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Aurora Institute

Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Applied Learning and W2AL

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Courtney Belolan

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

h20This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on November 30, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.

There has been some confusion here in RSU2 as of late about what Applied Learning is. So, let’s take a few moments to clear some things up. First, Applied Learning is NOT an IT. Applied Learning is a philosophy, a set of principles for instruction and includes some specific filters for instructional decision making:

Students working their way through a well defined continuum of learning using their passions to create a path and choose how they will demonstrate their understanding of the learning. Applied learning opportunities include:

  • inquiry based in driving questions or problems
  • choice in learning process (input, process, output)
  • learning put to use, not simply tested
  • reflection on learning

As you can see, there is no one prescribed way to “do” Applied Learning. As long as a teacher, or team, is living up to the philosophical framework the learners are working in an Applied Learning environment. Design thinking, project-based learning, place-based learning, Expeditionary Learning, game-based learning, service learning, and any other x-based learning you can think of can all fit under the umbrella of Applied Learning. That is exactly how we use the term Applied Learning here at RSU2. It is an umbrella term to hold all of the different ways a teacher, team, or school could approach learner centered, proficiency based education. The key is that an applied learning opportunity includes all of the philosophical aspects; without them the learning opportunity cannot be considered to be Applied Learning. An Applied Learning opportunity can happen in any class, in any content, at any time, with any teacher.

We do have some teams working within a specific schedule model which includes Applied Learning. While each of these teams approaches Applied Learning in a way that makes sense for their learning community, they all have these common schedule elements:

  • Numeracy Workshop
  • Literacy Workshop
  • Applied Learning

When these three elements are present, a team is working in the W2AL model: two workshops and one Applied Learning. Learners practice and gain skills in Numeray and Literacy workshops, then apply those skills with content (Science, Social Studies, Art, Healt, etc) through seminars and projects in Applied Learning. All three of these elements, working together, are needed to have a W2AL team such as Richmond Middle, Marcia Buker 4-5, and the Dresden k-2 and 3-5 teams. One way to think about it is to compare W2AL to the water molecule H20.

Just like Applied Learning, any of the workshop methods can be happening in any class or any school. All three of these things on their own are fantastic and the kind of instruction we want to see in RSU2. Together these instructional methods create a very special learner centered proficiency based environment: W2AL. Oxygen and Hydrogen on their own are great and occur everywhere.

Together they make something even better: water.

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Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.