for their children, they often say “I want them to be happy. “ And they also report a desire for a better world for our kids to live in. They applaud ideas like bringing compassion, understanding, caring, creativity, and love.

As we were visioning a school here in New Orleans, we asked ourselves, students, parents, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who would give us the time: “What is the purpose of education?”  After a few months of asking this question to as many as possible, we’ve heard hundreds (maybe thousands) of answers, and have noted that very few of the answers we’ve heard actually have anything to do with traditional “academic learning.” Far more often, the answers focused on who our children and youth are and how we can support them in expanding that. In other words, it starts with the human.

So what is the disconnect that allows parents and educators to then turn around and send children into schools where their success and often self-worth is measured purely through a set of multiple choice tests in math, science, and reading, and some letter or number grades which tell us nothing of value?

Why do we not act on what we know intuitively… that who our children are is much more important than what they know?  It is who they are in terms of character that will shape our world.  All the knowledge in the world has never yet assured that our knowledge will be applied with wisdom.

Fortunately there are schools that get this and parents who are willing to allow their children to go to them, or who even get involved in creating them.  Through our continued relationship with the Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) and the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA), we have been able to connect with and learn from some of them.

Many of these schools are democratic schools run by partnership between adults and children. These schools provide education for humans, not for industry.  They know that future industry must change to fit future humans, and not the other way around.  A human education system serves the human children within it first and foremost.  The interests, skills, talents, and physical, mental, emotional and spiritual requirements of children are top of the list when designing schools. 

So as we begin with the human, the first task at hand when our students join us is keen observation of how the youth acts, the things they are drawn to, the foods they choose, the friends they empathize with, the information they choose to learn, the clothes they wear, the way they speak, listen, and interact with others. All of this is quite valuable in facilitating the expansion and learning of each student. 

Once their strengths and interests begin to emerge, we can then begin to support their journey.  This is how New Orleans Liberation Academy functions: in service to the human.