Our Approach

Learning
BAnApproach

Our Approach

The traditional model of schooling is over 100 years old and was originally designed to fit the needs of an industrial society. It is a familiar model for many of us who grew up with it, but it no longer fully meets the changing needs of societies around the world. This is an exciting time in the field of education as schools re-invent themselves and evaluate new research about what is most effective. Academia Cotopaxi has joined several global organizations engagedin re-defining a contemporary approach to education.

Here are some of the critical shifts that Academia Cotopaxi is making over the next few years.

New Definition of Learning:

In the traditional model of schooling, the focus was on coverage of a very full curriculum with tests and final exams to demonstrate learning. Teachers were responsible for teaching lessons and students were expected to learn. We now know that learning is a process in which the -student becomes engaged, actively makes connections to prior knowledge, practices new skills, and reflects on his or her learning in a continuous cycle. Far from a static model in which the teacher fills the learner’s empty brain, we take a more constructivist approach, viewing students as active participants in the process.

In alliance with the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) we have adapted the following definitions of learning:

We believe that learning leads to demonstrable conceptual understanding, competencies, and character:

1. Conceptual Learning is happening when students are:

  • Connecting new knowledge to prior understanding and to important concepts.
  • Constructing and re-constructing theories of how things work and why things are the way they are.
  • Testing their evolving theories in different contexts to refine them so they have increased explanatory power and to see when, where and how they apply.

2. Competency Learning is happening when students are:

  • Deconstructing expert performance and comparing it with their own.
  • Identifying the adjustments they need to make.
  • Practicing a skill in order to refine it and make it increasingly automatic.

3. Character Learning is happening when students are:

  • Considering what particular dispositions and values would ‘look like’ when applied in specific authentic contexts.
  • Acting as a result of these considerations.
  • Reflecting on the effects of these actions.

 

A Whole Child Approach:

One of the important understandings of educators today is the value of a whole child approach to education. While academic achievement is always a priority, schools must be places that attend to the multiple needs of our students. Academia Cotopaxi has joined ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative in an effort to change the focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to a focus on the long term development and success of our students.  As such, our programs promote the following tenets:

  1. Students must be healthy – Students do better in school when they are emotionally and physically healthy.
  2. Students must be safe – Feeling safe at school translates into higher academic achievement, increased well-being, and greater engagement.
  3. Students must be engaged – To learn at their best, students must be engaged and motivated. Students who feel both valued by adults and a part of their schools perform better academically and also have more positive social attitudes, values, and behavior.
  4. Students must be supported – Students in supportive schools who have caring adults who take a personal interest in them and in their success are more likely to perform better academically which in turn prevents a host of negative behavior patterns.
  5. Students must be challenged – Students need a curriculum that challenges them to work harder and to prepare for success in college and in a 21st century global environment. Students who take responsibility for their own learning are more likely to be successful life-long learners.

 

The New Literacies:

Today’s fast-paced global world requires different skills than in the past. What it means to be an educated person in today’s world is not quite the same as it was 100, 50, or even just 25 years ago. Here are what are being called the new literacies:

  • Digital literacy and Media literacy. Being competent users of technology, able to locate, organize, understand, and evaluate information using digital technology, able to responsibly use digital tools, and able to flexibly navigate a continuously changing digital world. In addition, experience with various media texts and the ability to understand, analyze, critique and create media of their own.
  • Global literacy. Global awareness about the interconnectedness of the world today, and the ability to learn from, work collaboratively with, and communicate effectively with people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, religions and lifestyles.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving skills; Communication and Collaboration skills; Creativity and Innovation skills. While these skills were also valued 100 years ago, what is new in today’s world is the global context in which these skills are used, as well as the variety of digital tools and social media in which they are practiced. As well, the particular habits and attitudes that cultivate such skills are important precursors to learning these skills – qualities such as perseverance and grit, curiosity, independent thinking, compassion towards others, social responsibility, and the courage to do what is right.

 

Assessment Practices

Assessment is a major area of focus for Academia Cotopaxi and we are learning from current educational research.

The traditional approach to assessment uses conventional methods of testing how well students can recall knowledge that was taught, usually producing a written document such as a quiz, test, exam or term paper, designed and graded by the teacher or educational institution. Often in this traditional approach, the grade received was final and there was no follow-up afterwards – this is often called summative assessment.

The same assessment can be used in either a summative way (telling the teacher how good the student is in math) or in a formative way (telling the teacher what to do next). What we now know from current educational research is that formative assessment radically improves student achievement. Using assessment in a formative manner has a powerful impact on learning!

The research is telling us that the process – in which evidence about student achievement is used by teachers or learners to make better decisions about the next steps in instruction – is a powerful process that positively impacts learning. That is why we are increasing our efforts to embed formative assessment into all our classes. Formative Assessment happens at the beginning or during the learning process using a variety of informal and formal strategies in which teachers check for understanding. These assessments provide ongoing information about what learners already know and where there are gaps or misconceptions in their learning.

Based on results of these assessments, teachers can then design the most appropriate next steps in instruction. Feedback from teachers, peers, or one’s self enables students to know what and how to practice and improve. Students demonstrate their learning using a variety of teacher-designed assessments such as anecdotal records, teacher observations, authentic tasks, checklists, charts, conferences, contracts, games, diagnostic inventories, portfolios, simulations, journals, projects, question and answer, tests, and quizzes. These are all useful and appropriate ways to assess conceptual understanding, competencies or skills, or character development. Teachers use checklists or rubrics to evaluate student performance or understanding, providing samples in advance so that students understand what is expected.

Standardized assessments are also used, such as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), IB external exams, and SAT tests. Externally evaluated, these assessments provide comparison data for our school. Our grading practices are shifting from a traditional model to a more accurate report on learning. Our past practice was to combine everything into one grade – academic knowledge and skills, behavior in class, attendance, homework completion, class participation. This approach didn’t provide an accurate report on what a student knew in each subject, nor did it provide a record of how well a student was demonstrating growth as a learner.  In Grades 6-12, students will receive one grade for conceptual understanding of the subject, as well as feedback about their Habits and Attitudes to Learning in that subject, based on a specific rubric. Separating these two areas will provide a more accurate report on two very different and important areas of learning. We believe this approach provides students meaningful feedback about themselves upon which they can reflect and set goals for improvement.