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JUN 2013

Outward Bound & Harvard Grad Ed School Found Expeditionary Learning
By Gillian Granoff

When people think of Outward Bound, the image of a classroom of students diligently reading and writing, engaging in active discussions about academics doesn’t immediately come to mind. Most likely the image of a group of youth bravely trekking up mount hood with backpack in hand and armed with a compass, and love for unchartered adventure up mountains and rugged rocks is what we imagine. The founder of Outward Bound and Harvard Graduate School Education sought to bridge this gap between exploration and education by founding the Expeditionary Learning Schools, a new paradigm for curriculum development that allows students to explore and preserve the foundation of traditional academics on a non-traditional journey.

Expeditionary Learning (EL) curricula empower their students to be leaders in their own learning expeditions. By giving them the toolkits to direct the course of their education, EL curricula encourage students to explore the landscape of learning in and out of the classroom. Teachers encourage students to orient their compass on a life long journey. The goal of their journey is to become lifelong learners, to cultivate curiosity and character in students on an expedition in pursuit of “deeper lifelong learning.” The destination of this journey is to lead students not simply to answer questions, solve problems and memorize facts, but to instill a curiosity to ask their own questions, to provoke dialogue and read literature, math and all disciplines through a complex analytical lens. EL curricula teach students not simply to regurgitate facts, pass tests, satisfy requirements and complete assignments, but to raise questions, analyze and engage actively with the lessons.

Their approach is to make students and teachers partner in a collaborative process of learning. The teacher guides students towards the landscape allowing them to navigate it independently with their own compass. This, they hope, will encourage students to see learning not simply as a destination but a journey requiring hard work and perseverance.
EL builds confidence in students by placing the responsibility for their learning in their own hands. Lessons strive to show, not tell answers, and encourage students be “leaders in their own learning.” EL believes doing this will empowering them with the confidence, motivation and responsibility that instills both knowledge and the character to care for the community around them.

EL’s goal of creating classrooms that are laboratories of learning and character building and personal growth, is reflected in lessons that cultivate team-building, trust, collaboration and social skills that add values and to value their education. They emphasize both personal and academic growth.

By adapting their curricula to meet the rigorous standards set by the Core Curriculum, EL curricula provide a solid academic foundation for its students. Lessons are designed to teach students learn not simply to read the texts and materials they meet, but to actively engage with them with an analytical eye, dissect and formulate arguments and build critical inquiry skills within the context of the required materials.

The New York City Department of Education recognized EL’s success in curriculum design by awarding the program a contract in New York assigning their trainers the task of adapting EL’s literacy curricula to meet the standards of the new Common Core for grades 3-5.

In March 2012 EL was recruited to adapt their literacy curriculum for Grades 6-8. As part of this contract, the Expeditionary Learning consultants provide professional development to educators from every district in the state to help them use curriculum in the classroom. After attending an EL training one participant noted, “We leaving seeing the possibility of brilliance in every student in every school, every day.”

Lili Brown, Chief Advancement Officer at Expeditionary Learning and the staff have worked hard to ensure that the curricula they create satisfy are consistent with the Common Core. The instructional and curriculum development plans are aligned accurately with the Common Core literacy curriculum for New York City and their methods are currently being utilized in the New York City schools for students in grades 3-8.

Teachers are already applying EL’s unique and effective learning curriculum to their classrooms. One district began using them after the August training last summer. “EL has begun to build teacher capacity to meet the new instructional demands associated with teaching to the Common Core, in New York and in other places, and is emerging as a national thought leader on deeper learning through the Common Core.”

Expeditionary learning ensures that teachers they train receive ongoing support from their staff and maintain regular communication with their trainees. These trainers provide regular give feedback to the teachers adapt these unique learning strategies into their lessons.

What began 20 years ago as a collaborative vision between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound, has now expanded its grasp to touch over 45,000 students in more than 160 schools throughout the country. Today EL’s comprehensive instructional model, currently being used across its network of schools that spans 30 states, results in significant increases in student achievement and changes in teacher practice across a breadth of school types: district and charter, urban, rural and suburban, and K-12. #



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