Designing Meaningful Learning Experiences

Meaningful learning experiences at The Village School have a research-based, intentional design. As guides, we work each session to create a storyline that fulfills the following criteria:

  • Authenticity: learners will find the storyline compelling, and make a personal connection 
  • Lifeworthy: learners will have multiple opportunities throughout to build on their strengths, and develop interdisciplinary skills, such as those outlined in our Portrait of a Graduate
  • Experiential: learners are connected to the world beyond the school campus, through field trips and guest speakers

And, like all good stories, the experience must have a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

This session, our middle school learners  were challenged to identify a topic they were passionate about, research the topic and develop a strong opinion, write a persuasive speech on the topic, and deliver the speech to an audience of their peers and families. 

The Beginning

The project launched with a field trip to downtown Washington, D.C. to stand in the very spot that MLK stood when delivering his most famous speech. Learners stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, listened to MLK’s dreams for our country and looked out across the national mall to the U.S. Capitol, where they would share their speeches in just six weeks. After listening to MLK’s speech, learners walked along the National Mall to the MLK memorial where they considered how King’s words have continued to inspire new generations. 

Experiences like this, where learners are an active participant in the world beyond our studios, is part of our storyline. Our goal is that young people see themselves as an important part of the world beyond our studios, and that young people experience the world instead of just reading about the world. 

The Middle

After an inspirational day in the nation’s capital, learners returned to the studio where they watched examples of other inspiring speeches given by kids their own age – like an 11 year old’s speech at the March for Our Lives, and a 15 year old’s speech at the United Nations. Learners considered what elements made these powerful speeches and then began the task of selecting their own topic. 

To choose a topic learners had to ask themselves questions that many middle schoolers are never asked to consider: What am I most passionate about? What changes do I wish I could see in my community, or the world? What is something that I deeply care about? What are my hopes for my future? What are my future hopes for my community and my world? How can my voice make a positive change in the world? 

Speech topics ranged from taking care of our planet, raising awareness about learning disabilities, education that treats young people as human, new views on overpopulation, the value of freetime for young people, and kids’ right to vote. 

Learners spent the next several weeks focusing on each aspect of their speech: the introduction, taglines, compelling evidence, elements of persuasion, and mic-dropping conclusions. This involved several rounds of feedback, and a practice run where each learner shared their entire speech. 

The End

After 5 ½ weeks of preparation, learners traveled back downtown to Washington, D.C., this time to the U.S. Capitol. Learners spent the morning on a tour of the capital, taking in the rotunda, statues, and the hallways of history before making their way to the Kennedy Caucus Room in the U.S. Senate to share their dreams for their communities in front of each other, their families, and other members of our school community. 

Here are a few excerpts from their final speeches:

“Now, what I take from this story is that teenagers need help. They are stressing about grades, college, maintaining a social identity and are feeling more persistent sadness and hopelessness than ever.  As a teen, I find myself asking why?  Why is this happening to my generation? What is causing this growth in teenage unhappiness?  As a teenager, I am here to offer my views on one, what exactly the problem is, two why this is a problem and how it came to be, and three, how we can solve the problem.” 

“It’s important to understand what learner-centered education is. It’s what it sounds like. Their learning is centered around them. It means that each individual learner is honored for who they are and what they need because each person is different and unique. I want more kids to experience this learning because this is education done right. It should be accessible to kids all over the country, and the world.”

I am tired of kids being treated unfairly whether it’s not being trusted or not being listened to. Kids may not have fully developed minds, maybe we don’t have as much experience in the real world, Sometimes what we say doesn’t even make sense, but we know right from wrong and that is why our society needs to listen and hear what the next generation has to say. Today I am here to tell you why kids should be treated like humans and to go even farther to say that we should be able to vote and even run for office.”


The morning after, learners spent time reflecting on the experience. When asked how they felt, they shared:

Proud because I wrote an excellent speech in just a few days.

Amazes me that I was able to do that, I don’t think that I could have done that a year ago

Proud that I was able to memorize a lot of it and I was able to look up at the audience.

Proud because I can tell how much my writing has improved since last time

Proud of my idea and how I included a personal story to connect. 

Validated that audience seemed to agree and connect with my speech

I noticed that my writer’s voice has really developed this year.

Cultivating a sense of agency among young people is a part of our TVS mission statement. We define agency in young people as a feeling of confidence and a strong belief that they have a voice in their life, their communities, and their world. These reflections are evidence to us that the learner agency is alive and well after this learning experience – and it’s our goal that this is the case after each of our learning experiences throughout each year.

Witnessing the kind of change that occurs in young people after an inspirational, meaningful, and relevant learning experience gives us hope and it’s what keeps us coming back each day. At a time when the future seems like it could not be more uncertain, we simply have to look to our learners to see that there is indeed, so much hope for the future. 

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