Friday, 14 July 2017

Takeaways from Expeditionary learning for Progressive Schools


Expeditionary learning refers to learning expeditions as opposed to learning while sitting inside a classroom. It also offers opportunities for collaboration between different subjects. Besides learning of syllabus, the expeditionary learner gets the opportunity to develop character and intellect. It would not be wrong to assume that Expeditionary pedagogy promotes metacognition in learners. Ron Berger, claims that Expeditionary Learning or EL builds up a strong culture of collaboration between parents, teachers and students besides developing a culture of respect and excellence.
A Learning Expedition is built around an outbound learning trip, a 'field trip', meant to explore a particular problem, phenomenon or occurrence. Schools often organise outbound learning trips to the mountains, the seaside or even deserts so that students might learn about the eco-system, culture of the people and their means for survival. Such trips might be organised to study the impact of human industrial activity on fragile eco-systems. These expeditions are meticulously framed, the detailed lesson plan is prepared along with all the important learning targets, big idea and activities. Students undertake research work that involves different subjects. Thus, on an outbound trip to the mountains, students might attempt to study how hydro-electric power stations might be weakening the stability of the mountains and might also be one of the causes for flash floods in rivers. This research might involve English as the primary language (in which the case study or the research paper is written) while Physics, Geography, might offer different angles to the study and Statistics might be used to prepare a statistical analysis of the data.
This would bring me to the question of how one might be able to maximise student engagement and mastery of academic standards. To achieve the most out of Expeditionary learning, teachers need to focus on the Big Idea, i.e. what is the student going to remember to retain many years after the lesson? What is the enduring impact of the lesson? After the educationist has managed to narrow down the topic, the educator plans the field work, engages experts and services. Fieldwork is not about engaging in the learning process as mute spectators, rather it is about students working as investigators, proud experts working collaboratively on a problem, and then figuring out what its solution might be. The advantage of such learning is that it helps build character and also enduring academic learning. Fieldwork is rich in content, it targets literacy skills, builds social relationships, and most important of all it maximises student participation because it is based on real life issues. An expeditionary task that is interdisciplinary, connected to real life issues, relevant and meaningful, and offers the learner space and freedom will definitely maximise student engagement.
A very strong basis for expeditionary learning is that it helps make students better human beings. When students go out into the world on an expedition, they learn to interact with others, they learn to make adjustments, they learn to empathise with others, and they learn to be patient. It is therefore expected that students who have gone through the expeditionary learning process will be better behaved, courteous, and more empathetic than those who have not.
Expeditionary learning, however, can work only if students are leaders of their own learning, they take ownership of their learning, they re-visit their learning targets (I can collate research data and make a graphical representation of it.), and they have adequate scope for self-assessment. Formative assessments can help students gain a feedback on where they are with respect to the task at hand. With a shift from specific objectives to learning outcomes, and from learning outcomes to learning targets, we have made the objectives of learning more student-centric than teacher-centric. Here it is important to understand that Formative assessments are continuous and are actually assessments for learning unlike the Summative end of year assessments which are assessments of learning.
Ultimately, of course, students take pride at the end of the project, or case study when they make their learning public, or for that effect celebrate their learning with an authentic audience beyond the school. Students of grades six and seven of the middle school took up a project on the feasibility of making Gurgaon more cycle friendly. They did field trips, collected data, did extensive research work, and then shared their learning with the city administration. The end result was the start of what would be called Raahgiri Day, a Cyclovia movement that took place every Sunday on a particular stretch of road in Gurgaon. The road would be closed to vehicular traffic from 6:00 a.m to 8:00 a.m. Only bicycles would be allowed. This event was a massive endorsement of the need to introduce Expeditionary Learning in our country, at least till Grade seven.


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Berger, Ron Et al, Leaders Of Their Own Learning, Jossey Bass, 2014

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