Customized Learning

In the weekly education page of the Monday Post, Jay Mathews wonders why all schools don’t ask students to do a senior project, something required of students in many private schools around here (including the ones his kids attended) as well as a few public schools.

Such enterprises add depth to high school — a chance for each student to explore something that intrigues him or her personally.

Why should just private schools, and a few exceptional public schools such as Wakefield, be encouraging insight through sustained effort?

Certainly project-based learning shouldn’t be confined to just a few special schools.

But is it fair to limit the idea of “adding depth” to the school curriculum, based on the interests and passions of the students themselves, to one final semester of their K12 education?

By coincidence I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers and today came across a phrase from a researcher he quotes that’s fits here very nicely.

By contrast, the working-class and poor children were characterized by “an emerging sense of distance, distrust, and constraint.” They didn’t know how to get their way, or how to “customize” – using Lareau’s wonderful term – whatever environment they were in, for their best purposes. [page 105]

Gladwell notes that one trait of the highly successful “outliers” he profiles is that they learned early in life how to “customize” their personal learning to fit their interests and passions.

It’s a process we should help every student learn from their first day in our classrooms and not wait until the last semester before graduation for just a select few.