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Aurora Institute

Not Your Average Learning Experience

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Lori Vandeborne|Stephen Fujii

Issue(s): Issues in Practice

“There are no ladders, no fixed paths. Each one of us has our own web of development, where each new step we take opens up a whole range of new possibilities that unfolds according to our own individuality.”  – Kurt Fischer

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 5.48.34 PMIn the book The End of Average, Todd Rose offers this metaphor for human development and progressions which challenges the old averagarian model of a linear spectrum or ladder. This web is precisely the approach being taken in the career pathways currently under implementation at Harding High School in Marion, Ohio.  

Often when we think of the word pathway, our human schema naturally formulates a linear system. Harding High School needed to think differently as our student population has been known to stall on particular rungs of the ladder or fall off the ladder completely. However with the multiple components of our new learning design and the foundation being laid to achieve the Diploma+ Acceptance, Graduation Pathway for Success (GPS), Simulated Workplaces, and College and Career Pathways linear thinking cannot properly reflect the complicated personalized web of support, resources, and learning.

Envision for a moment, a spider delicately spinning her web, strategically anchoring the supports to solid surfaces, painstakingly securing each bridge thread to the supports, and properly spinning the radials like spokes of a bike wheel from the hub to the bridge threads. The foundation is in place and now she can be artistic and creative in her design. She enters her optimal comfort zone of her personalized pathway as the spiral moves in and out at various widths crossing over each radial cord to connect them in a completely unique and visually appealing structure. Her creation is as beautiful as delicate lace, yet it is knit with a cord of silk that when weaved together has an elasticity and strength that is stronger than steel; flexible, yet rigid enough when challenged it can actually stop a bullet. This strong silk is spun between the radials in a pathway as original as a snowflake and representative of the species of that spider yet still as individualized as the specific spider and the location it chooses to spin its web.

In the graphic below, the parts of a spider web are representative of the myriad of components within the Harding High School Model for Career and College Pathways. Focusing on a structure of supports for students in this way we can recognize that the pathways are not linear. The learning experiences for each student will be personalized to their specific needs and interests. Through coordination with local higher education institutions, and through a personalized project based curriculum focused on the Universal Design for Learning, this collective approach highlights the many learning resources and opportunities available for each student within the school and throughout our community while focused on designated needs of all.  

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 2.59.26 PM

Anchor Point – The School
Anchor Thread – The Teachers of Content and Knowledge – Content Teachers
Frame Thread – The Teachers of Behavior and Executive Agency Guidance, Gear Up, Principals, etc.
Bridge Threads – Soft Skills Built into Content and Experiences
Radius – Key courses for the pathways, content, mastery, foundational skills
Capture Spiral – the students own path and pace through the content
Auxiliary Spiral – the students own path and  pace through cross-curricular authentic learning experiences
U-turns – Shifts in pathways

Each web of learning experiences are unique; however, they are all woven and manifest with the beauty, individuality, and uniqueness that each student possesses. The cross sections between the spirals and the radials are the projects and authentic engagements that the students are exposed to and/or create through their learning. The community and business partners are the junctures which connect the content to the world beyond the school. The web is supported by the supports provided to each student to ensure the final outcome: a strong, yet flexible, capable adult who resides in the middle of an artistically-designed, personally developed metacognitive matrix of understanding.

It is, however, the responsibility of the adult partnerships involved to monitor and secure each junction point connecting the support threads. If these junctions are not secure and/or communication fails, the web will falter, be weak, or may even collapse. In contrast, the flexible student pathways, which are unique to that student and supported by the radials on the web, will survive if there are detours along the way. Therefore, as the student and the support team design their individualized pathway, it can vary and move at a unique pace, but it will not affect the strength of the foundational pieces of that student’s educational experience. If we secure and maintain the foundation then the student can artistically forge their own path based on whatever they know and discover about their interests, strengths and weaknesses.  

Lori Vandeborne is a Simulated Workforce Instructional Coach at Marion City Schools. Twitter: @MrsVandeborne

Stephen Fujii is the Director of Career and College Readiness at Marion City Schools. Twitter: @_StephenFujii.