November 2, 2020

Unique local learning model

While various educational models have cropped up since the post-Katrina recovery, none is as unique as that of Broadmoor-based NOLA Micro Schools. At this school, bells don’t ring. There are no lectures. Students are self-driven, and in control of - and held accountable for - their own learning.  

Teachers here are guides, who lead Socratic discussions rather than lecturing. Instead of rote learning, there is mastery learning, and instead of grades, there are student portfolios that focus on real-world group projects across age groups. However, there still is core course work (math, reading, writing) via online platforms, as well as daily, one-hour enrichment classes (P.E., art, music).  

Personal Investment 

Accountability is key to this school’s model and drives pupil success. Every year, the school updates its handbook in order to develop and share expectations and standards. They do this as a means of drawing clear boundaries and encouraging innovation - for parents, student teammates, and teaching guides. In turn, all renew their commitment by signing their own living documents that clearly state their expectations for the year. By drafting and signing these documents, personal investment is high and the students take ownership of their work and their teammate relationships. 

Studio Learning 

“The studio this year includes all 15 of our enrolled students in one pod, with one dedicated, full time teaching guide,” explains Ashley Redd, school director. “In the past, we separated (the students) by elementary, middle, and high school, but this (current) model seems to be best for us, for the type of learning that we’re trying to facilitate.” 

However, Redd notes, “If we were to expand next year beyond this one pod, for example to 35 kids, rather than separate them by age, we would separate them all into two pods, with all ages in each.” 

This works by pairing different aged students into duos, called teammates. “Language is a powerful thing,” Redd says. “We describe all students as teammates and teachers as guides in order to shift away from the standard teacher:student dynamic. Instead, we are working toward a common goal; therefore, we have teammates and teachers are their guides to facilitate the process.” 

The duo teammates are together for one-month sessions (instead of semesters), and return to each other at some point in the year. There is a new project each session and an exhibition at the end of each session. 

Redd emphasizes, “The kids are really great communicators as a result of this and learned life skills. There is a lot of learning when they’re matched with different partners, each with their own style of communication and support. They must learn to navigate that, and learn how to communicate their needs with someone who is older and a different type of learner.” 

Assessment and Mastery 

The Iowa Assessment - a standardized test used nationally by private schools - provides a good benchmark measure for NOLA Micro Schools students. They are given both at the start and end of each year in order to compare the students’ progress nationally. Redd is pleased to report that “we find our students test significantly above average.” 

But, she frames, “The real measure (of progress) is in the portfolios they build every year. This year, they’re making their own websites, and all of their core skills are tracked on that website. For instance, for book reports, they’re recording podcasts to demonstrate what they’ve learned, and video projects of their science experiments. It’s a different way of tracking mastery.”  

Redd explains, “Since we don’t give grades, we look at it holistically, to determine where they are. They’re able to compete in the same way other kids their age would, they’re prepared in the same way, and yet their demonstration of mastery may look different.” 

For more information, see the nolamicroschools.org 


Photo of Nola Family editor Trevor WisdomTrevor Wisdom is a local New Orleanian and managing editor of nola family. 
 

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