June 14, 2023

Student Reflections on the Innovative Models Exchange

By Transcend

The Innovative Models Exchange—a free platform where school communities can search for compelling learning models that fundamentally reshape the educational experience—is inspiring stakeholders around the country. In spring of 2023, we did a deep dive with the most important stakeholders of all—students—to get their reflections on a handful of the models featured on the Exchange. Not surprisingly, the students we engaged at Clear Creek Middle School and Clear Creek High School from Clear Creek School District in Colorado shared insights that were thoughtful and rooted in possibility and pragmatism. 

The models on the Exchange reflect the 10 Leaps for Learning that Transcend has identified to move from inequitable, industrial-era learning to learning that is equitable and responsive to the demands and opportunities of the 21st century. At the core, these Leaps derive from a fundamentally different purpose of education—one that centers on equity, liberation, and human flourishing, so that all young people will not only maximize their own potential but also see, confront, and tackle society’s greatest challenges.

While students found something to like about each model in the sampling they encountered, the thoughts they shared provided a few key insights or takeaways.

Insight 1: Pace and Choice Impact Student Success

Competency-Based Education

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently called the increase in youth mental health needs “the defining public health crisis of our time.” The students we spoke with echoed this sentiment and shared that, for some, surviving the pressures of being a kid trumps meeting the demands of school. They reflected on how their peers who learn differently could benefit from the student-driven focus of Building 21’s competency-based education (CBE) model that provides multiple ways for a student to demonstrate mastery of a subject. As one astute student put it:

Instead of focusing on a grade, school should be focused on what you’ve learned.

The students were particularly taken with the Forest School’s self-directed learning model that gives young people voice and choice to drive their learning. 

The use of personalized learning models is an equitable, student-centered approach to learning that allows students to progress at their own pace and pursue topics that interest them. Students also like the potential for a more flexible school schedule as featured in these models. They would like autonomy to spend more time with a subject they need additional time to master or dive deeper into a topic they have genuine interest in and/or an aptitude for. 

Insight 2: Make Learning Meaningful 

Many students with jobs and internships were interested in ways to integrate those facets of their life into their school demands. They saw an opportunity not only to streamline all their responsibilities but also to better align what they were learning in school with their current and future professional aspirations.

Work-based learning (WBL)

So, it’s no surprise that they were intrigued by work-based learning (WBL) models connecting classroom instruction with real-world, professional experiences, often in the form of jobs and/or internships. In particular, students appreciated the Big Picture Learning (BPL) model’s guiding principle that students often learn best when school is relevant to their lives, they can build trusting relationships with adult mentors and peers who share their interests, and they can engage genuinely authentic and rigorous work that is situated in the community and workplace. As one student noted: “You’re learning things you can immediately use. Internships lead to careers, build real-world skills. Instead of just taking classes, you actually experience what it’s like to work in that area. They still apply core subjects, but for more relevant purposes.”

Insight 3: One Size Does Not Fit All

Students appreciated being asked for feedback on a selection of models featured on the Exchange and the range of emerging innovations.

For a long time the school system has been the same, and we’re breaking away from that, finding things that might work better for students

Innovative Models Exchange

When we asked which model they would pick if they had infinite resources, they said they’d likely take a little bit from each to stitch together a unique combination that would fit the many learning styles of their peers and the needs in their local community. This desire is at the heart of the Innovative Models Exchange. Despite innovation across nearly every sector of society, schooling in America operates in largely the same rigid ways it did a century ago. Our students know this rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work for them or their peers. We hope our students have piqued your interest and you’ll find a model you can learn from, be inspired by, and try in your community.


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