Session 5 Sneak Peek

Spark Studio

How can we celebrate individuals of the past who’ve made a positive impact in the world while looking towards future leaders of tomorrow? We will start the session learning about people, places, and things that have positively contributed to our society. Learners will examine the choices these individuals made through stories and artistry. Learners will discuss how their choices have guided the outcomes of the world.

Learners will then research an artist, pioneers, or an entrepreneur who inspires them. We will document their journeys, create autobiographies of learners’ future selves, and dress like these innovators of tomorrow. Learners will also create a business plan which will highlight the problem they would like to solve, the one main idea they will create to solve it, and how to inform the targeted audience about the product or service. 

Learners will explore different states in the USA and countries of the continent of Africa. In some cases, they will hear about a problem faced by that place, look at the available resources, and think about ways to improve the situation. In projects this session, learners will plant food and flowers, design a state of their own, and make a no-sew stuffed animal.

These projects will help learners see and celebrate themselves as part of history as they act as makers of their future.

Discovery Studio

In the Making Space for Change Quest, Discovery learners will work in teams to redesign a local public space to be more sustainable. We will start the session learning about what sustainability means. Learners will then explore different sources of renewable energy, water management practices, and building materials before determining the most important sustainable design principles for their public space. Learners will then create a model of a local public space that they have redesigned to use resources more responsibly. 

In Writer’s Workshop this session, learners will learn more about young people who are tackling some of our environmental and sustainability issues and dive in to the (not yet lost) art of letter writing! Learners will write a long, formal letter to an environmental trailblazer of their choice. In their letters, learners will express gratitude, find common ground, and try to seek a response. The goals of this Writers’ Workshop are to encourage learners to discover more about individuals who are making a positive difference in the world and to explore the different backgrounds and origins of these trailblazers in order to further understand that heroes come from everywhere- and can be any age!

Adventure Studio

Learners will jump into Session 5 with a field trip to the Lincoln & MLK memorial to launch the Session 5 Communications Challenge: I Have a Dream for My Community – a TVS Adventure Studio tradition. Learners will spend time researching issues that are important to them, studying the persuasive techniques of other passionate young people, and developing a ten minute speech. Learners will end the session by sharing their final speeches in front of an audience of our community in the Kennedy Room at the United States Capitol.

What does red hair, blue eyes, freckles, dimples, toes and ear lobes all have in common? The Genetics & Bioethics Quest will ask learners to develop a basic understanding of the biological concepts of genetics, as well as consider some of the greatest bioengineering ethical dilemmas of our lifetime. Learners will spend the first half of the session delving into 6 mini-genetics challenges focused on Mendel, Punnett Squares, Di-hybrid crosses and more. Each completed mini-challenge will earn learners additional argument time in the bioethics debate that will take place the last week of the session. 

These two projects will require learners to delve into research skills, hone their persuasive techniques, and step out of their comfort zone in several ways: developing arguments that challenge their own perspectives, or deliver a ten-minute speech in front of a crowded room. Each experience will prove to themselves that they are ready for the ultimate challenge that will come next – a real world apprenticeship. We’ll be cheering them on each step of the way – Adventure Studio, we can’t wait to see what you’ll do next!

Health & Wellness

“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” ~E.E. Cummings

Session 5 will be a time to embrace curiosity and what it means to have a growth mindset. Our study of “learning to be” will continue with learning to be curious about ourselves, our inner dialogue, our imperfections, who we are as learners, friends, and individuals in our community. 

Curiosity will be explored through questions about ourselves and the world around us. We will analyze the questions we have and embrace the unknown. We will also discuss curiosity vs. judgment and why this is an important tool to use today. Remaining curious when others express value differences is a life skill. We will discuss how we can remain curious in these difficult moments. 

Do you know whether you have a growth or fixed mindset? Did you know that there are several different types of mindsets? We will be reflecting on who we are when we face challenges and tough moments. What type of person do we want to be? How do we view our imperfections? What can we do to embrace who we are and see ourselves as a whole person? Imperfections and all! The learners will be challenged to embrace who they are and continue on their journey to discovering their value and how they make a difference in our world. 

Advice From a Self-Directed Learner

Over a year ago I partnered with a TVS learner, who is now an alumni, to write an article with the hopes of getting published in a well-known educational magazine that had a call for proposals focused on Self-Directed learning. Our purpose was to raise the voice of a young person, a self-directed learner, in a magazine full of what we assumed would most likely be adult voices. Despite the fact that we failed at achieving our goal, we’d like to think that the experience was still valuable: we learned about each other, we considered different perspectives, and, once again, we confirmed our belief that a self-directed learning environment is rich for all those involved.

Advice From a Self-Directed Learner

by Emy Fase & Elizabeth Dean

A self-directed classroom where students follow their own intrinsic passions and emerge as life-long learners is every teacher’s dream. Most teachers themselves would call themselves life-long learners. For many of us, seeking out our own learning opportunities is the best part of our job. We are constantly reading articles, buying new books, and crowd-sourcing inspiration on social media. What we often overlook is the most valuable source for professional learning is right in front of us: our students. When I wanted to know more about how to create a self-directed learning experience for my students, the first thing I did was find a self-directed learner and have a conversation. Conversations with my students have been some of the most meaningful learning experiences that I have had as an educator. When I have made the effort to really listen to how a learner experienced the learning process, I’ve learned so much more than I could from any book. The following is Emy’s response to the question: What should teachers know about what it’s like to be a self-directed learner? Emy’s response taught me – and can teach others – quite a bit about what it’s like to be a part of a self-directed learning community. 

I have been a self-directed learner for the past four years. My name is Emy Fase, and I attended a traditional school up until fifth grade when I became one of the founding learners at my current school. I’m currently 14 and am passionate about psychology, debating, and anything to do with history from books to fashion. I chose to switch to a self-directed school because at my old school I was doing fine educationally, but I was very reserved and needed to be in an environment where I couldn’t just hide in the crowd and would have to develop my voice. When I switched schools I was the oldest at my new school and had to leave my comfort zone and take on more leadership roles. My fourth-grade stomach churned at the idea of even speaking up when something was wrong, so If I told myself then that in 4 years I would be giving a speech at the senate building, I truly would not have believed that it would be possible. Over my four years in a learner-driven environment, I’ve watched myself, and others fail, succeed and grow. I’ve also seen what has and hasn’t worked in a learner-driven environment. So as someone who has been in both a traditional and a learner-driven school, here are three things all educators should know about what it’s like to be a student in a self-directed learning community. 

1. Everyone learns in different ways. During my time at a traditional school, I saw myself and many of my peers struggling with some of the work we were given. At the time I always just assumed the reason I was having a hard time was that the work was just too hard. Looking back, I realized that it wasn’t that the work was too hard, or that my peers and I weren’t smart. We were having a hard time because the tools being provided weren’t fit for our individual learning needs, because while the tools were right for some, they weren’t for others. In traditional schools, the curriculum is very one size fits all, which leads to kids who don’t learn in that particular way feeling frustrated and often with gaps in their learning. For example, everybody has to learn algebra, but not everybody learns algebra the same way, and everybody has to learn to read, but not all kids learn to read at the same pace or in the same ways, or want to read the same books. If you aren’t learning the right way for you, it will often leave you feeling frustrated and the information will only be remembered short-term, if at all. From my experience at a learner-driven school, being able to learn in a way that made sense to me, my overall understanding and interest in topics went up, and I found myself excited to go to school every day instead of trying to fake sick to get out of it. For all students to reach their full potential and enjoyment in learning, they need to be able to learn in a way that makes sense to them. 

2. Learning curves are real – and emotional. For many students switching to a learner-driven school, there’s usually a learning curve that takes a bit of getting used to. However, those learning curves aren’t always strictly academic. I remember when I first started out at a learner-driven school after being in a traditional school for six years. I had always been a very quiet kid, and switching schools was quite intimidating to me. For my entire first week at my new school, I didn’t talk to anyone. And in turn, I had no idea what I was doing, however by the next week, I had begun to open up, and with the help of my peers, we all slowly began to get in our groove and figure the new system out. My mom’s approach at the time was to let me be for the first few months while I adjusted. She didn’t ask to see my work or try to check in on my progress. To her surprise, when she finally decided to ask about halfway through the year I had been ahead of the track. Now, if she had decided to check in on me in that first month of being there, this would have been a completely different story, because from an outside perspective on that whole first month it would have appeared that I was making no progress. In reality, I was making progress, not on my designated work but on figuring out this new system, how I learned and how I could motivate myself. Learning curves can be very different depending on the person. Some could be a week, some could be months or even most of the first year. Some emotional, some academic, or some both. I haven’t only noticed this curve in my own experience, but my peers as well. After a few years, I became more aware of these starting learning curves in others. New students would often take a few weeks to a few months to adjust and figure everything out, and like me, would often get nothing done in those periods of time. But once they became comfortable with the new learning model and environment, they would quickly meet and exceed their initial learning goals. 

3. Community is key. One of my favorite parts of being in a learner-driven school is the community. Community is important to each class, because even when you’re teaching yourself, sometimes you still need others to fall back on! And when you have a strong community of learners, they are always there to lift you back up, and help you start going again. In a community of peers when there’s no teachers to intervene, everyone has to hold each other accountable, and when it’s coming from a learner similar to you, that feedback is often taken more seriously and helps everyone be their best self. Everyone always is able to connect with everyone through shared experiences, we’re all trying to figure out this learning thing ourselves, and together. Whenever someone was struggling with something, there was always someone willing to help them try to figure it out, because if you have a good community, everyone will want each other to succeed.

Trusting students is the throughline to all of Emy’s reflections – and believe it or not, for us adults, it might be the hardest part. Our country has a history of not trusting young people. It is no mistake that the United States is the only nation that has yet to ratify the most rapidly ratified treaty in the history of the United Nations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The CRC advocates for children’s rights, and specifically advocates to place trust in children as active decision makers and leaders alongside adults (United Nations, 1989). 

Over thirty years since the CRC was ratified, young people in our country face the most severe mental health crisis of a lifetime. Between reports of depressive episodes and anxiety screening for eight year olds, we face a national emergency (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 2022). Not to mention, students are leaving our schools more disengaged and disconnected to their learning than when they started (Quaglia, 2016). 

Despite the grim outlook, there is hope. Emy reminds us of all of the benefits of trusting students, and her experience is confirmed by research. When students are trusted in school they are more engaged in their own learning (Camino, 2000; Flutter & Rudduck, 2004; Rubin & Silva, 2003), report confidence in their mental well-being (Murphey, Lamonda, Carney, & Duncan, 2004), and believe in themselves to be a positive force in the world (Quaglia, 2016). 

Emy reminds us to trust young people to discover how they learn best, trust them to navigate the emotional aspects of learning, and to trust that often, young people can teach each other more effectively than we can. Learner driven spaces are built on trust – and so are healthy communities in and outside of schools. Emy and I challenge you to take the first step to creating a learner-driven experience: start a conversation. We recommend the question: What do you wish adults understood about what it’s like to be a student here? 


  • American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). AAP-AACAP-CHA Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. 
  • Camino, L. A. (2000). Youth-adult partnerships: Entering new territory in community work and research. Applied Developmental Science, 4, 11-20. 
  • Flutter, J., & Rudduck, J. (2004). Consulting pupils (1. publ. ed.). London: RoutledgeFalmer. Murphey, D. A., Lamonda, K. H., Carney, J. K., & Duncan, P. (2004). Relationships of a brief measure of youth assets to health-promoting and risk behaviors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 34(3), 184-191. 
  • Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations. (2016). School voice report. New York, New York: Corwin Press. 
  • United Nations. (1989). UN general assembly, convention on the rights of the child.
  • U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. (2022). Screening for Anxiety in Children and Adolescents.
  • Rubin, B., & Silva, E. (Eds.). (2003). Critical voices in school reform: Students living through the change (1. publ. ed.). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

At TVS Learning is an Experience

“Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information.” – Albert Einstein

Published authors (and sisters!) share what it was like to write and publish a book while still in high school.

Learning at The Village School is an active experience that connects young people to the community in which they live and beyond. Since September we have invited over a dozen Community Partners and guest speakers into all three of our studios and taken over 9 field trips out into our resources-rich community to learn from experts in their own environments. 

Learners have welcomed entrepreneurs and experts into our school including guests from Breaking T, Wealth over Now, Sloppy Mamas, The Stark Lab, Headrush, and Northpond Ventures. Three published authors have spent time in our studios including two local teens who published their first book when they were still in high school. 

Learners have also ventured out into the community for a total of 9 (and counting!) field trips to the Natural History Museum, Hirshhorn Gallery, National Gallery of Art, the National Geographic Museum, The National Zoo, The Botanical Gardens, local nature preserves, and even the movie theater. In addition to field trips learners travel off-campus each week and head to the public library, the neighborhood park,  and who could forget the local ice cream shop for an end-of-session sweet treat. 

Adventure learners exploring the local community and all that it has to offer on the metro.

Experience is one of the three main pillars of the The Village School learner experience, and as you can see, we are loyal to our design. As our learners enter middle school, the experiences we create have an even broader purpose: to grow each learner’s individual social capital – or what we like to call, their “village.” Since the pandemic and the renewed focus on young people’s social-emotional health, the idea of a young person’s social capital has caught the attention of education researchers. 

The research defines social capital as “the resources that arise from a web of relationships which people can access and mobilize to help them improve their lives and achieve their goals.” In a recent virtual Town Hall hosted by Getting Smart, educational thought leaders and researchers discussed social capital as relationship mapping. The discussion focused on two questions: 

  • Do you know who your learners know? 
  • What if schools could authentically engage with all of the people learners already knew beyond the classroom? 

At The Village School we have always believed that young people are capable of more than the world gives them credit for, and our commitment to that belief is enacted through developing their social capital through our middle and high school Apprenticeship Program. The experience-based Apprenticeship program places trust in a young person to learn about themselves, explore interests, and develop passions through active participation in the world of work. A Village School high school graduate will leave our community with an expansive web of connections that reflects 7+ Apprenticeship experiences, and a sense of self and community support that will far exceed their peers. 

This session middle schoolers will be challenged to begin thinking about their own social capital and mapping their own relationships. Their goal will be to identify potential apprenticeship placements and arrange a job shadowing experience to walk in the shoes of a professional for a day. We challenge middle school families – and all of our families to consider the question: Who do you know who might help one of our young people discover their passion?

What is Learner-Centered: SparkHouse Conference 2022

by Hazel Hales & Owen Quinn

What does learner-centered mean and why is it important to us?

This is a question that we explored more deeply in the SparkHouse Education Reimagined Conference. Eleven different learner-centered environments from around America gathered together in Washington DC to discuss how to change education.

These are the top 3 things we learned and took away from the conference:

  1. Learner-centered education honors each person for who they are. 

One of the defining components of a learner-centered environment is learner agency. Education Reimagined defines agency as: an individual’s capacity to take purposeful initiative in shaping themselves, their relationships with others, and their circumstances. They make a point to say that agency is the opposite of resignation, passive compliance, and helplessness. 

At TVS, we call this taking responsibility for our own education. This allows each learner to shape their education to fit their own needs. We are proud to share that taking responsibility for our own education is a part of all three of our studios’ learner-created contracts! 

  1. Learner-centered doesn’t have to be the same everywhere.

On the first day of the conference, we did a sharing fair. Every environment set up a little presentation explaining things about their program and what made their programs unique. We had prepared a little list of things, but we weren’t quite sure how different we were from other schools.

When we presented -and looked around- we realized that we were very different from the other environments. In fact, none were the same! Even though we all had the similarity of being learner-centered, everyone did it in their own way.

One that stood out to us was Rock Tree Sky, an extra-curricular program (why we aren’t saying schools -instead saying environments- is for programs like these) that is learner-centered. Rock Tree Sky was like a maker space, but with mentors in the different subjects, and it was specifically geared towards homeschooled kids. There are many studios in the building, ones you can walk into at any time, as there are no held classes. You decide what you want to do then you ask a mentor for help. There is a studio for blacksmithing, music, art, sewing, and much more. This was a cool example of another learner center environment that stood out to us.

  1. Everyone was eager to share their own ideas and about their own programs.

There were more young people at the conference than there were adults, and everyone, but especially the young people, were eager to share. In our small groups, which were organized to intentionally connect learners from different backgrounds and programs, each person had opportunities to share their ideas about why learner-centered is important, what we each bring to our own programs, and more. 

The sharing fair was another chance for each program to explain what made their school unique, and what made it learner-centered. The chance to share TVS with young people and adults from across the country was awesome and inspiring. Many people were interested in our school as we were in theirs. And a couple of the environments mentioned how they wanted to use some of our ideas in their schools, especially the apprenticeships. 

You can read more about the conference here. We are excited to take what we learned from this experience to make a difference in learner-centered education. The conference reminded us how grateful we are to be a part of this school and this movement. We are part of something bigger than we ever imagined, and that is inspiring to us, and we hope it is inspiring to you.

Dear Math

Dear Math, 

I’m sorry about the way I’ve treated you for the majority of my life. I can still remember the moment I turned on you, the moment I decided I wasn’t a “you-person”. It was in second grade when I didn’t pass the test on how to make change. Instead of attending my remedial math lesson, I hid in the classroom coat closet reading Ramona the Pest, swearing you off forever. I avoided you for the rest of my school experience. I even managed to get away with no math courses on my college transcript. It didn’t help that I spent ten years of my adult life as an English teacher, which sealed my fate as a “not a math person”. I called you names like boring and pointless for practically all of my childhood and most of my adulthood. It wasn’t until I took a statistics course just a few years ago when I realized that maybe…just maybe…I didn’t loathe you like I thought. 

I’ll never claim to be a non-math person again – and now I realize how foolish I was to accept the dichotomy of math and English. Two things can be true: I can be good at math and love to read and write. I can struggle to learn math, and I can enjoy the process. So, I’m sorry that it took me so long to come to this realization.Thanks for your patience, math. Please accept my apology.



One of the first math challenges of the year in Adventure studio was to write a letter to math. The above is an excerpt from my own letter. What if you were tasked with the challenge – what would you write, what story would your letter tell? Would your letter sound similar to mine? If you had to graph your relationship with math over the course of your life, how would it look? Has your relationship with math changed since you were in school? Do you consider yourself a “math person” or not?  

Our goal at The Village School is to cultivate a culture of learning around math that focuses on curiosity, appreciation, and deep understanding. We design our curriculum in hopes that our learner’s letters to math sound much different from mine.

Research suggests that learning math is most meaningful when mistakes are valued as much as a correct answer, and when focused on authentic tasks rather than rote memorization. We can confirm these ideas through our experience as educators in many school settings, and especially through our observations of our own learners over the past four years. We keep this research at the forefront of our curriculum design as we strive to support our learners in developing mathematical mindsets. 

Khan Academy supports our learners in developing their own understanding through mastery-based online courses. The adaptive online programing allows learners to move through the curriculum at their own pace, focusing on mastery of specific math skills. Mistakes made in Khan are met with more learning opportunities instead of the traditional punitive consequences. Completing a course in Khan Academy requires a learner to fully engage with the learning process – they are the active participants determining the content and the pace of their learning. 

Great Problems are an opportunity for learners to collaborate on open-ended mathematical tasks. Learners engage in these In Discovery studio great problems take the shape of collaborative morning warm-up challenges. Adventure learners complete at least three great problems each session, spending sometimes up to one hour working on the solution to a single problem. 

Quests are a chance for our learners to engage with real-world, authentic math tasks. Science curriculum in Discovery and Adventure studio is delivered primarily through project-based learning Quests and often requires learners to engage in specific math skills that are in addition to their set curriculum on Khan Academy. Recent quests in Adventure studio include: The Physics quest, which required velocity and motion calculations using advanced math formulas, and the Money & Me quest required monthly budget, annual percentage rate, loan, and tax calculations. Recent quests in Discovery include: The Game Design quest where learners developed understanding around probability and statistics, and the Community Meal quest where learners are working on calculations that go into preparing a meal as well as the logistics of an event.

Math Coaching is an additional support we offer for our learners. Our Math Lab is open for learners for set times each week during both studio’s morning work sessions where they have access to a math educator to support them in their work on Khan Academy, Great Problems, and even Quest related math tasks. The dedicated time and space for math has been helpful in providing learners with the right level of structure and support in a self-directed learning environment.  

The learning opportunities focused on math go far beyond mastery on Khan Academy, and place learners in situations where mathematical reasoning and understanding is authentically relevant. The four elements of our math curriculum: Khan, Great Problems, Quests, and Math Coaching, are intentionally designed to instill an understanding, appreciation, and curiosity around math that hopefully results in a letter that sounds something like this…

Dear Math, 

Wow! Everywhere I look I see you. I see you in the design of the natural world, and in the architecture of the city where I live. You play such an important role in my life and in the world around me. Thank you for being patient with me, especially when I’m learning something new. Sometimes you can be really tricky, but I know if I’m patient with myself, I will figure you out. I’m so glad I’m a “you person!” 

Beyond Good

Since becoming a parent, the number of times I’ve uttered the words “Good job!”, “Great try”, or something similar has increased exponentially. I don’t even think about it, the words just roll off my tongue. I’ve said “good job” so many times the phrase falls into the same meaningless category as “hurry up” and “be careful”. If the words were so automatic, and I didn’t even have to think to say them, how much meaning could they hold for whoever was on the receiving end? The same holds true for the type of feedback that passes between learners and guides in our studios; our learning design relies on quality feedback. Instead of lots of “good jobs”, our goal is that feedback in our studios is meaningful, motivating, and kind. 

According to research, feedback in the form of cliches like “good job” are actually not feedback at all, and certainly don’t align with our definition of feedback at TVS. Carol Dweck, well known for her research on growth mindset, reminds us that the praise we get, especially from parents, educators, and coaches can shape the way we see ourselves, our abilities, and our intelligence. Instead Dweck suggests using phrases that are focused on effort and detail. Our Spark Guides give ongoing growth mindset praise and feedback, and their ideas about what to say instead of good job are a continued source of inspiration. 

Spark Studio’s Helpful Reminders during Session 1 Exhibition

Beyond praise, feedback is an integral part of the learning design at TVS. We rely on learners to provide meaningful feedback to each other and we prioritize feedback as a way for learners and their families to see growth. We like to think of feedback as an ongoing conversation that follows our learners in their studios with each other, with guides, and at home with their families. 

Guides spent time this summer thinking about how to strengthen the feedback systems to support learners as they step into their role as receiver and provider. In our planning, we used criteria identified by research across educational and workplace settings that point to three conditions that result in meaningful feedback. 

Feedback should be face to face: There are many systems within the studio that position learners beside one another to provide feedback. 

  • Community Meeting is something that happens almost every day, providing a venue for learners to present their work and ideas for group feedback dialogue. 
  • Guide meetings position guides and learners side by side for a feedback conversation. These conversations are documented by both learners and guides, allowing for transparency and accountability.  
  • Community Partners are often invited to provide feedback to learners both at the midway point and end of learning experiences like Quest, Writer’s Workshop, and Communications. 

Feedback should compare performance to a standard: Ron Berger is well known in the education community for his work surrounding experiential learning and what he calls, the “ethic of excellence.” His research shows how powerful models of excellence can be when inspiring young people to reconsider, rework, and revise. Berger’s work has informed our use of learner-created rubrics to help define excellent work. In session 1 learners in Discovery and Adventure created their own rubrics for their writing challenges based on close examination of model work from the real world. These rubrics were a helpful jumping off point for feedback conversations. 

Our new learning platform, Headrush, also highlights the learning goals and competencies that Discovery and Adventure learners are working towards in each of their badges. The competencies are all tied to the TVS Portrait of a Graduate, which informs our learning design. These competencies are a helpful frame for both feedback and documentation of each learner’s journey towards mastery. 

Feedback should include suggestions: Guides and learners in Discovery and Adventure studio started the year providing feedback using The Ladder of Feedback, a research based feedback protocol from Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education’s research group. The Ladder provides a framework for a feedback discussion guiding participants through four steps on a ladder: clarifying questions, value statements, concerns, and finally suggestions. Learners have used this protocol with each other and with guides to discuss their writing and project ideas. 

Learners engaged in a feedback conversation using The Ladder of Feedback

Providing and accepting meaningful feedback is a skill that takes practice. The systems we’ve designed are meant to provide learners with many opportunities for just that. We invite you to join us – the next time you are in search of some feedback, as your learner. And, if you’re like me, “good job” will roll off your tongue at least once today (if it hasn’t already) and when it does, maybe you’ll take a minute to think beyond good. 

Exhibitions of Learning: Take a seat!

What is an Exhibition of Learning? Exhibitions at The Village School are one of our primary modes of assessment – but most importantly they are an opportunity for learners to share and celebrate their learning with their “village”. 

In the education world, an Exhibition of Learning is described as a performance-based summative assessment – another way of describing anything that is not a multiple choice, standardized test. As a student, my culminating assessment experience was almost always such a test, and my guess is that your experience was similar. 

There are decades of research that reveal the inadequacies of standardized, multiple choice tests. Most damaging are the studies that show that success on a standardized test predicts little to nothing about a person’s success in their life. Research and our own experience also reminds us that we can ace a test one week and forget all of the information we once “knew” the next. Education and brain science researchers will remind us that this is because these tests are good at measuring recall and surface level understanding, not deep learning. 

On a larger scale, many colleges and universities have gone test-optional and companies like Google stopped requiring transcripts and test scores years ago. If colleges and companies are moving beyond these tests and the research proves their inadequacies, we should all be wondering why more schools aren’t changing their assessment practices. The fact that this assessment experience remains the status quo for the current generation should be appalling. 

The word assessment is derived from the Latin root assidere, which means “to sit beside”. At the Village School our goal is to design assessments that are true to this definition. We believe in assessments for learning, not of learning. We believe in assessments that require learners to be “active protagonists” in their own experiences, not passive consumers. We believe in assessments that literally require us to “sit beside” each learner. Exhibitions of learning fulfill all of these goals. 

A TVS Exhibition of Learning is an opportunity for our village of guides and families to sit beside learners and understand their experience in order to help them grow and help us design the kind of learning environment and experiences that will continue to help them thrive. 

There are organizations dedicated to spreading the practice of exhibition-like assessments to schools and students all over the country. We are not alone in the effort to redefine assessments in schools – but we are ahead of the curve.

So, it is with great anticipation and excitement that we invite you to take a seat at our first Exhibition of Learning next week. How will you practice “sitting beside” your learner as they share their Session 1 journey with you? What questions will you ask them to help them reflect on their accomplishments and their future goals? What will listening to them share their learning reveal about them and who they are becoming? What will listening to them teach you about yourself?  

Making Connections & Learning to Live Together

During the first few moments of the first day in Adventure Studio, learners spent time making connections with a ball of yarn. They shared one of their individual strengths and how it might contribute to their team over the course of the year, each learner connecting to the previous learner’s thoughts to create a web with the yarn. When the web was complete, they noticed what happens when one person pulled too tight or let go:  the whole team felt the impact. This was their first step in Learning to Live Together.

Adventure learners make a web of connections with one another sharing their hopes for the year and the individual strengths they will bring to their team.

If you were a fly on the wall in Adventure Studio over the past month you would have heard more connections being made that sounded like this:

“I think religion and science are both saying the same thing, just in different languages.” 

“I think if a team is working well together, there isn’t just one person who is the leader, there are many.”

“I am really grateful for everyone in the studio because we all helped each other and played important parts in our team challenge today.” 

“I believe that evidence comes before all else when it comes to believing something is true – or not.”

“Flow is something that can come naturally to me if I convince myself that whatever I’m doing is important – and if I have friends to share it with.”

“I am grateful for our studio’s ability to share different opinions in a respectful way.” 

The past four weeks have included many connections and many first attempts at Learning to Live Together, one of the outcomes in our school’s Portrait of a Graduate. We measure Learning to Live Together through documenting growth in a learner’s ability to collaborate, be compassionate and respectful, hold themselves accountable, and be a servant leader. The learning opportunities in Session 1 are designed to build a foundation for these important and lifeworthy skills to flourish throughout the year.

Civilizations is a learning experience that provides a rich space for learners to grow in all of the skills noted above. During Civilizations learners engage in quality research about a specific topic, create original arguments, think critically about historical events and figures, and listen to each other through socratic discussions. Each Civilization experience creates another web of connections for learners to consider their role as individual learners and as members of the team. Did I engage with everyone, with whom the most, and who engaged with me? How much or how little did I contribute? Whose perspective made me reconsider my own? How did my thinking change as a result of the discussion?

A map of Adventure Learner’s Civilization discussion, marking the time they spent on each discussion question, how many times they contributed to the conversation, and who they exchanged ideas with.

We all play essential roles in the web of connections that we make in our studio and out in the world. Learning to Live Together is as much about understanding ourselves as it is about understanding each other. Adventure learners will continue to build on the connections from Session 1 – what will they discover about themselves and each other this year? What will their webs of connections look like in a few months? What will they teach all of us about what it means to Live Together? As one Learner put it, “We are all more alike than we are different. We should focus more on what we all have in common.”