Principles of Learning
Organize for Effort
An effort-based school replaces the assumption that aptitude determines what and how much students learn with the assumption that sustained and directed effort can yield high achievement for all students. Everything is organized to evoke and support this effort. High minimum standards are set, and all students’ curriculum is geared to these standards. Some students will need extra time and expert instruction to meet these expectations. Providing that time and expertise helps send the message that effort is expected and that tough problems yield to sustained work.
If we expect all students to learn at high levels, then we need to define what we expect them to learn. These expectations need to be clear—to school professionals, to parents, to the community, and, above all, to students themselves. With visible accomplishment targets to aim toward at each stage of learning, students can participate in evaluating their own work and setting goals for their own effort.
Recognition of Accomplishment
Clear recognition of authentic accomplishment is a hallmark of an effort-based school. This recognition can take the form of celebrations of work that meets standards or intermediate expectations. It can also be tied to opportunity to participate in events that matter to students and their families. Progress points should be articulated so that, regardless of their entering abilities, all students meet real accomplishment criteria often enough to be recognized frequently.
Fair and Credible Evaluations
Long-term effort by students calls for assessment practices that students find fair. Most importantly, tests, exams, and classroom assessments must be aligned to the standards and the curriculum being studied. Fair assessment also means using tests and exams that are graded against absolute standards rather than on a curve, so students can clearly see the results of their learning efforts.
Academic Rigor in a Thinking Curriculum
Thinking and problem-solving will be the “new basics” of the 21st century, but the common idea that we can teach thinking without a solid foundation of knowledge must be abandoned. So must the idea that we can teach knowledge without engaging students in thinking. Knowledge and thinking must be intimately joined. This implies a curriculum organized around major concepts in each discipline that students are expected to know deeply. Teaching must engage students in active reasoning about these concepts. In every subject, at every grade level, the curriculum must include commitment to a knowledge core, high thinking demand, and active use of knowledge.
Talking with others about ideas and work is fundamental to learning. But not all talk sustains learning or creates intelligence. For classroom talk to promote learning, it must have certain characteristics that make it accountable. Accountable talk seriously responds to and further develops what others in the group have said. It puts forth and demands knowledge that is accurate and relevant to the issue under discussion. Accountable talk uses evidence in ways appropriate to the discipline (for example, proofs in mathematics). Finally, it follows established norms of good reasoning. Accountable talk sharpens students’ thinking by reinforcing their ability to use knowledge appropriately. As such, it helps develop the skills and the habits of mind that constitute intelligence-in-practice. Teachers can intentionally create the norms and skills of accountable talk in their classrooms.
Intelligent habits of mind are learned through the daily expectations placed on the learner. By calling on students to use the skills of intelligent thinking and accountable talk, and by holding them responsible for doing so, educators can “teach” intelligence. This is what teachers normally do with students they expect much from. It should be standard practice with all students.
Self-Management of Learning
Student learning is accelerated as they improve their ability to self-monitor, accept and act on feedback, and self-evaluate work. Metacognitive strategies are explicitly modeled, identified, discussed and practiced. Students are expected to use metacognitive skills to monitor their own learning. Teachers scaffold students' performance during initial stages of learning, then gradually remove supports.
Learning as Apprenticeship
For many centuries, most people learned by working alongside an expert who modeled skilled practice and guided novices as they created authentic products or performances. This kind of apprenticeship learning allowed learners to acquire the complex interdisciplinary knowledge, practical abilities and appropriate forms of social behavior that went with high levels of skilled performance. Learners were motivated to do the hard work that was involved by the value placed on their products by people who bough objects, attended performances or requested that important community work be done. Much of the power of apprenticeship learning can be brought into schooling through appropriate use of extended projects and presentations, and by organizing learning environments so that complex thinking and productions are modeled and analyzed.