The Old Schools vs. The New Schools: Student-Centered Learning

“Old ways wont open new doors.” ~ Unknown

A traditional American school has 15-25 students in a class. Children have basic needs provided – food, technology and trained adults to lead their daily academic routines with results-driven academic programs. They have access to libraries, sports and entertainment facilities too. All these affordances sound great to most parents. But what else could a typical child, age 6 onwards, be missing?

What are the new schools? Are they always “Micro” schools?

The New Schools we will feature are typically much smaller than traditional schools. We use the word micro schools to signify their size, as they may have very different philosophies. These schools’ main goal is to provide a better learning environment that celebrates and fosters the brightness of each child. Here is a table guide for us in identifying them:

What they are:What they are NOT:
Typically created by passionate parents who insist on better options than what is available to their families publicly.

Fewer than 200 or even 10 students

Many of them have thrown out traditional concepts such as grading or segregating students by age.

They have enough structure and stability to allow parents to keep their day jobs, by providing a physical space for kids most days of the week.  
A traditional public or private school

A single family homeschooler

An online class

A social club

A childcare or daycare center

A facebook group that meets once or twice a week

How are old schools and new schools different?

The main difference between the old schools and the new schools is the use of student-centered learning approaches where children take an active role in knowledge-building. Learning activities are personalized to make the experience meaningful, relevant, engaging and responsive to students’ unique needs and preferences. Students in new schools normally struggle to thrive in traditional school settings where the learning activities are often directed by teachers as the authoritative figure in the classroom.

Borrowing from Krista Kaput’s study on Evidences for Student Centered Learning, we distinguish them further:

Old SchoolsNew Schools
KnowledgeUsually transmitted from instruction. Information usually comes from the teacher. Created by students and the source of information can come from different content sources including the students themselves.
ParticipationStudents are passive receivers of information.Students have ownership of their learning track. They are actively engaged in projects, discourse and collaborative tasks.
Role of TeacherLeader/AuthorityFacilitator/Partner in Learning
AssessmentsCompetitiveCompetency-based – Students move ahead when they have reached mastery. 
Learning EnvironmentStudents are usually confined to their desks and classrooms. Anytime, Anywhere Learning Flexible Learning Environments.
Basic NeedsLimited Food Subsidies. Kids have minimal play and movement time. Academic requirements leave children with stress. Addresses Whole Child Needs. Understands the need for movement, play and socio-emotional support.  

Traditional public or private schools may have been recently embracing student-centered learning approaches but microschools (being small and independent institutions) have the agility and freedom to prioritize the rights and needs of each child. 

Are you an advocate for play and meeting children’s holistic educational needs? Where will your child’s needs best be served?

What other ideas can you add to the above comparison of old and new schools that we may have not mentioned?