#4: What is progressive education?

Education jargon can be very confusing. There’s differentiation, authentic assessment, and any number of teacher terms. You’ve probably heard about progressive education before, but what does it really mean? Below, Andrew explains several core principles of progressive education and details why those values are central to The Workshop.

Parents often feel frustrated in conventional schools. Too often, education prioritizes narrow academic instruction and uniform content standards. But our children don’t learn (or grow) in standardized sequence!

Even traditional benchmarks explain that more than 70% of students score below proficiency in reading and mathematics. And a recent survey explains that more than 60% of students entering 9th grade hold highly negative feelings towards school. They describe school instruction as “monotonous”, “boring”, and “repetitive”.

When I speak with parents, they’re disappointed in traditional schools because they believe that school (and their child) can be so much more!

We agree.

Progressive education is an alternative approach to learning that emphasizes whole child education and development. This means that progressive schools support and advance the academic and social competencies of each student. Think about it: when you speak with your children, you ask about more than just classroom grades. You wonder how they’re feeling inside. You make sure they’re kind and respectful to others. You challenge them to learn amazing things. And you hope they find room to understand and express their true selves.

Because real education helps us develop principles of true character, including commitment, honesty, and resilience. And because a truly successful child is the consequence of more than successful academic classroom instruction.

Of course, it’s also important to know that progressive education believes deeply in academic excellence. In fact, our expectations are so high because we expect students to reach their full potential. And deeper learning isn’t easy! Like any hard work, real learning should challenge us to more and better than we’ve eve been before.

It’s the hardest work you’ll ever enjoy!

Yes, there will always be some difference in how progressive educators approach learning and instruction. However, there are several core principles that help ground our approach.

  • Learning and instruction is rooted in authentic practice. This means that students learn skills and strategies that real people do in the real world.
  • Education should promote active, engaged learning. Because engagement leads to commitment and focus that promotes learning transfer.
  • Teachers curate pathways that help structure and support advanced learning. Responsive instruction is matched to students’ abilities, interests, and needs.
  • Students research, design, and engineer real things! Project-based learning helps students learn and apply target ideas and skills in context. This helps students acquire and retain learning in different contexts.

I like to say: you are where you learn.

Because the choices that educators and parents make really matter. And the research is in: effective progressive education dramatically improves student learning and promotes “habits of mind” that improve student character, confidence, and collaboration. (Palmer, 1987) (Capon and Kuhn, 2004) (Hmelo Silver, et al., 2007) (Zabit, 2010) (Connect, 1995) (Ray, 2006) (Harste, 2001)

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