As we continue to meet with families interested in enrolling at Compass, we talk a lot about our mission, vision and school model. One of the ways that we have shown our model at work was the prototype that we ran this past summer with our partners, the Colorado State University Writing Project. We brought together a group of middle and high school students on the CSU campus to explore learning in a multiage project-based curriculum model. For those of your curious, here are some thoughts from two of our staff members who facilitated the work about specific elements of the teaching philosophy of Compass.
Sam & Kayla’s Prototype Takeaways July 13th, 2017
Multi-Age Groups -
Our students participating in this program varied in age from 11 to 17. It is easy to imagine that the younger students enjoyed having older students around to look up to. I saw evidence of this in watching as conversations that might be over the heads of some of the younger students were distilled by questions asked by the older students. Having our older role models be leaders in how to engage in dialogue about something you don’t understand or how to share your work that might be a little personal was great. Often times when sharing, the younger students would seem to have no interest but when an older student had shared they became more willing to open up.
A major realization we had about our multi-age groups was “How will we manage the middle age kids.” Older kids were very adaptable and while they noticed the rambunctious nature of younger students they were able to remain good leaders, but the students between the oldest and the youngest seemed to struggle more with the age differences.
Our solution for some of these tensions are fluidity between Compass levels were making sure that there are clear expectations of each individual student when working in their mixed age groups on projects. An example of the fluidity would be that Pathfinders interactions with Explorers would mostly be through clear leadership opportunities like leading their project which is a requirement for graduation. Explorers may jump up into a higher level project if they are ready for that. Surveyors and Navigators may also jump up, but they may also drop down to an Explorer level project if they need to work on a specific skill or piece of content which they are struggling. With this fluidity, each student has a specific goal that they are working towards in that group. Students who are working on goals that are at a level lower than most of their work will know from meetings with their 360 team. They will be guided on what they should be focusing on and how to make sure they know that their time will be well spent. This ability to work with varying age groups will also be something that all people at Compass work to model as the appropriate school culture.
Content in the Project-
We did not have time to really evaluate the content in individual films and how it related to climate change. In the future we would include more time to iterate on the scripts before going into production. This would allow us to check for understanding of content and allow for teachers to further explain poorly understood content. The use of the iterative process in all projects at Compass builds essential real world skills like being able to take criticism, make changes to your own work, and foster a growth mindset.
Team teaching was fantastic. This was one of the most successful aspects of our prototype. Working together with a partner that you can trust and trusts you is better than working alone in almost every way. While reflecting on this we did recognize that this could easily go the other way. A teaching partner who you do not trust can cause increased stress. This necessary trust is why the Compass hiring process will be more extensive and involve so many people.
With more than one person in the room differentiation was completely natural. The small adjustments and little explanations that some students needed did not fall on the individual leading that specific activity. There were also moments of greater differentiation. For example, on the second day we worked on our individual feedback writing pieces two students had not been there when the content of feedback was explained. Because there were two of us, I was able to pull them aside and help them individually understand the content, give them some examples, check their understanding and get them started on their writing task. Another example of differentiation happening was Kayla working with two students whose first language was not English and were struggling with some written instructions. Because we were team teaching, Kayla was able to sit with them for the course of the lab. One of the students read the instructions in Spanish to the other and then he translated them into English for Kayla. This took time, but was a great way make sure they understood and empower them to process information on their own.
Our communication was crucial for good team teaching. The schedule was structured and planned out in advance far enough that there were no surprises for either of us throughout the day. This communication was made possible by having dedicated time each day to reflect, and using google drive to write out plans collaboratively was easy and effective. Reflecting together made sure we were both on the same page and being able to plan remotely allowed for more freedom after past the work day. With this communication also came a deep trust between the two of us and the others who were assisting in this program. If something needed to be done by the other we trusted that it would get done. This is a hard thing to guarantee between any two teachers, but can be fostered through culture building among staff and hiring people who are not only talented but who also fit into the group dynamics at Compass. This trust was extended to our guest speakers as well. All of them were true professionals and experts in their field. We trusted each of them to try new things. Alyssa at the city utilities was able to try a new variation of an activity which they had done in the past. Andrew used our students as guinea pigs on a brand new lab kit he and his team developed. Eli was able to take his technical expertise and work with a population of students who were unfamiliar to him.
A recommendation we would like to make for coordinating guest speakers or lunches or anything from our community members is a contact double-check list on our project planning forms. We did have some miscommunications about things like some lunch locations, arrival times etc. Building a system where we can essentially RSVP will alleviate any stress about confirming those appointments. The form should have two boxes one which says “contacted” and one which says “confirmed”–the “contacted” one would be when a guest or event is initially set up and the “confirmed” would be only a few days out to double check that that person is ready for whatever they are doing with you. This would be in the shared planning documents for any project so everyone can see that these events are confirmed.
The team teaching model allowed for a lot of great things. It was a rejuvenating model for teaching that I am excited about. Being used to teaching solo where everything about the day and every student falls on you is stressful. With someone else, you can share the load and reflect on the experiences of the day and prepare for the next. This also gave us time and energy to do some extra things for students and the curriculum and we didn’t feel burdened by it.
To achieve this sense of rejuvenation we spent time each day reflecting. Because of our geographic location much of this reflection was done on the walk back to the classroom after leaving the students at the bus stop, but it could happen anywhere. The recommendation we would make for all teachers at Compass is that, like the students, have intentional beginnings and endings each day with their teaching partner. As far as scheduling, this would only take 15 minutes but being able to process the events of the day was the best thing for preparing mentally for the day and learning what needs to change for the next. Looking at the Compass schedule teachers could easily work in this time at the beginning and end of each project session on a daily basis.
One of our favorite things about team teaching was that it gave us an opportunity to be students. By the end of the session, if we were not participating the same as the students it felt weird, and it felt good to feel weird. We learned first hand that highly engaged teachers help create highly engaged students.