The American education system is constantly reinventing itself.
New federal, state, and local initiatives propose updated approaches to teaching, which, in turn, introduce new terminology that gets passed around in faculty lunchrooms and education blogs. If you want to understand and participate in the discourse, here are 12 need-to-know education terms that will help you dive in.
1. Project-Based Learning
In a traditional classroom, students are required to work on tasks alone. With project-based learning, students use what they’ve learned to collaborate with others to create a product. According to the National Academy Foundation (NAF), a well-designed project will get students thinking about real-world problems that have an impact beyond their schools; put students’ decision-making skills to the test; and engender a product that exemplifies the skills that students have learned.
Follow this link to read an expert's deep-dive into what project-based learning is like.
2. Personalized Learning
When one-room classrooms ruled the educational landscape, a one-size-fits-all approach to learning was unavoidable. Now, we focus more on the different learning styles that students bring to school. Personalized learning doesn’t focus on the classroom as a unit; instead, a teacher seeks to meet all students individually, wherever they are in their learning. By using a large variety of activities and adaptive tools that can help teachers gauge a student’s comprehension and talents, lessons can be customized to best suit each learner.
Find further advice and answers about personalized learning here.
Much ado has been made in recent years about the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. In March 2015, President Obama pledged $240 million dollars to boost study in these fields. The acronym STEAM also includes art, design, and architecture in the mix. In an innovation economy, STEM/STEAM education is paramount; however, the singular focus on these subjects hasn’t been without its critics.
Want more information about STEAM education? Check out this article STEM vs. STEAM: In Defense of the Creative Critical Thinker.
4. Differentiated Instruction
If personalized learning is the objective, then differentiated instruction is the means by which teachers accomplish it. Differentiated instruction requires that a teacher understand a student’s needs, strengths, and learning style — and then adapt the curriculum based on what is best for that individual student. To differentiate, a teacher could take a variety of paths, some of which include: providing students with different mediums for them to complete a project or task, offering students choices on assessments, and encouraging students to collaborate with different learners. Differentiated instruction is, in short, responsive teaching rather than prescriptive teaching.
A buzzword that, in part, came to be in vogue thanks to the research of Angela Lee Duckworth, grit is touted by many in the education community as being the key predictor of success. As Duckworth defines it in her TED Talk, grit “is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals” — and “living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.” According to Duckworth, a student who has grit possesses a “growth mindset,” which focuses less on outcomes and more on the processes of improvement and mastery. Teachers and schools seeking to promote grit encourage students to embrace adversity rather than to avoid it.
Find out more through the expert perspective shared in Grit: What Your Kids Learn Through Academic Failure.
6. No-Excuses Schools
The no-excuses school movement is one that has no formal definition; however, most attribute its origin to the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), a network of charter schools that opened in the mid-1990s. The KIPP philosophy champions a core set of principles known as the Five Pillars. At the center of KIPP’s pedagogical approach is setting and regularly testing measurable goals for academic achievement, as well as a “relentless focus” on high student performance on standardized tests. Critics of the no-excuses movement view the approach as authoritarian in nature, and as creating an environment in which creativity is suppressed rather than encouraged.
If your child attends this type of school, you may find this article, Don't Be Afraid of the Principal helpful for both you and your child!
7. Child-Centered Learning
For many Americans, the classroom dynamic has been one in which the teacher speaks and the student listens. In this approach to education, the teacher is the bearer of knowledge, and the student is the recipient. The proliferation of technology and the instantaneous access to infinite information has flipped this model. Child- or student-centered learning asks the student to take an active part in her own creation of meaning. Rather than being the focal point of the class, the teacher facilitates conversation and dialogue, and asks students to drive the learning. In a child-centered class, students draw on their own prior knowledge and critical-thinking skills to accomplish a task.
Montessori schools are well-known for their child-centered learning approach. Discover more with The Montessori Method: What You Can Expect.
According to Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University (LAB), looping refers to the “practice of keeping groups of students together for two or more years with the same teacher.” Proponents of looping believe that the extra time spent with students fosters deep student-teacher relationships and allows teachers to personalize the curriculum more closely to their students’ needs.
Think two years with the same teacher is a bad thing for your kid? Read this article about what to do if your child and teacher don't get along.
9. Inquiry-Based Instruction
Closely tied to project-based learning, inquiry-based instruction poses questions or scenarios to encourage creative problem-solving. The focus is on “how you know” as opposed to “what you know.” Instead of knowledge being dispensed to students by their teachers, students are given case studies or experiences through which they must apply their knowledge to reach new conclusions.
Instruction isn't limited to school hours. Check out these five after school programs that teach kids to be creative problem-solvers.
10. Experiential Learning
The cousin to child-centered, project-, and inquiry-based learning, experiential learning works to bring a hands-on approach to the classroom. In this kind of methodology, students directly work with the subjects they are learning about instead of reading about them in their textbooks or recreating scenarios through projects or case studies. For example, instead of learning about plant life from a textbook or working on understanding it inside the classroom, the experiential classroom takes the biology class into the woods to study the local flora.
Follow this link to learn more about what experiential learning is.
11. Flipped Classroom
The flipped classroom takes the traditional model of classroom practices — in which the teacher presents content at school, and students master the material through assignments at home — and turns it on its head. In the flipped classroom, students are presented with course materials outside of class (in some cases, through pre-recorded lectures). During class, teachers facilitate activities and help students process and work with the content in a supported environment.
Find further advice and answers about flipped classrooms here.
12. Blended Learning
Technology has allowed teachers to become increasingly innovative — enabling instructors to draw from a variety of best practices to create classrooms that closely mirror their individual ideal learning environments. The blended classroom is one in which the teacher incorporates a combination of technologies and pedagogical approaches to create the individualized experience that best suits each student.
Learn more about blended learning with this collection of expert advice.
Educate to Innovate. Retrieved May 12, 2015, from The White House
Flipping the Classroom. Retrieved May 12, 2015, from Washington Post
Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation. Retrieved May 12, 2015, from Thirteen
Looping: Supporting Student Learning Through Long-Term Relationships. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2015, from Brown University
Project-Based Learning: A Resource for Instructors and Program Coordinators. Retrieved May 12, 2015, from NAF
The Key to Success? Grit. Retrieved May 12, 2015, from TED
What Is Differentiated Instruction? Retrieved May 12, 2015, from Scholastic