We are about to conclude a very successful fall trimester, and that means we will soon be having our fall Demonstrations of Learning day. Those who know me are well aware of how much I look forward to this culminating experience at the end of each trimester.
People my age remember sitting for end-of-term exams in high school or laboring over papers that only our teachers would read. But it’s different here in Farmington. Our students share their learning with the community by completing authentic assessments that are often project-based in nature. Needless to say, their work is impressive, and it is so wonderful to spend the day wandering around campus learning from the students.
Our shift from exams to Demonstrations of Learning is just one of the ways in which Miss Porter’s continues to be a leader in curricular innovation. We take seriously the need to change the way we educate the new generation of students in order to prepare them for a rapidly evolving world.
Tim Fish, chief innovation officer at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), recently wrote the following:
“About 130 years ago, the Committee of Ten, a group of white male leaders from universities and a few independent schools, came up with the educational model we are essentially still using today. Their purpose was clear: to prepare students to participate in the industrial revolution as interchangeable workers. We don’t live in that world today, and our students clearly will not live in that world in the future.”
And then, he posed the following question to school leaders:
“Knowing that, what are the opportunities to rethink the education model for the next generation?”
We, at Miss Porter’s, have been taking this question very seriously and adjusting our practices accordingly. And we haven’t simply selected one small improvement to make. If there is research or compelling evidence about how to do things better, we will act. As our Head of School Kate Windsor reminds us constantly, “If we know better, we must do better.”
Last summer, Independent School Magazine published an article titled “The Dark Side of Rigor,” by Percy Abram and Olaf Jorgenson. The print version of the article highlighted the innovations that several secondary schools have made to improve their students’ experience. I was very pleased to see that we are doing all of them. I’ve created this table to give you a snapshot of these best practices and how we are implementing them.
|Examples of Improvements |
to Student Experience
|Miss Porter’s School Equivalent|
|Later start times||Now 8:45 a.m.|
|Block scheduling||Three class blocks meet every day, but only for one trimester|
|More unstructured downtime||We have “X Block,” Community Time, lunch and office hours almost every day. Back-to-back classes are rare.|
|Expanded advisory programs||A special team advises all ninth-graders. An |
advising curriculum is in place for all grade levels.
|More time to meet with teachers||All faculty members keep office hours four times per week.|
|More mental health support||The Colgate Wellness Center has three mental health counselors.|
|Sensible approach to homework||Fewer assignments per night and no busy work. Homework is not graded, but feedback is given.|
|Allowing “do-overs” for tests||Every department has a reassessment policy, and our grading/rating system prioritizes recent work.|
|Honors courses replace traditional AP classes||Students can choose from more than 40 Advanced Interdisciplinary Seminars designed by teachers.|
|More emphasis on experiential learning||Extended block classes facilitate experiential learning.|
|Immersive interdisciplinary experiences||11th-grade global travel and 12th-grade professional experiences are the two most prominent examples.|
|No more final exams||We replaced exam periods with Demonstration of Learning days in which students showcase what they have learned.|
I am very proud to be at an institution that prioritizes student well-being and learning. And when I visit Demonstrations of Learning day this week, I will have all of the evidence I need to know that it is working!
Chief Academic Officer
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